Bibles are not for deriving doctrine
The way bibles have been treated over the years, and especially in modern times in which people have studied, commented, and explained every word, phrase, and expression for every possible interpretation, is enough to make one think that their purpose is to determine the right things to believe.
Yet if bibles really were purposed to tell us what is true and help us get our doctrine right, then it hasn’t done a very good job of it. Judging from the vast variety of interpretations throughout history, bibles have been the greatest source of confusion among believers since its birth.
Textual variation between accounts of apparently identical events and speeches, however, show that the purpose of the scriptures isn’t to give facts, intellectual knowledge, or historically accurate accounts.
Even assuming that the scriptures have a “purpose” at all is just that – an assumption. It assumes that “God put it together” with a purpose in mind.
So how are we to determine how to treat the scriptures? The way the authors of the NT and the believers of the early church handled them are a good place to start.
No biblical author ever emphasizes getting your beliefs right, nor do they advocate using the scriptures to derive doctrine or claim it as a source of truth. Even in the scriptures themselves we never see the NT authors exegeting their scriptures, the OT, to derive doctrine. In fact, we the opposite. The authors have something they want to say, so they take an OT passage out of context to make it say what they want to say to prove their point (I wrote about this here). They read meaning into the scriptures (eisegesis) rathe than out of it (exegesis). Ironically, this practice is widely condemned in modern biblical scholarship!
The early church considered some beliefs that the scriptures barely mention to be significant enough to put in creeds (e.g. Christ’s descent into hell; prayer for the dead, which is unheard of in Protestant circles, was a well-documented and widespread practice in the early church). Thus their thought process in determining essential beliefs wasn’t to ask “what are the clear teachings of the scriptures?” and summarize them, as many do today.
How did we end up this way anyways?
In Greek thinking, answers are good. In Hebrew thinking, questions are good. In our Western world we have inherited the Greek mindset and have used the scriptures as a tool for generating answers rather than for encountering Jesus in our questions. (See an awesome related comic here.)
Contrary to what the doctrine of sola scriptura would have us believe, the scriptures don’t contain all knowledge necessary for life. True life is knowing Jesus (John 17:3), and that is not merely knowing about Jesus factually but knowing him personally. That’s not going to happen no matter how much you read a book about him. The scriptures can help us know more about Jesus, and that’s good. They cannot, however, bring us into an intimate knowing of him. This can only take place through a direct relationship with him.
As such, the scriptures do not give us a blueprint for living or a comprehensive view of correct doctrine. All it can do is point us to the person of Christ. God’s not in the bible; signs don’t contain that which they point to. The scriptures just say “hey look, Jesus!”
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not a manual for Christian behavior and church practice. It’s a revelation of Emmanuel—the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It’s all too common for preachers and teachers today to extract from the New Testament rules, commands, abstract ideas, theories, concepts, and inspiring thoughts, yet fail to present the glorious Person of Jesus Christ. – Frank Viola
But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as The Word, The Way, The Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ ‘in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,’ not the Bible, save as leading to Him. – George MacDonald
Knowing the scriptures does not equal knowing God. If that were so, the pharisees would have known Jesus.
The scriptures were not intended to present a rational system about God but a relational story about Jesus. – Steve Hill
Don’t read bibles to get to know Jesus; read it because you do.
I love my Bible and I love searching and studying it out. But if all the Bibles in the entire world had to be burned tomorrow my relationship with Jesus would not even skip a beat. It will go on as normal. My relationship with Jesus is not based on book knowledge. – Cornel Marais
(End of series)