Reading the Bible Holistically

Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (vv.4–6).

- Matthew 19:1–9

Having seen that we should be careful to let the explicit teaching or didactic portions of Scripture control how we understand passages in which the teaching is more implicit, we are now ready to apply that principle more broadly. If the explicit teachings of Scripture are to guide our interpretation of the Bible, then what we are saying is that the surest guide to the right understanding of Scripture is Scripture itself. There is a famous Latin phrase that encapsulates this idea: Scriptura sacra sui ipsius interpres, which means “sacred Scripture is its own interpreter.”

That the best guide for interpreting the Bible is the Bible itself is a logical consequence of our doctrine of biblical inspiration. The author of a particular work can best tell us what he meant when he wrote that work. If God inspired the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16–17), God is the author of all of Scripture. So, since God is the author of all of Scripture, He is the One who can give us the definitive meaning of His Word, and since the only word we have from the Lord is His Word, the chief way we determine whether our interpretation of a specific passage is right is to compare it to the rest of the Bible’s instruction.

Dr. R.C. Sproul puts it this way in his message on historical narrative in his series Knowing Scripture: “We must be careful to read the Bible holistically. We ought not to draw interpretations from the text that are against interpretations that the Bible elsewhere draws itself. The Bible interprets the Bible; the Holy Spirit is His own interpreter.” If our interpretation of one text contradicts our interpretation of another text, one or both interpretations must be wrong. They cannot both be correct because God is not “a God of confusion” (1 Cor. 14:33), and He would not teach one thing in one passage and the opposite in another.

In today’s passage, we see how Jesus used Scripture to interpret Scripture. In the first century, Jewish rabbis who followed the famous rabbi Hillel had taken the allowance for divorce in the Mosaic law (Deut. 24:1–4) and stretched it far beyond its original intent. Instead of seeing the divorce laws as a gracious accommodation meant only for select circumstances, these rabbis who followed Hillel embraced divorce as a positive good that could be used to get out of any marriage relationship for whatever reason. But as Jesus shows, this was not the intent of the divorce laws. And how does He do it? By appealing to Scripture and showing that His opponents’ understanding of the law of Moses was incompatible with Genesis 2 (Matt. 19:1–9).

Coram Deo

Understanding any one portion of Scripture correctly demands that we read it in the context of all of Scripture. That is why it is so important for us to be whole-Bible Christians. We must diligently study all that God has revealed, not limiting ourselves only to select books and passages of the Bible. Let us endeavor to study the whole counsel of God, growing in our knowledge of all of Scripture over the course of our lives.

Passages for Further Study

1 Corinthians 9:1–12
Hebrews 10:1–18

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