Chapter 6: Scripture’s Light and Beauty. 6, “Scripture Cannot Be Broken”

John 10:35 contains an aside comment, often quoted in discussions of biblical authority:

… scripture cannot be broken…

Those words always intrigued me. How do you study scripture without “breaking” it?  In other words (to put it in a clichéd way) how do you appreciate both the unity and diversity of the biblical material? How do you have honest differences of biblical interpretation while also loving one another (Gal. 5:15, Eph. 4:31-32, and the ironic 1 Cor. 4:10)?

I found a clue in a Jewish text, The Seventy Faces of Torah.  The author, Stephen M. Wylen, discusses a midrash that “every single verse in the Torah yields seventy different interpretations.”

Each interpretation teaches something new and different. They may even contradict one another, like the teachings of Hillel and Shammai. Yet each one of the seventy interpretations is the true word of God… The image of the seventy faces may be taken from the imagery of the jeweler’s art. Each side of a cut gem is called a facet, a little face… The beauty and fascination of a fine gem is that the one stone sparkles in so many different ways. We know that there is a single light within the stone, but we see that light differently depending upon which face we gaze upon. One diamond is like seventy different diamonds as we turn it, but of course it is one. In the same way there is only one God, whose light shines forth from every verse in the Torah. We see that light differently depending upon how we interpret the verse. The unity light of God’s Holy Spirit is fully revealed in many sparkles and flashes, as we see God through a multitude of interpretations on every single verse of Scripture.[1]

Using Wylen’s example, we can understand Bible study not as “breaking” scripture but as a process of examining it as we might the facets of a diamond (which, to continue the analogy, is difficult to break). Scripture itself looks different if we turn it around, see it at one angle, then another, or if we change the lighting and look at it in bright or dim light.  That lightness or dimness or darkness may be a particular time in our lives, too, either lovely or hopeless.

While honoring Wylen’s Jewish viewpoint, let me respectfully use his imagery for Christian faith. As Christ is the light of life, his light shines through the Bible. Jesus says, You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf (John 5:39). The scriptures testify on his behalf because the Spirit shines through the words and proves the truth of the Gospel. As surely as light passes through a gem, God will grant his Spirit to those who seek God: If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:13). Needless to say, a cut gem is very beautiful, and we can think of the Bible—without neglecting its darker and more confusing passages—as reflecting Christ’s beauty, and as beautiful in its own right.

But the beauty of Christ is, in turn, known to the world in the work of the Holy Spirit through both the Spirit’s direct power and the works of love of Christ’s people. As we interpret the Bible and apply it to life, we are guided by a passage about which most of us feel sentimental, but which should be the indispensable part of any religious discussion, curtailing any superiority and “gotcha!” types of attitudes:

… if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast [or, my body to be burned], but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end (1 Cor. 13:2-10).

Link to Chapter 7

[1]  Wylen, Seventy Faces of Torah, 63.


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