Understanding the Plain Sense of the Text

I am truly delighted to be a part of a congregation that seem to be serious about understanding the Scripture. We say and believe that the bible is the word of God. We believe the claims that Scripture is God-breathed and inspired. We stand by the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility. We desire to seek to understand the plain sense of the text.

The problem is that sometimes we say this and ignore that the text we are reading happens within the scope of the wider narrative of the whole bible. There is one Author who has progressively revealed himself and his purpose through the written Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. As you read through the scriptures you find later authors under the inspiration of God quoting and alluding to previous authors to reveal more and more of the Divine narrative. The pinnacle of the Divine narrative is Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. This is why on the road to Emmaus Jesus taught his disciples about everything that was taught about him in the law, the writings (represented as the Psalms) and the prophets (Luke 24:44). He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (24:45). We then read something very significant in the next two verses. Luke 24:46-47 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. When Jesus says, “Thus it is written,” it is literally translated as “in this manner it is written,” or “it is written thusly.” The Scriptures have been written in a way that as you understand the progression of God’s narrative, it points to the death and resurrection of Christ as his name is spread across the world as a blessing to the nations.

As we read New Testament authors who are the apostolic witnesses (or directly with) of Christ, we often find them quoting Old Testament scriptures in a way that may not be immediately plain to us unless we understand these Scriptures in the light of their function of pointing to Christ in the redemptive thread of history. An example of this is where Paul is talking about a singular offspring in Galatians 3:16. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ.” As we read Genesis 12-22 and find many references to God’s covenant promise to Abraham, we are often drawn to thinking about his physical seed through Isaac, Jacob and the people of Israel. We are drawn to a growing nation among the nations. We are drawn to a geographical border of land in the middle east. In Galatains 3:16-18 Paul expressly says that the blessing and inheritance promised to Abraham are for his one singular Offspring who is Christ. When we accept the plain reading of the text in Galatians 3, we must do so in the way Paul is expressing it. He is saying that whatever place the physical people, land and blessings might play in the covenant God has with Abraham, it is all ultimately for and fulfilled in Jesus. In the scope of redemptive history, we see that God was using the real events of history, with real nations, real places as types and shadows that would ultimately point to the greater and originally purposed fulfillment in Christ.

The plain reading of the text happens in the scope of the historical redemptive setting of a progressive revelation of the Divine Author. In other words, God has used the progression of real history to point to his ultimate focus of everything finding it’s yes and amen in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. For any promise or inheritance or blessing to bypass Christ and the cross ultimately means that Paul’s focus on the singular Offspring is off base. We know it is not, because it is inspired by God who is the Divine Author of the entire bible.

For some of us this is a little difficult to understand and so let me simply give you one encouragement. The more you read the big narrative of the bible from beginning to end, the more you will see how every part of biblical history moves to find its fulfillment in Jesus. Jesus is truly the center and pinnacle of the whole Bible and history. To know the plain meaning of the text is to understand this point as we read our bibles. It is to see that the New Testament authors have taught us to see it this way as Christ has taught them. The Scriptures plainly point to Jesus.