By Amber Riggs
Alone with the unknown creature, the blind man caressed its skin, memorizing each wrinkle and marveling at the gentle strength of the tall, snakelike animal. “Come! Come see this animal! I’ve never met anything like it!” he called to his friend as he backed away to give the friend a turn. The friend, also blind, approached the creature from a different angle. Instead of silently marveling at a tall snakelike creature, his hands examined what felt like a living tree trunk. Still, he was amazed and passed on the exciting invitation to a third blind friend and backed away to give the friend a turn. Approaching the animal from a third angle, what this man discovered was a weak, rope-like creature with wispy, bad smelling hair.
Leaving the creature behind, the men excitedly talked about their experience. Inevitably, an argument ensued…and so goes the ancient story of the blind men who encountered an elephant.
SCRIPTURE ALONE, YET NOT ALONE WITH SCRIPTURE
I wonder if we don’t sometimes approach Scripture the way these blind men approached the elephant? Alone, yet confident in our ability to comprehend the intricacies of the vastness of the very breath-of-God-made-Word without the accountability of collaborative reflection.
And yet, as followers of Jesus, we have become leaders. We are bearers of God’s image entrusted with communicating the ways of God through both our words and our actions. Thus, we have a responsibility to approach our study from a place of humility.
Although Scripture alone is recognized as the sole infallible authority for faith and practice, God never intended us to habitually study Scripture in relative isolation. While true that communion with and guidance from the Holy Spirit never leaves us completely alone, this is not the only gift He has given us. Indeed, the theme of community flows throughout the entirety of the Bible, consummating in the significance of the Body of Christ.
The reality is that each of us bring our own presuppositions and biases to Scripture. The more similar we are in our starting point of view, the more similar our conclusions will be. However, the Body of Christ is gifted with diversity. As we approach the vastness of God as the blind men approached the elephant, we put ourselves in a position to discern the character of God alongside one another.
A COMMUNITY OF BIBLE STUDENTS
There are at least four distinct groups within the Body of Christ that each of us should invite to join us in our study of Scripture:
- The Great Cloud of Witnesses – These are the believers who were the original recipients of each passage of Scripture. We are wise to get to know them. What was going on in their lives when they received this word from God? How did they understand it? How did they apply it? The IVP Bible Background Commentary is an excellent source for this information.
- Christians from Diverse Backgrounds – Have you noticed how people from different backgrounds often live out their faith in different ways? Ethnicity, geographic location, socio-economic background, gender, generation, and denomination all influence the angle from which we approach Scripture. Each of these groups will have unique insights and applications based on how God has revealed Himself within the context of their particular reality. Do you have Christian friends who fit this description? Spend time studying Scripture with them. ChristianityToday.com is an excellent resource for Christian articles and books that can provide valuable insights from diverse believers.
- Mature Guides – These are respected Christians who have been trained to study Scripture as objectively as possible and who are discerning in how universal theological principles unite the original audience and Christians from diverse backgrounds. Mature guides are also marked by a commitment to embody and apply what they have learned and are continuing to learn from their study of God’s Word and to apply this wisdom in practical contexts. We most benefit from mature guides who we can engage with on a personal level. Do you know any mature guides? How are you learning from them?
- Peers – We all benefit from interaction with individuals who have shared commitments. When peers come alongside us in our quest to study Scripture in community, we can allow ourselves to be challenged and grow in a safety net of accountability and support. Who are your peers in this pursuit?
As a follower of Christ, you are a leader – a bearer of God’s image entrusted with communicating the ways of God through both your words and your actions. How you approach Scripture directly impacts how you influence the people around you.
Within the Body of Christ, God has invited you into a community – past and present – of God-seekers who want to discern Him and His ways. It is only together that we can break past our own points of view to discover the depths of a Savior whose ways transcend time, demographics, and culture.