How to Unpack Scripture

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Friday, December 16, 2022 2 comments

by Charlie Wolcott

The past few weeks, I have been emphasizing that the Bible is overall simple and easy to understand. It is easy to get the central message of it. Otherwise, the believer would not be able to cherish its truth, and the unbeliever would not feel its conviction. But the Bible is much more than a simple book. It is a book that no matter how many times you read it you will never exhaust its depth. There a very few books you can read and keep getting new content out of it. Some books are thick enough and meaty enough that it takes multiple readings just to get it (just try studying physics when you are not used to it and see if you get it the first time through). But once you get those books, there is little point in re-reading them other than just to refresh your mind on it because you already exhausted its content. The Bible is not like that.

Anyone can unpack Scripture and continue to dig and mine its depths to see each verse come alive over and over again no matter how many times you have read it. Proverbs 3:5 is one of those verses for me. It’s a verse I memorized as a child, but in recent years, it’s truly come alive where no matter what I see and hear, this verse keeps coming back. In this post, I want to give you tips in how I unpack Scripture.

First off, there is no such thing as a “deeper meaning” of Scripture that is different from the plain, surface-level meaning. In a debate between Kent Hovind and Hugh Ross on age of the earth, during a Q&A session one guy proposed that “day” as a normal day is the plain reading, but “day” as a long period of time is the deeper meaning. I don’t remember Hovind’s response to that, but I remember I didn’t like it. He should have said that such a proposal was absurd because “deeper” cannot be “different.” You cannot go over basic addition and subtraction and then teach calculus that denies addition and subtraction. Deeper has to build upon the plain meaning and make the plain meaning richer. But you cannot change the meaning, otherwise you have a different meaning, and it will be nonsense. The simple meaning of “day” cannot be a normal day when the deeper meaning is “long periods of time.” That doesn’t work.

Sometimes digging into the original culture gives additional details that we don’t see through our lenses. An example is the Parable of the Prodigal Son when the father runs to greet his son. It was actually culturally inappropriate for an older man to run in that time period. Does this change the meaning or our understanding the passage? No; it just makes it even richer because we see the father abandoning cultural norms to show his love for his son. Yet, I have had someone use this as justification to support “Old Earth Creation” models and there was no relation whatsoever to the two. You can use these “parochial” sources to help expand the picture, but never to change the picture.

So how do you unpack Scripture? The first part of that is to believe and obey what you already know; this is vital. God has no obligation to show you deeper truths if you do not believe nor obey the truths you already have. The unpacking of Scripture is not meant to be an intellectual game that is for the scholars only. My dad is an anti-scholarly as you can get; he simply is not wired academically. Yet when he was reading through Acts and came across Paul preaching to King Felix, he caught something. Felix was nearly persuaded to be a Christian and chose to send Paul back to his prison cell to be brought back at a time that was more convenient. He shared this with me, and he had a whole sermon about the dangers of listening to and obeying Scripture at our convenience. He could not understand how someone like me could unpack Scripture so deeply, and yet there he was doing the same thing. I told him how proud I was of him in seeing that. He COULD do it. And it is because of having child-like faith. The Bible says it; he believes it. That is the first secret.

Once you come to the position of believing the text, the next part is asking God what He wants to show us. This may happen subconsciously on a spirit-to-spirit level. This happens with me all the time. I may not articulate it as such, but I’ve already taken a position of “This is God’s Word; God, what are you saying here?” As you pray and meditate on the passage, write down what is coming to mind. There are places for consulting commentaries and other versions, and I do not knock those, but be careful about letting them do your studying for you. People can tell when a preacher or writer (like me) has actually spent time in Scripture on a topic or spent time in “the books.” You will see things differently and find different things than I do. You will emphasize one thing more than I would but as long as the truth of the overall message is not changed, then you are on the right track.

When you let God speak, there is no limitations to what you can get out of a text. But beware of just pulling something out of a hat and talking out of your rear. Our job is to preach the Word, not make something up and decorate it in Christianese. But the applications, the angles, the pictures, that one living, breathing text that the Holy Spirit makes alive are too numerous to count and all out of one interpretation. There are not many interpretations – just one. God said one thing, not 20, not 2000 – just one. (See Eric Ludy’s sermon "Betrayed with a Kiss" for more on that issue.) Just preach that one thing, but the depth you can go in that one statement, that one truth, is limitless.

To unpack Scripture and dig into its depths is a skill that will not come immediately, and no blog post or book will properly equip you. It’s just like prayer. While you can read books about what prayer is and what it should look like and what it does, you will not experience the power of prayer until you actually pray. Likewise, you will not mine the depths of Scripture until you start digging and practicing and believing the truth that you know. Next week, I’ll wrap up this series by examining the central messages and key “systems” of the Bible.

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Anonymous said...

Charlie the way you write, maybe not today. Maybe years from now. Someday these writings will be common place among apologists / students. Your writing just continues to grow. Thank you for seed planting.

Anonymous said...

How do you unpack Reformed Theology?