No matter what people tell you, they don’t live their lives by every word of the Bible. This is a related thought to my last two posts, but it’s also based on this reality: we all have scripture verses that stand out to us more than others. To go even further: we all have verses of scripture that we use to then help us understand the rest of scripture.
Actually, this isn’t a problem. In fact, instead of worrying about this, we see that some of the earliest interpreters of our Bible used this method — an approach known as “a canon within the canon” (my abbreviated version: CwtC). In other words, one can accept all of scripture as inspired, but recognize that not all of scripture points us to the essence of the Gospel. There’s a reason, we quote John 3.16, and not Job 3.16. One talks about the coming of the Child; the other asks, Why was I born as a child? One summarizes the Good News; the other, you might say, describes our despair.
All scripture is inspired, but not all scripture is inspirational. Yet, as I described in last week’s posts, we must learn from all of scripture. But benefitting from all of it is not the same as equating all of it. Thus, the early Church fathers came up with the phrase: “a canon within the canon.” The core truth within the truth. The essential within the important.
And even if you’re reading this and you disagree with that concept; or, you agree, but aren’t sure what it means for you; I’m here to tell you — you have a canon within the canon. You have scriptures that guide your interpretation of the others.
- Do not judge, or you too will be judged (Matthew 7.1, NIV). Words of Jesus. Part of the Sermon on the Mount. Vital words. But for those who make these words their CwtC, may find themselves unable, or unwilling, to speak difficult truth to others. And hear it themselves.
- No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day (John 6.44). Again, words of Jesus we are wise to heed. But those who make these words their CwtC may find themselves then saying that God chooses those He would draw to himself. And we can do nothing of ourselves, In the process, they then might overlook Jesus’ words in the very next verse.
- Or, how about the words of 1 Timothy 2.12? I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. Anybody want to claim that as your CwtC? Well, some certainly do, at least in the area of church leadership and teaching. And certainly, there’s a lot to say about this verse (including my belief that there’s a lot more that Paul is addressing here than meets the eye). But even if we take this verse at face value, it’s amazing how very few then do the same thing with the words three verses earlier.
My point? Choose your Canon within the Canon carefully. For all of us who take scripture seriously have verses that we take as foundational to our understanding of the rest of scripture. And, whether you realize it or not, you will build your beliefs on your CwtC. So, be aware of your CwtC. Make sure it focuses on the essentials. Then, with the essentials firmly in mind, read all of scripture, which is then able to teach, rebuke, correct, and train you in righteousness — thoroughly equipping you for every good work (2 Timothy 3.16-17).
Next time: My essentials, and my CwtC