Within Understanding Distance
I’m going to leave the discussion on principal themes of the Bible, not because I feel that I’ve exhausted the subject but mainly because the subject has exhausted me! Well, actually, I think that at some point such a discussion can be counterproductive. If you lay out too many rules, passages that don’t fit under any of them suddenly become “unimportant.” As was pointed out by several along the way, we are to look to the weightier matters without neglecting the others.
I also think that we can become too scientific in our Bible study, too logic bound, too mathematical. We want to apply formulas and matrices to the text in order to systematize our beliefs. While we can find guidelines to help us, I think that, in the end, Bible study is a spiritual activity. That may be a bit “touchy-feely” for some, but I honestly think that a scientific approach to Scripture can sometimes get in our way.
I’m not often inclined to quote Alexander Campbell or other leaders from the past, but Mr. Campbell said something very interesting about Bible study (yeah, I know… he said a lot of interesting things). In his Christian System, Brother Campbell wrote:
RULE 7. For the salutary and sanctifying intelligence of the Oracles of God, the following rule is indispensable: We must come within the understanding distance.
There is a distance which is properly called the speaking distance, or the hearing distance; beyond which the voice reaches not, and the ears hear not. To hear another, we must come within that circle which the voice audibly fills.
Now we may with propriety say, that as it respects God, there is an understanding distance. All beyond that distance can not understand God; all within it can easily understand him in all matters of piety and morality. God himself is the center of that circle, and humility is its circumference.
Within understanding distance. Campbell goes on to describe the need for spirituality in Bible study. He says “the philological principles and rules of interpretation enable many men to be skilful in biblical criticism, and in the interpretation of words and sentences, who neither perceive nor admire the things represented by those words.” Put another way… rules alone won’t get you there. It takes humility, it takes prayer, it takes spiritual discernment.
Scientific Bible study can only take you so far. Without a pious spirit, all the rules in the world are inadequate. You’ve got to be close to God to be able to really hear His voice. We’ve got to draw near to Him if we want to understand His Word.