It Makes Plain Sense! Or So I was Taught…

It Makes Plain Sense! Or So I was Taught… December 8, 2010

It makes plain sense… or so I was taught.  When I was a youth and even in my undergrad program I was taught a phrase to guide solid biblical interpretation: “If the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.”  What this advocates is to take the bible at the surface level of its meaning.  So, if Paul says something that to us sounds literal or “plain” on the surface, then we ought to be able to trust that.  Certainly God’s Word is not something that is supposed to trick us.  Therefore, whatever makes sense to us as we read various passages can be trusted as the authentic interpretation.

I believe that this approach to the bible is flawed, which is why I often call it the “surface level approach.”  It seems quite arrogant to assume that the Holy Scriptures are simplistic to understand and do not require us to do any homework.  The problem is that we live with gaps in-between the text and us. For instance, there is a considerable communication gap between the original authors of the Scriptures and our 21st century culture.  We all know what it is like to have a communication gap.  Think about it.  How many husbands get themselves in trouble for saying something that sounds like something totally different than what they actually had in mind.

Wife says: How do I look in this outfit.

Husband says: It looks ok.

Wife says: Ok… (she says with a tone).  That’s about as good of an answer as calling me fat!  You jerk!

This is a communication gap to the extreme!  Now take this stupid analogy and imagine that there is also a language, cultural, and more than 2000 years in our communication gap; that is what we have when we approach the Bible.

Given the reality of this gap, we need to be careful not impose our ideas onto the text, even if they “make sense” to us.  That does not mean that nothing is “plain” in the Bible, but over the past few years I have begun to realize that there is much more to the Scriptures than I had ever known.  The bible contains several genres, some of which include: historical narrative (story), didactic literature (straight forward language), wisdom literature (timeless truths), prophetic literature (fore-telling or forth-telling), apocalyptic literature (imagery soaked), and poetry.  Not only so, but there is metaphors, word-pictures, hyperbole, humor, and many other rhetorical devises used throughout the 66 books.  What I have come to realize is that if I am going to take the Bible as God’s inspired Word, I need to attempt to interpret every passage in light of the gaps, genres, and rhetoric that the Holy Spirit chose to employ in cooperation with the various human authors.  To not attempt to read the Bible in such a way is to ignore God’s complexity, creativity, and incarnational nature.

What have been your experiences with the “plain sense making sense?”

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