Here on the home front we’ve been reading through a short book in the New Testament called, Matthew. Right now we’re working through the “sermon on the mount” that takes up chapters 5-7. I’m using lots of resources for my study but two main ‘helps’ are “A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew” by Keener and the NIV Application Commentary – Matthew by Wilkins. It’s been great fun for me to dig into the text, bunny trails and all. I’m constantly amazed by the simplicity and beauty of Matthew’s record of Jesus. I’m also amazed by the fact that I studied this in Bible College and still managed to miss most of the point.
At the same time, some days literally, I’m prepping for a group I’m taking through Dr. Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking how you read the Bible. An excellent book, McKnight asks us to ask some very basic questions as we come to the text and to see that the sum of the whole is much greater than its parts. I was educated in a “parts” sort of place (at that time), I had a verse for everything and everything had a verse. I had deconstructed the Bible to a “go to” book for all the rules I needed to live by and wanted others to live by. Everything was very clear. Simple even. Had I stopped asking questions when I left Bible College, had I stopped studying, reading or thinking I would likely still see it that way today. But, unfortunately for me, I didn’t.
Here’s the thing, it can be vertigo inducing for me to read a text I’ve read before, preached before, been taught and been preached to about it before and find out that the text doesn’t really say what I’ve told others it says, others have told me it says or even what I want it to say.
The other day I did a bad thing. I watched some Christian TV. Never a good idea for me and my blood pressure. A guy named Sid was talking to his guest about the text of Acts (another book in the New Testament) and the guy was bringing this revolutionary insight about something the apostles said in chapter 6 of that book. For thirty minutes Sid oooed and awwwed over the word “the”. I won’t go into the whole thing but I’ll just say that if you take a second and check the text you’ll find that the “the” isn’t really there. In English or Greek. 30 minutes on “the”. And I’m guessing this past Sunday someone, somewhere re-preached this ‘insight’ to their congregation for their Sunday morning revelation.
It turns out there are lots of things we’re sure the text says, or teaches, or expounds on that it really doesn’t. There’s this little idea called, “context”. The deal is that context matters. A lot. Not only where a word or sentence appears in a letter or chapter or book but in culture, theology, author, time, politics, and argument.
Here’s someone who says it much better than I can:
What this means to me is that I need to approach the text, both reading and teaching it, with greater humility. I need to share what I learn with confidence but not arrogance. And I need to be willing to admit that I might just have it wrong and I may have missed the plot.
It was in my lifetime that Billy Graham had to tell the organizers of an evangelistic crusade he was preaching that the Black people and the White people would SIT TOGETHER, despite the segregated seating the good Bible believing folks had set up for the crusade.
Let’s tread carefully when we pull out our Bible verses and use them as weapons against each other rather than letting the Spirit use his own scalpel to do surgery on our hearts.