“He entered Jericho and was passing through” (Luke 19:1)
You are in Mrs. Jackson’s 7th grade math class, and a folded piece of paper is on the ground. You stoop to pick it up and discover this line written within, “I think you are one too!” Your mind fills with possible meanings.
You peek around and find two boys sticking their tongues out at each other. Could this note be an insult? You carefully examine the lettering on the note and find the dot on the “i” is a small heart. Just then you see a young lady wiggle her fingers to wave at a boy across the room. Now you understand better. This is a love note! The context leads you to an accurate understanding.
However, there is also another piece of information you use to understand the note. This evidence is not in the room. It is not in the note. However, this knowledge leads you to the truth more quickly and accurately. It is your awareness that children tend pass notes in class. That is why you began your investigation with the children.
This exercise illustrates how an accurate comprehension of words is influenced by a broader understanding that is not explicitly stated in the text.
What does this have to do with good Bible study? Well-meaning Bible students will sometimes say, “I just want examine the text and say what the text says.” That is a noble sentiment, but rather impossible. Each examiner brings a bushel of preconceptions to a text that will influence what he or she understands. We all do this.
So, here is the key question, “What preconceptions will we allow ourselves to bring to the text?” Some examine a text through the lens of how modern culture uses words, themes, and metaphors. Others examine a text through the lens of how a religious tradition addresses certain words, subjects, and doctrines. These common preconceptions have profound weaknesses to accurate Biblical understanding.
What if we examined a text through the lens of the broader story, doctrines, and themes of the Bible itself? The Bible itself becomes a divinely calibrated pair of glasses which allow us to see a text more clearly. Spirit given lens to see Spirit given truth. After all, since God is the underlying Author of the Biblical record, then His use of words, topics and types should be our primary concern.
How does this practically affect our Bible study? We should learn to read a text as a brush stroke in the huge mural of Scripture. This means we must step back from a text and ask if we have seen these words, themes, and storylines before. If so, God may be providing us the means to see the message of a text more richly and clearly.
Here is a fun example from the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Zacchaeus is a short, rich, despised tax-collector who cannot see Jesus. In the immediate context he is contrasted with the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30) and compared to the blind beggar (Luke 18:35-43). Those comparisons create hours of meaningful meditation on discipleship.
When we read the introductory words, “He entered Jericho and was passing through” (Luke 19:1) as a brush stroke in the Biblical mural, another picture becomes clear. Jesus goes through Jericho on his way to conquer sin and death on the cross (This is the last narrative before the triumphal entry.). Zacchaeus is an outcast in Jericho. He is singled out for salvation in a city of doomed grumblers. He has Jesus into his house.
These repeated themes point us to the story of the conquest of Canaan and the salvation of Rahab (Joshua 2,6). When the Rahab and Zacchaeus stories are held together, they magnify the gracious character of God and clarify the type of person God saves. They bid us to write our stories along side theirs.
When we examine isolated verses, we may allow pin pricks of light to peek through. However, when the Biblical record is allowed to illuminate a Biblical account you can see God’s message more clearly.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14)