Luke 15, Day 4 – Reading the Bible Without Reading the Bible

Triad Study Luke 15 Bible with Tonys Chocolonely Milk Chocolate

Study: Hope Church Triad Program

Today’s ChocolateTony’s Chocolonely Milk Chocolate

Today’s PassageLuke 15

How do we keep from not reading the Bible when we read the Bible?

Jesus tells these three parables to the Pharisees in response to their hostility toward sinners. As I mentioned earlier, part of the Pharisaic tradition was putting up fences to prevent themselves from sinning, to the point where they’d put up fences around the fences established in the Torah. Our friends at put it this way: “Evolving over the centuries, these traditions added to God’s [Law], which is forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:2), and the Pharisees sought to strictly obey these traditions along with the Old Testament.” We live life, we build up preconceptions, we introduce incorrect assumptions, and we construct entire belief structures where faulty premises compound themselves in faulty conclusions. We make mental messes, and we try to live by them. The Pharisees, as a group, threw out compassion and freedom in their effort to distance themselves from sin and sinners, as if evil were some physical contaminant. When they read the Hebrew Bible, they often read their preconceptions instead. They were reading the Bible without actually reading the Bible.

And as much as I like order and structure, I’m skeptical of theological numbered lists. The five points of Calvinism, the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, even the Trinity: they’re all theological frameworks intended to shed light on scripture. And frameworks can be useful, but some of the frameworks out there contradict the same scriptures they’re intended to interpret, and at times we spend so much time staring through our frameworks, we go blind to the points where the Bible’s claims and their own are mutually exclusive. When we get lost in our own theology of numbered lists and frameworks, we read the Bible without actually reading the Bible.

And all of that’s a long dang setup for a revelation: the Triad Study has its own numbered lists. Its structure reflects Hope Church’s nine lifelong “Multiply” priorities, and this first passage was selected from Luke’s gospel to highlight the pursuing aspect of God’s grace. And don’t get me wrong: there are numbered lists in scripture. You’d be right to say that Jesus tells three parables about lost things here, and they do in fact depict God as pursuing those lost in their sins. So far, so good, right? But Hope calls these nine “Multiply” principles “lifelong priorities,” and though I admit they look fairly good on paper, I have some reservations about a framework that purports to sort the practice of following scripture and being a disciple of Jesus Christ into nine particular categories. I expect they have some utility, but full disclosure: I’m taking this study with a grain of salt.

Today, as I read the passage, I tried looking at it as one of the Pharisees might. How would they hear Jesus’ parables? We can only speculate, as Luke doesn’t record their response. But in spite of Jesus’ appeal to the Pharisees’ care for their own property, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them…” (4), in spite of the analogies of celebrating neighbors, in spite of the final story of a father’s forgiveness and love for his son, I find it hard to believe that many of the Pharisees would have been won over to Jesus’ way of thinking. Would they have seen the older son’s bitterness as a counter-accusation, taken it as a personal attack? My hypothetical Pharisee closed his mind at that point.

We can’t help approaching the Bible with a particular mindset, a particular belief system. But we need to bring frameworks that help us actually understand it when we read it. And where our frameworks obscure the truth and keep us separated from God, we need to allow the Bible to break down our frameworks.

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