Applying the Bible

Applying the Bible

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One of the most amazing and difficult mysteries of the Bible is the reality that every book within it has two authors and many audiences. There is a sense in which every word of all 66 books were written by a specific human being, living in a particular place and time, and intending his writing to be applied by a real life audience that he had in mind (e.g. Paul’s letters to a real historical person, Timothy). There is no denying that reality, however right alongside it is the truth that every word of all 66 books was inspired by the Holy Spirit and breathed out by the one God who lives in no particular place and time, and intended His word to be applied by audiences ranging throughout ages, geographies, and cultures.

Dual-Authors

The very Bibles that we place on the night stand or carry with us into church bear out both of these realities. We can almost hear the different voices of the authors as we move from book to book: the analytic detail provided by Dr. Luke, the eloquent and moving doxologies of learned Paul, the pastoral and caring spirit of the apostle Peter as he calls us “beloved”…Their voices are not drowned in the inspiration, but rather filled with the perfect words of the almighty God. As Peter proclaims in 1 Peter 1:21, “…no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit”. Two authors, one product: a living document that is perfected by the divine and characterized by the human who God used to craft it.

I love meditating on the dual authorship of Scripture. It’s a doctrine that seems unbelievable, and yet proves undeniable the more we study our Bibles. It takes on the question “who wrote the Scriptures, God or men?” and replies with a simple “Yes.” This precious principle, rightly understood, can also help us on the other side of the equation: who is the true audience or recipient of any particular book of the Bible? As mentioned previously, every passage of Scripture we have was written to a real, historical audience for a real, historical reason. That truth could intellectually correspond to the human side of the authorship principle (historical author writing to historical audience). But beyond that, every passage of Scripture was also written for every Christian audience throughout history because of the divine authorship of a sovereign God whose purposes stretch throughout eternity.

One Application

The eternality of God’s word ought to inform the way we apply the Bible to our lives. Countless times throughout my life I’ve thought to myself, ‘Well, that may have been great message in the first century, but how does this apply to me now?’ But God’s hand in Scripture means that the reality of application is simple– it applies now the same way it applied then. As humans, we are so caught up in the trappings of life that we often fail to see how little the world has changed throughout history. We think about the first century, and dwell upon the facts that they didn’t have phones, or cars, or airplanes, or Twitter. The Bible would have us change our perspective. In the words of Solomon, under inspiration: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). When we look back in history through the Bible’s lens, we see that the most important aspects of life are really the same as they’ve always been. People are born sinful, the inclinations of their hearts are wicked, they need a savior and regeneration, and they seek after anything and everything other than God to satisfy a created purpose and desire for Him. It’s all the really the same. Any perceived changes are cosmetic.

This is the attitude that I ask God to keep in my mind and heart as I approach His word. I ask that He would help me to see that when Paul instructs the Colossians to root all of their relationships in the Gospel, God is speaking that application to me. That when Jesus commissions his apostles to be fishers of men, He is commissioning me. That when John relays the Lord’s admonition to the church in Ephesus that they had abandoned their first love, He is calling me back to the loving heart and acts that spring forth from Gospel wakefulness. The divine inspiration of Scripture frees us from the mental gymnastics that would otherwise be necessary to apply 2,000 year old words to a 21st century life. It is just one more facet of the rest that is found in Christ.

Three Points to Ponder

In closing, I would mention three disclaimers. One has to do with application of the Old Testament. New Testament instruction is directly applicable to Christians in this day and age because both the early and modern church exist under the same New Covenant. However, the Old Testament was written to God’s people living under the Old Covenant. It is applicable in principle because God also intended it for us, but must be interpreted through the lens of Christ’s finished work if we would rightly understand it. But the reality remains that Old Testament instructions apply to us the same way they would have applied to Christians in the early church. Secondly, I would add that the applicability and relevance of Scripture does not mean that we don’t need to work hard in the passage. We still bring our own biases and predispositions to the word, and sin has a way of blinding us to what we really need to see. Application isn’t automatic, but under God’s sovereignty it is entirely possible and endlessly beneficial. And lastly, we need to all be careful not to be consumed by application. We should open our Bibles to first find the triune God rather than ourselves, because it is first and foremost about Him. Application is important and vital, but will always flow from our understanding of the one true God. If we try to look for it without first looking for Him, we will inevitably miss the point.

Jesse Kemp

Jesse Kemp is a former member of Sovereign Hope Church who is now a teacher of English and Bible at Heritage Christian School in Bozeman, Montana, and a student at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Jesse and his wife Megan have a son named Kellan plus one more on the way.

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