5.28.2013

Different Types of Maps: Read (and Preach, and Teach) the Whole Bible

In 2 Timothy 3.16-17, Paul writes:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Based on Paul’s words here, I think it should be obvious that we should give attention to all of Scripture, rather than just study the parts that we like over and over again. Some people focus on Paul’s writings; others spend a lot of time in the Gospels. Some folks obsess over the accounts of the early church in Acts, while others never stray far from the wisdom literature or the historical books of the Old Testament.

And it’s okay to have favorites, but if we emphasize our favorites to the point that we neglect the other portions of Scripture, then we aren’t taking Paul’s words from 2 Timothy 3.16-17 very seriously.

In Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, Jonathan T. Pennington puts it very well:
“…For Jefferson County, Kentucky, where I live, we could look at a topographical map that shows terrain and elevations or a road map; at a map that records annual rainfall or one that indicates historical landmarks and points of scenic interest; or we could consult a survey that shows where property lines begin and end. These are all different maps, and they would look very different if set beside one another. But of course they don’t contradict one another. They are complementary and beneficial. They are different discourses of truth—or different ways of approaching and presenting knowledge. 

If this is true for maps of Jefferson County, Kentucky, how much more for theology and Holy Scripture. We need to think of the Bible not as a single map that just gives us doctrinal statements or moral commands, but we must realize that the Bible is like an atlas—a collection of maps/books that shows us the way, the truth, and the life but in a variety of languages or discourses or ways of communicating. To privilege—or worse, to rely exclusively on—only one form is detrimental to apprehending truth; a topographical map helps little when we’re seeking the best restaurants.” 
What a great analogy this is! The Bible is true, but it presents truth in a variety of ways. In Matthew, truth might be presented through a parable. In 1 Kings or Acts, it might be presented in historical narrative. In Psalms, truth is presented through poetry, and in Proverbs through pithy sayings. In books like Romans, Paul often presents truth in direct theological or doctrinal statements, and in Revelation, John presents truth through bizarre and sometimes frightening visions.

All of these different “maps” are a vital part of the entire “atlas” of the Bible. Some are more useful for certain purposes than others, but all contain truth and none should be neglected.

I think all people of faith would do well to be more well-rounded in our Bible study.

2 comments:

Steven Barber 5/28/13, 10:33 AM  

I think that is an excellent analogy with several good points to be made from it. Thanks for sharing!

Luke Dockery 5/30/13, 10:00 AM  

Hey Steven, thanks for the comment. I really liked it when I read it and thought it was too good to keep to myself!

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