Audience relevance = personal relevance
by Steve Douglas
September 26th, 2007 | 5 Comments
Nowhere in Scripture (including 1 Timothy 3:16-17) does God guarantee universal applicability of the totality of Scripture; rather, I’m convinced by several factors that His first priority was for the Scriptures to be relevant to the original audiences, while Providentially ensuring ongoing relevance for secondary audiences. Relevance to us can never be divorced from the relevance to them, else scarcely would He even use a book written long ago and far away in foreign languages to talk to us.
I believe that’s why we see differences in genre and style: God not only allowed, but chose the eclectic literary variation we see in the Bible in order to be as relevant as possible to the original audience, and we as diligent students of the Scripture must put a little sweat and tears into it to get at what He was saying back then before we bother Him with the “So what’s it mean to me” stuff. The Spirit’s illumination comes in when it comes time to convert what it meant to them to what that means for us.
It is against all the facts to assume, as so many modern Christians of all stripes do, that God snips a little bit here and a little bit there, all out of context, and cobbles them together for my own personal edification like a kidnapper assembles a message from magazine and newspaper lettering. My God is a bit more ingenious than that. The fact is that our omnipotent God could have created His own universally-relevant genre, could have written His truth on titanium tablets, could have chosen a medium not specific to any language – He could have, but He didn’t. He chose rather to take men tied to their own languages and cultures and use the literary styles relevant to them, all of which need to be translated and explained to people of other times and cultures, not by some magical Holy Spirit decoder ring, but by a little elbow grease. Why should it surprise us that what it meant to them was intended to be the most fundamental part of what it means to us? God had the Church canonize Scripture in order to give us a record of His interactions with humanity that continue to reveal divine character, methods, and principles, not to provide the Holy Spirit a book of selected quotations as an inventory from which He could draw when He wanted to give us personal revelation.
By digging in a little time of personal research and interaction with other believers, we show that we are in earnest and take God’s choice to interact with history seriously, and the Holy Spirit is then happier to apply it to us as He intended it. Even a simple and uneducated Christian, if devoted to truth, is able to glean this sort of truth. For instance, do a little research on the book of Zephaniah: he prophesied Nineveh’s fall. What good does that do me now? Well, a little extra-biblical research (which can be found in the notes of most Bibles nowadays) shows that the perverse city of Nineveh did indeed fall, and not long after Zephaniah’s prophecy. Two very profound yet unfathomably significant observations are 1) that God does what He says He will do and 2) that God takes sin deadly seriously.
Of course there’s a whole lot more to Zephaniah than that, but I think this demonstrates that the frequently-posed argument, “Well, not everyone can learn Hebrew and Greek!” has little bearing on what I’m saying. I would also add here that God can give us new insight into things in a macro sense than the original audience had: we can see the serpent’s head crushed in ways the original Genesis audience were incapable of. We can see other prophecies fulfilled in ways they couldn’t. This is all what is known as “progression of revelation”, a modus operandi that God seems to be fond of.
If the Bible’s just there for the Holy Spirit to extract rhema words from, why waste the space with all the non-refrigerator-quality prophecies in Haggai and the drudgery of Leviticus and the chronologies of Genesis? I suppose that’s why it’s so common for Christians to try to find hidden meanings in everything – maybe sometimes the minutiae of the esoteric requirements of the Law just don’t have to have any greater significance than what occurred to the ancient Israelites, namely, “Boy, keeping this Torah is tough stuff!”
Okay, that’s the end of my comment. As for all my posts, especially the ones I seem the most opinionated about, I would like to request feedback. If you disagree, you don’t have to formulate a crushing response; if what I say is wrong, perhaps merely dislodging a brick will cause it topple. I may be passionate, but I’m more passionate for truth than for a well-formulated argument.
September 26th, 2007