Reading God’s Word (5)
Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” Matthew 13.52
One Author, one story
Because the Bible is divided into two primary sections – Old Testament and New Testament – readers can sometimes get the impression that these are two separate kinds of revelation, with different – and not always harmonious – meanings. So we sometimes hear people say, “Well, that was the Old Testament; this is the New.” Or, “I’m not under Law; I’m under grace.” Or even, “Yes, but that was the God of the Old Testament, and Jesus is the God of the New.”
The result of this kind of bifurcated thinking is to diminish the power of Scripture and to obstruct the work of the Spirit of God as the primary Teacher of God’s Word.
Paul says that the Spirit teaches us by comparing things from one part of Scripture with things from other parts (1 Cor. 2.12, 13). But if we insist on opposing the various parts of Scripture to one another, rather than on reading them together, we’re going to miss a good deal of what God intends.
In reality, one God has given His Word, one overarching narrative directs all its various parts, one Lord Jesus Christ is the focal point of it all, and the sanctification of God’s people unto lives of good works is the one temporal aim of the entire Bible. Thus, we should in our reading of Scripture, always seek ways of bringing together, rather than opposing, the Old Testament with the New, Law with grace, promises with commandments, and the deep mysteries of Scripture with those parts that are abundantly plain.
What do we need to become truly wise scribes who are trained for Kingdom living through our study and use of the whole counsel of God?
Embrace the big picture
Studying the Bible is in many ways like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. You will struggle to assemble all those different parts if you don’t have before you the picture you’re supposed to be constructing. This is why we keep the puzzle box lid before us and assemble the frame of the puzzle first of all.
The same is true with the Bible. Unless we understand the big picture – the large, overarching narrative of Scripture – and its primary supportive themes, we’re going to struggle trying to keep the whole together and to make sense of and benefit from its several parts.
So what is the story of the Bible? We can answer that in layers, so to speak. The primary story of the Bible involves a drama between God and creation, the main point of which is to display the manifold goodness and glory of God. The big picture of the Bible is the story of God’s plan and work for making His glory known (Hab. 2.14). When you’re reading the Bible, therefore, you must always be asking yourself, whether in the Old Testament or the New, what is God showing me about Himself, His will, and His glory? How can I see Him and His purposes and presence in these words I’m reading? What is God showing me about Himself, and about our Lord Jesus Christ?
If you don’t get this part of the story in your reading, you might miss everything else. Treat your reading of Scripture like one of those “Magic Eye” paintings – you know, the ones with the repetitious patterns of this or that which conceal a 3-D image of, say, the Parthenon. It’s in there, because the creator of the work says so. You just need to be patient, and look long and expectantly, before that hidden image emerges.
Scripture is like that. “It is the glory of God,” Solomon tells us, “to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Prov. 25.2). God has embedded His glory throughout the Scriptures, and Paul says that, by letting the Holy Spirit guide us, and waiting patiently on the Lord, we who are His “royal children” can discern that glory soon enough. You just have to stay at it, praying, listening, and making some notes while you do.
Follow the threads
The first major thread in this dramatic plot line has to do with creation and everything that populates it, because it is to and in and with the creation that God intends to make His glory known. But the creation, and all the people in it, have some pretty dramatic sub-plots going, such as the fall into sin, rebellion against God, spiritual confusion, restoration, and so forth, and we want to identify each of these as they may be present in every passage we’re reading, depending on what that text contributes to our understanding of creation in relation to our understanding of God’s being, purpose, plan, and glory.
Finally, the redemptive work of Christ is the thread that weaves the plight of fallen people and a fallen creation into a new tapestry to the glory of God. Jesus is the central theme of the entire story of Scripture (Jn. 5.39). No matter where you’re reading, Jesus is in there somewhere, and He will connect the parts of Scripture – the books and their sub-plots and themes – to the larger narrative of the glory of God.
But we need to read patiently, taking everything together and contemplating the unity of all Scripture according to these primary themes in the story line.
So don’t oppose the parts of Scripture to one another. Let the story line of glory, creation, and redemption help you to bring Scripture together as you continue practicing right reading of the Word of God.
1. Why do many Christians seem to “oppose” parts of Scripture? Does Scripture itself do this?
2. Augustine once explained the relationship between the Old and New Testaments by saying “The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is by the New revealed.” What do you think he meant by this? Is this a helpful way of thinking about the unity of Scripture?
3. What is the glory of God? Can you cite some passages from throughout Scripture to support the idea that this is the primary story line of the Bible?
Next steps- Transformation: In your daily journaling, begin making notes about the glory of God, the state of creation (and humankind), and the person and work of Jesus as these come up in your daily readings. Try to see the big picture unfolding according to its primary threads as you read the Scriptures into your soul. Share with your Bible reading partner or a Christian friend how doing this is helping you to keep Scripture together.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.