In our current Sunday morning study of Galatians, the teacher has often made the comment that “this is complicated” or “it’s not easy”, or something akin to that. Translate that as what we’re discussing and looking at in the biblical text and seeking to understand is not as straight forward as it might seem.
For the class’ benefit, there’s not anything more important he could say about the text then those words—“this is complicated.”
As we’ve indicated before, often the biblical text can be complicated. There really is nothing “easy” about a good portion of it. Also, as we’ve noted, when seeking to understand the Bible, we’re dealing with different cultures, different belief systems, and different ways of communicating. That doesn’t mean we can’t come to understand the biblical text, it simply means it’s not as easy as some would suggest it is. For example:
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in chapter 3 verse 1, he says that “Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited (portrayed) as crucified.” What does Paul mean when he says that? How exactly did that happen? When did it happen?
Paul also has some seemingly harsh things to say about the Law in this letter. He puts the Law in stark contrast to grace and faith but does that mean the Law has no value? Does it mean he’s only talking about the ceremonial aspects of the Law (circumcision, dietary rules, etc.) and not the ethical or moral aspects of the Law? Would Paul and Jesus see eye to eye when it comes to the Law? It seems that Paul never tells fellow Jews to stop obeying the Law. He doesn’t seem remorseful about his own obedience to the Law or being “blameless” with respect to the Law. What are we to make of that?
Indeed…it’s complicated and points us directly back to the idea of work. There’s nothing easy about coming to a proper understanding of the biblical text. It often takes work and energy on our part.
Then comes the “So what?”
Once we come to understand the biblical text, it’s important for us to ask how that understanding impacts our life. We might know what it says and know what it means but what are we going to do about it? That’s called application—the “so what?” of Bible study. If we don’t get to this point in the process then whatever we’ve done up to this point is purely academic. It might impress our friends, but it does little to advance the Kingdom.
If we don’t ask the question—“What does God want me to do with this information/understanding of the text?” then we’ve missed the point of studying the Bible.
It’s totally fine to get an understanding in our head. Even laudable that we take that understanding and push it to our heart. But if it doesn’t get to our hands and our feet. Well – we’ve pretty much missed the point.
We can go back to Jesus’ words regarding the Sermon on the Mount, he makes it clear that those who “hear” AND “act” on his words are those who build their house on the rock. Those who hear but don’t act are foolishly building their house on the sand. And we all know what happens in that case.
We will always run into passages that are complicated and cause us to scratch our heads. They will challenge us to look hard for what the text means and how we should come to a proper understanding of it. That’s why we have a toolbox and good tools to work with. Not only that, it’s our main responsibility as good students of scripture. Not only that, it’s our main responsibility to make application of the text. In other words, what should I, could I, or am I to do differently as a result of what the Bible is teaching me?
AS YOU CAN SEE: this is a new theme. I’d like to know your thoughts on it.