A Time Honored Technique

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I was reading James Howell’s book The Beatitudes for Today in preparation for my upcoming article series on the Beatitudes. In the first chapter I ran across this statement:

To see and hear Jesus with clarity, we need to tune out the background racket that can drown out what Jesus taught and blind us to what he did. To do so, it may be helpful to resort to a time-honored technique of reading the Bible. For the rabbis of Jesus’ day, every word, every letter in Scripture was there for a reason; nothing was superfluous.”[1]

Now, I don’t know about you, but a lot of the time I’m perfectly happy “seeing and hearing” Jesus in the words of my pastor, or a devotional book, or some “Christian” book by a favorite author—or a popular Christian author. 

But Howell has an incredibly valid and important point to make: to truly know what Jesus said we must read the Bible—the written Word of God. That’s the only place we can hear His unadulterated voice—the only place our own bias, or someone else’s interpretation doesn’t distort His message.

Now, I’m not saying pastors and Christian books in general are bad. They’re not (well, some truly are!), but inevitably the author’s bias will influence the way they interpret the Scriptures. We can’t help it. The study I’m currently doing on the Beatitudes is a perfect case in point. I’m reading about a dozen books, and finding widely different interpretations of some words or ideas. My task will be to find the path through that most nearly matches Scripture—or at least my interpretation of Scripture. And inevitably at times I’ll get it wrong.

By all means listen to the preached word; by all means read Christian authors. But then be a Berean. We read in Acts 17:11 that “the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (emphasis added). 

If those early Christians felt it was necessary to check Paul’s message against Scripture, we can hardly do less. Examine the Scriptures; pay attention to every word. If what your pastor says, or what you read in a Christian book doesn’t fit, make sure you throw out the bad, and stand firm on that which is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Looking for a Bible-reading plan for the new year? Check out “The Word”


[1] James C. Howell, The Beatitudes for Today (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

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