It seems like more and more people nowadays are just saying they only do ‘what the Bible says’ because the ‘Bible says so’ and they ‘believe in the Bible’ while the opinion, interpretation and application of what select Biblical texts might mean varies from Christian to Christian, denomination to denomination – most of whom appear to be followers of Christ, or at the very least, dedicated to good works. In light of the burst of moral and intellectual relativism infecting the Western world, I’m surprised to say that legalism with it’s younger brother literalism are running rampant in the modern church.
It ought to be said that at core every true blue Christian is bound to the axiomatic belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross and resurrected from death in three days followed by a mandatory action of confessing one’s sins in heart and mouth to God, and subsequently, will be saved for eternal life. That proclamation of faith and belief is predicated by the commandment from which all other commandments obtain nourishment: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31) These beliefs synthesize as a single unit of belief. It is the essential axiom to the Christian paradigm and is commonly shared and understood in most Christian circles as exclusive and non-negotiable to the entire faith in and of itself. But among those thousands, not one of them will have an identical overarching perspective on all things Christian! Thousands of theologians can attest to this, I need not prove it. And it does not necessarily mean they love God any less or more – most are just trying to do what’s right. As primary belief is necessary for secondary and secondary is necessary for tertiary and peripheral belief, the significance in the implications surrounding sufficient subject matter will vary in emotive and cognitive magnitude. In other words, from this point onward beliefs that surround that axiom may vary between persons and denominations (i.e. Eschatology).
HOW SHOULD WE INTERPRET SCRIPTURE?
Unfortunately, there are many who claim to believe in that supreme axiom, but it is by no means applied or adapted. It seems to only be an aspect of one’s belief and not the cornerstone of one’s identity, purpose, meaning and value. Once again, it seems that some believer’s at large just simply see a concept in the Book that relishes or reflects a desired belief, and then, as time goes on without introspection, it fades into tradition rather than sanctification. This faithless approach to biblical interpretation spends no time harmonizing Scripture with Spirit, rather it rejects the power of the Holy Spirit’s authority on the matter (2 Peter 1:20-21) and devises its own exegetical and hermeneutical revelation as if faith originated in them. As intense as this accusation may sound, it is far more common and subtle than one would like to imagine, and I am sure, many lay guilty – not due to poor interpretation, but due to a lack of faith. However, as far as interpretation is concerned, in the academic world this ‘heresy’, for lack of a better word, is called eisegesis, the interpretational process of implementing one’s own presuppositions or prejudices into and onto the text. It has become far too prevalent today to simplify, reduce and even modify what the text means in order to fit our own tolerance of ‘what the Bible says’ from our modern lens as opposed to applying what the Bible actually says: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2) With that important detail in mind, many in the West have forgotten the heart of the Gospel and have supplanted the Good News with a community centre. Again, this seems to be, more often than not, predicated by Christian’s taking the Biblical text, more or less, legalistically. One must not forget that Christianity does not follow the Mosaic law, so the result of such legalism ends in strict ungrounded stumbling blocks or washed down fluffy stuff. In the first century AD, during the time of Christ, the Scribes and Pharisees tried to codify and reduce God to just the written word itself, which was ultimately against the nature and will of God (John 5:37-40; Matthew 12:1-14). And so it was, when the Messiah came, they didn’t recognize Him – Jesus did not match their understanding of the Messiah in the text. The heart of the Old Testament was displaced (this seems to be why Jesus Christ might have quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy so frequently). When it comes to language games, it seems that legalism and subjectivism play the same hand.
Likewise, it seems easy to forget that God is not the Bible. God is bigger than the Bible! All of His properties, features, characteristics and works cannot be self-contained within a single Book. God orchestrated the Bible for us, to help us know Him. That means when we read or do not read the Bible, in or out of season, we need to faithfully listen and meditate, in steadfast strength, to God day and night in order to understand His Word and apply His will! Did Noah cite Genesis before the Flood? Did Abraham meditate on the Torah day and night? – Or did they both live by faith and listen to God? Instead, people are interpreting the Bible, say, in the Old English (even ignoring the original language it was written: Hebrew, Aramaic, Koine Greek), from a ‘watchtower’, so to speak, rejecting the concurrent social, cultural, historical and canonical contextual meanings and implications of the time period it was written and the reason for why it was written and then, ultimately, applying their own cultural-personal spin into the text as the prime motif (i.e. Flat Earth social movement or the King James Only folk doctrine). People implement their own meaning and virtues into the text and then say ‘it is God’s Word’! Strangely, this unveils an inkling for the show of legalism in the Christian church: one’s personal desired interpretation is God. This egocentric exegesis and haphazard hermeneutical approach just causes dissonance and factions within the Church. One might read each verse as a universal absolute even if the verse is not asking to be an absolute! For example: “Joseph gathered very much grain, as the sand of the sea, until he stopped counting, for it was immeasurable.” (Genesis 41:49). This, of course, is a hyperbole and is supposed to be taken as such. It is not that the grain was objectively infinite in quantity, it was that Joseph could not keep track anymore; it was virtually immeasurable. That is the literal interpretation of the text. Also, “… from the four corners of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12) simply refers to the four cardinal directions as encompassing the borders, extremities or ends of the land. Unlike contemporary language (more so culture) that has substituted the word literal for virtual, we ought to refrain from taking literal out of context; and that’s just it. God designed us to communicate with context and subtext, which includes reading the heart and overarching point of what is being communicated.
Fortunately, scholars attempt to bridge these gaps for us and a lot of the time the dialog is what it is. But regardless of plain reading, the historical context and subtext of select accounts can enlighten our perspective on what a phrase, command, genealogy, parable or story means and how much significance it carries which provides greater understanding of the nature of God. For instance, there is a unique phrasing about light written by Moses in the Book of Genesis that carried more weight in ancient days than it does today: “Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.”(Genesis 1:16) Nowadays, it would be understandable if one plainly read the “greater light” is much more powerful and the “lesser light” is much weaker, but, in fact, it was a linguistic method implemented by Moses to counter surrounding pagan cultures, to highlight that the sun and moon were not deities but designs! Moreover, a flat ‘literal’ approach to this verse might lead the reader to believe that God created two suns. How far should we stretch the word literal? – To the ends of the earth? I sure hope not!
WHAT IS THE HEART OF SCRIPTURE?
The Heart of Bible is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And as such, the Bible is a fusion of both God and man, a design that emulates the nature of Jesus Christ the Word incarnate, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Bible is also partially substitutive for the lack of a physical Christ, but not fully (Matthew 5:18). As explicitly repeated and established in the New Testament, God desires to have a purposeful, meaningful relationship with us, and that relationship can only manifest under the provision of the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who yields proper exegetical and hermeneutical interpretation of the Scripture (John 16:12-15; 1 John 2:20-21, 26-27).
On a concluding note, it is imperative to remember (and rejoice) that God does not save souls based on good works, belief and ethical intent, even if that means some beliefs are a bit weird or off, wrong or even right for that matter. It ought to go without saying that not one of us has a perfectly coherent belief system. And if it were indeed the case, that God only saved souls on capacity alone, then grace, mercy, faith and love are mere meaningless platitudes; the only person in heaven would be Jesus Christ, which is surely not the case: Luke 23:39-43. It is only when we try to rip the heart out of the text and remake the nature of God in our image do things become treacherous, which is non-coincidently one of the primary themes that underpins the Book of Job. It misses the mark for why the Bible is written at all. God, by way of the Holy Spirit, promises to transform you through the renewing of your mind, which includes how you believe, think and behave. That is precisely why the Gospel account is unparalleled. The message of salvation through Jesus Christ has no cultural boundaries; it is simple enough to be guarded by the symptomatic effects of language games and complex enough to withstand the test of time. The necessary aspects of the Christian paradigm have been amazingly preserved for every tongue and mind so that the Heart of the Bible can be heard, received and understood no matter the culture, creed, language or belief. God bless.
Matlock Bobechko | September 14, 2017 – 9:34 AM EST
 The word used for ‘corner’ in this select text of Hebrew is kânaph (kaw-naf’; כָּנַף) meaning wing, extremity or edge and does not mean a literal forty-five degree corner of flat earth. https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=H3670&t=KJV
 There are select cases of Particular Revelation that I’ve encountered, or perhaps it is better to say a personal revelation, where a person has prayed to God and is provided with an answer from Scripture about the concern, even if the verse revealed may be historically out of context or not applicable to the narrative in relation to the persons current situation; only the select verse applies in itself. I am not willing to claim that an engagement on this level is heretical or improper. Cases like this seem to be more so a personal revelation that leads to foster a deeper relationship with God as opposed to a person critically dissecting the biblical text atomistically; that is God meets people at their level of understanding. And that’s the point I am attempting to get at: prayer and meditation actively engages with God and requires us to listen.