A Holistic Hermeneutic
Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.
Finding Christ in the scripture is a deep, deep blessing; it reminds us over and over again of the totality of who He is and what He has done. Seeing Christ, by faith, in His word is a chief way of stirring up a deeper love for Him (as God enables). Likewise, when brethren share the greatness of Christ with one another (His person, His work for the elect church, and His work in us as individual saints in this present life), I believe that love will all the more abound… especially, when biblical balance is at hand.
Concerning balance, it is one thing to have a “Christ-chiefly” (or “Christ-primarily”) point of view but it is another to have what is tantamount to a “Christ-only” point of view when reading Scripture (by “Christ-only” I do not mean in the sense of salvation, redemption, justification, sanctification, faith, etc. — I mean the point of view that we are only to see Christ in Scripture to the practical exclusion of everything else that God would have us see, learn, and do). The former (Christ-chiefly) is blessed but the latter (Christ-only, i.e. to the functional exclusion of all else) is dangerous. The former glorifies our Lord and the latter dishonours Him (in the guise of “honouring” Him) by setting at naught much of the richness of His word. We want to see Christ first and foremost — let us not ever stray from that; however, we do not want to dismiss the other listed aspects, the God ordained and God wrought aspects, of the Bible. The word of God, when applied to our heart by the Spirit of God (and when we are led by Him) contains all that we need from a historic, legal, moral / life application, and spiritual point of view to cause us to walk richly, thankfully, and humbly before Christ Jesus, in love, to the degree that God purposed for us. It is grievous error to ignore these aspects only “to focus on Christ” so-called — that is not what God commands. Moreover, it is not an “either / or” scenario, it is no false dichotomy; these aspects are not mutually exclusive. Seeing the spiritual must never be used as an excuse not to see the historic, legal, and moral. Likewise, we should never be content with the historic, legal, and moral to the point of missing the spiritual (especially the Christ-centered spiritual). When one sees the word of God holistically, there isn’t a danger. All of these aspects come together as a whole and magnify one another. There is no division in God’s word, just a division of explanation to help us better understand things. We see this with wisdom; we are exhorted unto wisdom (which encompasses the moral and life application) and yet Christ is our wisdom. All other aspects of God’s word must be viewed through the blessed “lens” of Christ, Him crucified, and Him risen victoriously.
But why is the historical important at all? Because it reminds us that these accounts were real, they really occurred, and they can be looked at as a source of comfort for us. When you think on Joseph’s condition in prison, Jeremiah’s tribulation and laments, Elijah’s fear and depression, etc., when you ponder their various God-ordained situations, think about how they must have felt, how they perceived things, how they entered into / escaped this temptation, received deliverance from this sin or that… Thoroughly immerse yourself in their world, putting yourself in their shoes and then think about your own life, your own struggles and deliverances, and how -like them- our Lord has seen you through them all. Make their history, their experiences, a source of joy and understanding for you. Consider all of their mighty, sometimes heartbreaking, trials and learn from them, grow by them, encourage others with them — and praise God concerning them as they remind you of His great mercy and faithfulness.
But why is the legal important at all? Can one deeply consider and appreciate redemption, justification, and deliverance if one does not deeply consider and understand the nature of God’s law, the exacting demands of it, and the seemingly infinite weight of the charges brought against us (for each and every sin of thought, word, emotion, omission, and commission engaged in by us)? Seeing the legal aspect of God’s word helps us to better understand the righteousness and justice of God, the mighty demands of His perfect law, the justness of the Lord’s wrath against sinners and sin, the “exceeding sinfulness” of sin, and the blessedness of justification and the imputation of divine righteousness. It discovers for us what we deserved by nature and what we received from God that we did not deserve by nature.
But why is the moral (life application) important at all? It allows us to see both how Christ lived (because He was the exemplar of righteousness in that He kept all of the laws, statutes, and commandments of God) and how Christ (and thus God) is intrinsically holy, good, and perfect. In other words, it shows us the moral pattern of Christ and directs us, by the application of the word to our hearts by the Holy Spirit (who alone bears fruit in us through Christ and by the will of the Father), to the path that God would have us walk — one of good works, uprightness, and Gospel adorning — all God-wrought, all God-ordained from before the world was. We also begin to better understand how the Lord manifests himself in us before the world. He is The Light that shines through us, primarily in Gospel preaching / witnessing, but also in life alteration. When we do good, it is not us but Christ in us causing us (through the Holy Spirit) to will and to do of His good pleasure. Sure, we are willing to do the good and desire to actually do it, but (1) only because God mercifully makes us willing and (2) only because the forever-flowing Life and Strength from The Vine to the branches gives us the ability to do right.
But why is the spiritual important at all? Because God is Spirit and must be worshiped in Spirit and in Truth. The spiritual is the realm wherein we have our life (after the inner man) and wherein we have that blessed eternal union with Christ. The spiritual focuses us on Him, chiefly/primarily, but also to who and what we are in Him, and to what will become of those who are without. In the spiritual, we see His great redemptive work, His great creative work, and His great work of comforting us in this life, through the Holy Spirit, as we face tribulation an persecution without, and even worse, the loathsomeness of sinful self (in this body of death) within.
We read in Psalm 1:1-2 “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” Likewise we read in Psalm 119:97-99 “MEM. O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. 98 Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they [are] ever with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies [are] my meditation.“
The more deeply we ponder, meditate upon, the word of God the more we see that there is no harm in a holistic approach; in fact, it becomes the only approach that makes sense given the nature of the Bible. You see, the Bible absolutely is a book on history! That is, the Bible is indeed a history book in that it tells us HIS story — God’s story of (amongst other things) His creative work, interactive work (with mankind), and His redemptive work concerning the elect — all in, and through, Christ and all throughout (and beyond) time.
The Bible is also a legal and moral book; it is absolutely a book on morality! It declares for all to see the moral, ethical, and divinely perfect nature, character, and attributes of God. It shows us the legal, ethical, and moral standards that God has ordained for mankind. It also instructs the saints regarding adorning our Gospel profession with our character and conduct — all by God’s grace and mercy. Yet, does the fact that we fall so far short of God’s legal and moral standard alter this usefulness of the word? No, not one bit. Does the fact that our righteousness and sanctification must be found in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, even from the cross, if it is to be found at all (for even our manifested good works and separation from wickedness in this life is Christ-wrought and flows from His great salvific accomplishment, even His finished work at Calvary) alter this usefulness of the word? No, not one bit. Does the fact that some twist scripture and use it to foster a dead, dry, legalistic religion alter this usefulness of the word? No, not one bit. God’s word is His word and He uses it for all of the purposes that He has designed. We are not to worry about our own shortcomings or the abuses of others in their handling of the word. We must aim to focus on Christ and the entirety of His doctrine (teaching, instruction) as found throughout Scripture and we must do so without excuse, slant, or compromise.
Finally, the Bible is indeed a spiritual book; it is a book on the spiritual purpose, mystery, and reality of the Divine Christ, the Triune Godhead (of whom Christ is the fulness bodily), and the Body of Christ made perfect in and by Him. All of scripture points to (even culminates in) the spiritual — with Christ having the preeminence in all things! As stated above, Christ is the lens through which all Scripture must be viewed; nothing is to be considered outside of who He is, what He has done creatively and salvifically, who we are in Him (as His elect bride), and what will become of the wicked at His hand. This is a spiritual book indeed, for ‘It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that [Christ speaks] unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life’ for ‘holy men of God spoke as the were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (John 6:63 and 2 Peter 1:21) and we have these words recorded for us, kept and protected for us through the ordaining and effectual hand of God.
In light of the above, may God never cease to give His people a truly holistic sense of His word, causing us to learn all that He would have us learn, and to adore all of His doctrine and teaching (on all levels) to the degree that He has ordained for us and enables us. May our chief, even our utmost purpose in all of this be to foster and encourage a greater love for God, His Christ, and His people.
To God be the glory, Amen.