The ease of which I find myself speaking in terms of “us” and “them” while speaking of how we interpret the Bible forces me to search more deeply into how I see the Bible.
Do I view the Bible as a way to live my own life or do I look into its pages to search out ways of making me right and them wrong? Of even more eternal import, do I place the Bible as an idol above God? Do I view the Bible or Jesus as the Word of God?
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is myth (but of course myth specially chosen by God from among countless myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read with attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons. ~ C.S. Lewis in a letter to a lady
When it does become necessary to know how to interpret a certain passage (only, as Lewis said, for my own spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity), to know whether it was only written to one particular culture or whether it should be obeyed in all times and places, I am learning that love should be my standard. It seems obvious when you think about what Jesus mandated as the most important of all the commands, but it is a standard for interpretation that I had never thought about before. Love is to be the standard for deciding which passages are cultural and which are universal.
Paul says in Romans that whatever commandment there may be, it can be summed up in the rule “love your neighbor as yourself”. He is, of course, writing of the Greek word agape when speaking of love. Agape is a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional sort of love. It is the kind of love that seeks out the best for others before it seeks for the good of itself. I think what Paul means, what Jesus means by “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” is that if we are truly living out God’s kind of love for others, we will always be led to do the right thing.
Even Jesus seems to apply the same principle to the Jewish Scriptures when He heals on the Sabbath or picks and eats grain on the Sabbath. Rather than defending Himself by saying that He is not technically breaking the Sabbath, in each case He argues that sometimes violating the letter of the law is necessary in order to act in love and fulfill the spirit of the law instead.
I have a lot more praying and studying to do about this, but this idea feels incredibly freeing. Rather than having to be a Bible scholar and know the ancient languages by heart, I can apply this standard of agape love and let God’s Spirit lead me to the best answer of whether a passage is cultural or for always. Paul speaks of slaves obeying their masters, but agape love demands their freedom. Paul’s rules about hair length and head coverings were good in his time and place, but they have no current relation to loving God or our neighbors.
We have been set free from the Law. We no longer live under the supervision of the Law but under grace. “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Paul speaks to this many times, saying that we are not to use our freedom to indulge our own selfish impulses but that we are to use our freedom to serve each other in love. Love, agape love, is to be our standard, our way of deciding what is right and what is wrong, both in our deeds and in God’s Word.
After all, as we see in the story of the judgement in Matthew 25, Christ knows us by our actions as we serve the outcasts, the hungry, the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned.
But Jesus provides no list of beliefs at all. People are judged not on what they believe but on how they have loved. ~ Kathleen Norris in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith