Thinking Out Loud

August 29, 2017

The Bible, With Precepts

Another interesting dynamic of the conversation I had last week at the local Christian bookstore concerned Bible features. As the guy was looking at one in particular, he said, “Oh good, it’s got the precepts.”

The first time, it didn’t really register. Then he looked at another and said something like, “Does it have the precepts?”


It turned out he was talking about what most of us would call cross references; the notations of other passages either in a center column or at the end of the verse where something related may be found.

The idea of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ is taken from Isaiah 28:, 9-10 in the KJV. The NASB has:

To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?  “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.'”

The NLT is really contradictory to this idea on its rendering of this:

He tells us everything over and over–one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”

implying that the learning or teaching or knowledge is linear, but not necessarily cumulative. In other words, one line at a time, doesn’t mean that line B is necessarily building on line A, but to say upon is to imply that it is or does.

(In case you’re wondering if there’s any irony to be found, you’re wrong; the verse itself is reiterated in scripture, albeit 3 verses later in verse 13.)

As we discussed this the idea of “Out of the mouth of two [or three] witnesses was brought into the conversation. This is found in the Old Testament twice.

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, Holman)

A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, CEB)

Those OT passages are cited in the NT by Jesus and by Paul.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ (Matthew 18:16, NIV)

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (2 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

In the Corinthian example, you have to go back to the previous chapter to get the context. Paul is speaking about sorting out matters concerning people who have been found in sinful practices.

Capital crime. Wrongdoing. Sin. Denial of Sin. Nowhere do these passages suggest something related to “the establishing of doctrine.” But don’t get me wrong:

I believe the Bible always corroborates itself on matters of important doctrine.

I’m just not sure that we need to force it into a situation where everything has to be said twice or three times in order to establish a doctrinal pattern, or make it conform to an overarching systematic theology. Or, to come at it differently, it may reinforce something but in an entirely different way than our Western way of thinking can process too simply.

I think to do so is to doubt the value of what we read the first time. It’s saying to God, ‘Now, if you’ll just show me one more time where you say this, then I’ll obey.’ I think that undermines the text somehow. That doesn’t mean to imply that at a crossroads of life we don’t ask God for confirmation of what we are to do. There is the example of Gideon, who put out a second fleece.

So what are precepts? says

precept. pre·cept. … The definition of a precept is a guiding principle or rule that is used to control, influence or regulate conduct. An example of a precept is a commandment found in the Ten Commandments.

At that we would need to get into the differences between a rule and a principle. Principles are timeless, never location-specific, widely applicable. Rules apply to one group of people in one particular situation at one unique point in time. The rest of that we need to save for another day.

A cross-reference is simply:

•noun: cross reference; plural noun: cross references
–a reference to another text or part of a text, typically given in order to elaborate on a point.

Anyone who has been reading the Bible for any length of time knows that sometimes the Bible editors have chosen to take us to a reference to a rather obscure part of the verse, not something which indicates its overall meaning. There are times when I have been completely mystified as to the inclusion of a particular reference. Many of you know the danger of over-spiritualizing things, and I don’t want to be guilty of under-spiritualizing something, but… They’re. Just. Cross-references.

Here’s my concluding statements on this:

We read scripture not so much because we’re trying to learn precepts as we are recognizing the importance of understanding the ways of God.


If God is saying something to us with unmistakable clarity through a scripture passage, we don’t need to start hunting around looking for a second verse.

The ‘end of verse’ reference system has become more popular in the last decade.




April 7, 2011

Paging Eugene Peterson… Mr. Peterson…

When you think of all the medical advances of the past few decades, and then read the gospels and consider that Luke was a doctor, you have to ask a couple of questions.  First of all, what did he know?  In other words, since he didn’t have the information that modern science now has available, how did he go about treating people?

The second question would be:  Is there any information that he had which has gotten lost over time?  In other words, did he know things about what we, in our sophistication, would call “alternative medicine” — things about roots and berries etc. — including knowledge we’ve misplaced?

And then I think about spiritual knowledge.

I love today’s modern Christian writers.  In 2009 and 2010 I finished reading more Christian books than at any previous time in my life.  (Though there’s been a bit of a slowdown recently that I partly attribute to a shortage of titles that intrigue me.)  As the (capital C) Church, we need new writers who will teach the scriptures to our own generation.

But then I start working my way through Christian classics, and I keep feeling that, like Luke’s medical knowledge, perhaps certain things are getting lost.  Maybe you’ve had this experience.

The problem however, is that the language is awkward.   Those writers wrote in lengthy sentences with multiple subordinate clauses.  The paragraphs were long and flowing.  The syntax was different.   Sometimes, the word usage is embarrassing, such as the use of “intercourse” where we might be better advised to avoid associations and go with “interaction.”

Where is The Message version of some of these classics?  The late Keith Green did a few updates in his newsletters, and you probably have a copy of James Reimann’s update of Oswald Chambers’  My Utmost for His Highest on a shelf.

But lately — he said, creating yet another paragraph, something older writers would never do — I’ve been reading the lessons in Andrew Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer and wondering how they would look with a Eugene Peterson treatment.

Here’s just a couple of paragraphs I posted at Christianity 201 earlier in the week.  He’s writing about our tendency to separate the “sacred” parts of life from the “secular”, whereas in true Christianity no such division exists:

Our daily routines, our life “out there” in the world at large is the test of our interaction with God in prayer.  So often a Christian, when he or she comes to pray, will try to cultivate a certain “prayer frame of mind;” to try to “get into the zone” so to speak because he things that this will please God.

This forgets that life doesn’t consist of fragments in which we can simply set one aside and pick up another one.  Life is a whole and the supposed “piety” of a “prayer time” is judged by God in the context of the ordinary activities of life of which the prayer moments are but a small part.

It’s not about the spiritual energy that I try to summon, but the level of spiritual focus that has been part of my life all that day.  That’s how God does his assessment of what I’m really all about, and what my true desires are.

My “getting together with God” is just one piece of my interactions with other people and with creation itself.  A failure in one area will bring about failure in the other.  It’s not just about when I’m aware of anything wrong between me and my neighbor, but more about the general flow of my thoughts and reasoning, the less than loving things I say without even noticing; these can really hinder my prayers from being effective.

The kind of prayer that gets results comes out of a life given over to the will and the love of God.  It’s not about what I try to be while I’m praying, but what I’m all about when I’m not praying.  That’s the context in which my “incoming prayer” is received and dealt with by God.

~my own paraphrase, taken after With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray; lesson fourteen, “When you Stand Praying, Forgive.”

If you’d like to read more at Christianity 201, here’s a few of this week’s articles:

April 1 — Joanna, A Disciple of Jesus — In a 2005 piece, Jeff Lucas looks at this disciple mentioned twice briefly in the NT.

April 2 — The Discipline of Walking in the Spirit — Paul Steele unpacks a phrase that we might toss around without considering its meaning.

April 3 — Jesus’ Attitude Toward the Divorced — Kevin Rogers notes that in even talking to the woman at the well in John 4, Jesus was somewhat identifying with her situation.

April 5 — When You Converse with Jesus — Jon Swanson avoids the formulaic approach to Christian living, but suggests it’s more like an ongoing conversation, and notes some things you can expect to happen as you talk.

Here’s a couple of bonus links:

March 27th — Pastors, Tell us the Truth — Rachel Held Evans encourages pastors when they’re wrestling with theological issues, or are just plain burned out.

March 26th — Most Mis-Applied Bible Verse — Chris Brauns suggests that the verse, “Where there is no vision, the people perish;” isn’t about your church having a mission statement in the weekly bulletin.

April 6th — Random Notes — Thinking out Loud readers already know a bit about our family devotional life, but C201 readers don’t really get to know me.  But somewhere in the writing, this random notes piece turned into a tribute to the vast body of Bible commentary by American pastor Warren Wiersbe.  (Actually Warren W. Wiersbe, after whom the “www.” in internet addresses is named.)

…If you’ve seen paraphrased sections from classic writers such as Andrew Murray let us know where the treasure is buried.

Better yet, write one of your own.  It’s informative to slow down and ask yourself: What is this writer truly saying, and how might I say that today?

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