Have you ever read the Bible and felt like you're not "getting it"? In this episode, Tim and Jon take a look at the (often unhelpful) paradigms through which we interact with Scripture. They explore how seeing the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus not only gives the Bible space to do what it was created to do, but frees us to be transformed by the story it’s telling.
“Do not murder” is formulated as a moral guideline in the Ten Commandments. Jesus himself quotes it but then also says there’s a lot more to it. He starts to give these case studies, examples about how anger and dishonoring people publicly, making fun of them, devaluing them, using belittling language—that these things themselves are akin to murder. Now, [was there] a rule anywhere of “Don’t ever make fun of somebody or belittle them?” This seems to be what Jesus is getting at. A rulebook tells you what to do. Wisdom literature is about forming certain kinds of people who need thin rulebooks because the spirit and core convictions that are expressed in different rules are written into their character.
In part one (0:00-15:00), Tim and Jon kick off the first episode in our series exploring the paradigm through which we approach Scripture: the Bible is a unified story that leads to Jesus.
A paradigm is not necessarily something you think about, but a framework for understanding reality. We use this set of expectations or ideas to make sense of our experiences, usually taking it for granted because we apply paradigms automatically. It can be difficult to objectively examine the paradigms we have operated within for a long time. The best way to do so is to increase our awareness of paradigms that differ from ours.
We all bring our own paradigms with us when we read and study the Bible. It’s important that we examine our paradigms and figure out which ones help us understand God’s Word and which ones do not.
In part two (15:00-27:00), Tim and Jon begin to evaluate various common (but unhelpful) paradigms through which we view the Bible.
Jon shares that he grew up with the impression that twenty minutes of daily Bible reading was crucial for followers of Jesus. He expected that God would speak to him in that amount of time, which left him feeling demoralized if his morning devotional didn’t provide a sense that God had shared something new with him or if he didn’t understand what he had read.
Jon had a paradigm shift when he realized that as long as he spent time reading the Bible, God would work through it to transform him—whether he understood everything he was reading or not. God was not a frustrated teacher waiting impatiently for him to “get it.”
BibleProject’s paradigm for understanding Scripture is our best attempt to adopt the paradigm, set of expectations and view of biblical literature that is in tune with what the Bible was created to accomplish.
In part three (27:00-39:00), the team explores the first of three unhelpful paradigms for studying the Bible.
All three paradigms share what Tim calls “a reference book mentality” in relating to the Bible. In other words, these paradigms treat the Bible like Wikipedia or a dictionary—a source that is only helpful when we have a question. We flip through reference books to find the information we need, rather than reading them cover to cover. While the Bible does address human needs and shape our conceptions of reality, if we read it like a reference book, we miss out on the story it’s telling.
The first of the reference book paradigms for the Bible says, “The Bible is a theology dictionary.” This paradigm treats the Bible like an expert resource on theological considerations: how to structure a church, how to deal with the problem of evil, how to understand Jesus’ humanity and deity, etc.
We utilize the Bible for this purpose when we practice the discipline of systematic theology, an area of study that seeks to express the beliefs that define the Christian faith and to compose faithful answers to issues the biblical authors don’t address. When this becomes the sole way we see and engage the Bible, we run the risk of missing other purposes intended by the biblical authors that don’t fit into a systematic category. The best systematic theologians first seek to understand passages of Scripture in their original context and then derive theological principles from that understanding.
In part four (39:00-52:00), Tim and Jon discuss the second reference book paradigm, “The Bible is a moral handbook or rulebook.”
It’s not uncommon for people of influence to appeal to the Bible as the basis for their moral beliefs. That trains others who follow Jesus (and those who don’t) to see it primarily as a rulebook too.
Of course, deriving moral principles from the Bible is necessary—otherwise we would all arrive at our own moral preferences without any authority but our own. The Bible itself begins by raising the question, “Who gets to define what is good, humans or God?” But instead of only answering this and other moral questions with a set of rules, the Bible invites people into a dynamic process of aligning their ethics and character with God. For example, Jesus affirms the rule against murder and also teaches his disciples that there is a greater depth to it, that anger and hatred within a person’s heart are akin to murder (Matt. 5:21-22).
A rulebook tells people what to do and leaves it at that. Wisdom literature like the Bible is designed to form certain kinds of people who need fewer rules because the convictions expressed by those rules have become a part of their character.
In part five (52:00-end), Tim and Jon address the final reference book paradigm, “The Bible is a devotional grab bag.”
At best, this paradigm professes a (true) belief that the Bible exists to connect us to the presence of the living God. But it also focuses attention only on the “feel-good” sections of Scripture that leave us with a strong emotional sensation. In the process, the devotional grab bag paradigm ends up doing what the other reference book paradigms do—sidestepping the full story of the Bible.
All three of these reference book paradigms are aimed at uncovering something true: the Bible provides us with a framework, a paradigm, of what is good and beautiful. However, they miss that the Bible does so within the cultural framework of its authors.
While studying the Bible, we must consider how to faithfully appropriate the vision of the biblical story into our own cultural frameworks. As we allow ourselves to be formed by the unified story that leads to Jesus, we’ll find theological truths, moral principles, and real connection with God.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz, Dan Gummel, and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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