In the early years of being a Christian, it was not uncommon to hear the idea that all we need is the Bible. If anyone of us wants to know God and understand His will, all we had to do was open up Scripture and study. We were cautioned about commentaries- they might be helpful, but we should never substitute the blatant truth in Scripture for the opinions of others. In its worst expressions, this led to anti-academic sentiment (and even anti-intellectualism). The heart of this bias was genuine and well intentioned, but it was/is deeply misguided. The truth is that we never come to the Bible alone.
Let’s say you open to the New Testament and read Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. The fact is, your are reading it in a translation. Immediately you are not alone. The work and minds behind that translation required endless hours of study, scholarship, debate and more. It is, after all, only one of hundreds of translations available. Even if you decided to learn the language of the original text(s), you’d still have to rely on that same scholarship. Already the room is filled with countless others who are helping you read the text.
This says nothing about the fact that you are reading the text through the lens of your place in history, culture, language, gender, age, education, experience, etc. Layer upon layer of bias, influence and context shapes how you read, what you understand as you read and how you respond to the implications of that understanding. As if that weren’t enough, even the people who were listening to Jesus’ words in the moments He spoke them often understood and responded to them differently. Even His closest friends and disciples got it wrong time and again.
This kind of thinking is met with great resistance by those who believe that the Bible is enough. After all, they say, if you question our ability to trust Scripture, what can we trust? I sympathize with their perspective. There are those who have allowed these facts to rob them of faith in some/any authority in Scripture. However, I believe that the logic of those who claim “Bible alone” actually achieves the opposite end they desire- that is, it results in us losing the essential and precious truth found in Scripture.
We do not come to Scripture alone, but do so with the Holy Spirit who helps us discern God’s truth and will within. We do so through our brokenness and thus get it wrong time and again, but with humility, chastened certainty and the grace of a forgiving God, we continue to pursue Him. This isn’t a formula or “5-easy-steps”, but it is a path upon which we will discover more of God and His truth.
This same Holy Spirit is the Spirit who unites us as One Body in Christ. Therefore, the Spirit quickens our understanding of Scripture as we seek to discern together as community. And that communal discernment engages the diversity and multiplicity of gifts within that community without condescending against some strength or privileging others. We are mutually interdependent on one another through the Spirit. In many ways, this unity and interdependence should provide an impetus for a humble, yet passionate engagement of mission. After all, each person who comes into the Body of Christ brings with them absolutely unique expressions of gifting, perspective, etc. In fact, it is often in those who are most other that bring us the most essential understanding to become more like Christ together.
We never come to the Bible alone. And I thank God for it every day.