Scripture is mostly stream, not stain glass

His white hair spoke to his experience. However, his voice belied his age as his tone and words tumbled forth with enthusiasm. “In the last month or so I have seen scripture in a whole new light.” With this statement he explained how an idea had opened up his eyes to what had previously alluded him.

He anticipated with joy the adventure of pressing forward studying God’s word. What had so changed his understanding and perspective of God’s word? 

Sometimes people view scripture like a beautiful stain glass window where many isolated truths are cemented together to form a biblical book. With this view point, the student learns to focus upon each single colorful chard of truth.  Thus, Bible study can become a topical exercise involving examining all of the blue chards or red ones to gain insight into a biblical concept.

Some biblical books, such as Proverbs, are like stain glass windows. However, this is the exception rather than the rule.

So, if most of the Bible is not like Proverbs, what metaphor better captures its nature?  Consider the power and continuity of a flowing stream. In God’s word, ideas often flow forward building momentum. Viewing scripture with this approach, the type of question which we must continually ask is, “How does this sentence, paragraph or section advance the author’s flow of thought?”

What might appear like a new topic could turn out to be the next step of progression. Take as an example 1 Corinthians chapters 8 through 10. In these chapters Paul wrote about meat offered to idols, his rights as an apostle, viewing his spiritual life as an intense athlete, Israel’s baptism in the Red Sea, Israel’s failings in the wilderness, the Lord’s supper and finally some instructions about seeking the well being of others, not oneself.

Nevertheless, each of these ideas are connected like drops of water in a river. When we perceive such streams of thought, our understanding of God’s message gains greater clarity.

How can such diverse thoughts relate to each other? As chapter 8 opens, Paul contrasted and applied the principles of love and knowledge to meat sacrificed to idols. After unpacking some truths regarding food sacrificed to idols, he focused upon the damage such knowledge could produce when Christians insist upon their rights. To counteract this, Paul proceeded to use the example of how love shaped his attitude regarding his rights as an apostle.  Although he had rights, he limited himself to pursue what was good for others.

Why would anyone engage in such self-denial for the sake of others? Just as athletes must be intense in order to win, so too Paul knew he must spiritually subdue himself.  He wanted to avoid becoming disqualified for the prize.

Although Paul had begun by outlining some truths about sacrificed foods, those thoughts did not exhaust the matter. While eating food offered to idols is harmless, to enter a pagan temple to eat food or to engage in idolatry is an entirely different matter. Severe consequences exist.

So, he reminded his readers of Israel’s example. Just like Christians, Israel had been baptized and nourished by Christ. Nevertheless these things could not ensure God’s favor if they would rebel, as demonstrated by the vast majority who died in the wilderness.  Why did so many die? Israel participated in the eating and drinking associated with idolatry.

His message is clear! Even for the Christian, idolatry is incompatible with seeking to please God.

Furthermore, just as Christians experience fellowship with Christ’s blood and body when eating the Lord’s supper, so too, eating at the table of demons causes a person to connect with evil forces. Paul’s implied message: Just don’t do it!

This lengthy section about food sacrificed to idols closes with practical instructions regarding how to handle different food scenarios. As we might expect, the principle of love – seeking the well being of the other person to the glory of God – provides the primary guiding principle.

Scripture flows. Most of the time its message is not chopped up. The more we see how the biblical authors advanced their ideas from paragraph to paragraph, the greater our biblical literacy grows.


One Reply to “Scripture is mostly stream, not stain glass”

  1. In the last years of his life, James Walls enthusiastically studied scripture looking for how the biblical authors connected and advanced their ideas. He shared the results of his study in Sunday school as well as in a Bible class he taught at a retirement home. He will be missed.

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