Don’t Get Too Familiar with the Bible

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Guest Contributor

Beware the deceptive wiles of familiarity — that sweet but double-edged virtue that makes you feel at home in the word of God. Familiarity of the tender variety persists in reminding you of the gospel and deepening your communion with Christ. But if you’re not careful, cold-hearted familiarity will betray you with kisses, poison your wineglass, and watch impassively while your life slips steadily away. You might not even realize it’s happening.

Unexamined familiarity will prevent you from looking at the Book. Because such familiarity crowds out curiosity, it imperceptibly stiffens necks, hardens hearts, and deafens ears. Familiarity may lead us to assume things that are not in the text, and it may blind us to things that are.

How Familiarity Works

A reasonably harmless example: I’m preparing to attend a Bible study on David, Abigail, and Nabal in 1 Samuel 25. I’ve been here before; I know this story. I give the text a cursory read-through and prepare to discuss ways to avoid David’s hasty foolishness and to imitate Abigail’s thoughtful service. I’m no unschooled moralizer, however, so I can see Jesus in David’s eventual choice to act like a true king.

But at the meeting, the unfamiliar-but-wildly-curious folks see things I’ve never seen. The death of David’s chief spiritual advisor introduces the tale (1 Samuel 25:1). The narrative’s first mention of God comes when David swears to murder every wall-urinator in Nabal’s household (1 Samuel 25:22, KJV). Abigail directs David’s attention — not primarily to her gifts (mentioned in her speech once) — but to the Lord and his promises (mentioned seven times). David praises her — not for her gifts (absent from his response) — but for the Lord’s use of her to counsel and restrain him.

My familiarity tricked me into thinking I knew the story, but I had missed the point. The Anointed One acts like God’s king only when reminded of God’s word to him. By contrast, the innocent sagess rides in on a kingly donkey, yet humbles herself, takes all the blame, and brings the Lord’s free gift of salvation to many.

Don’t allow familiarity to blind you to the text. Always look at the Book.

Familiarity May Misconstrue the Bible’s Truth

Familiarity looks away from the Book; curiosity looks toward it. Careful observation reveals many things we always thought were in the Bible but really aren’t:

  • Adam and Eve regularly walked and talked with God in the Garden of Eden.

  • Jesus’s ministry lasted 3 years.

  • Jesus died at the age of 33.

  • Jesus walked through walls after his resurrection.

  • God commands Christians to pray before every meal.

  • Money is the root of all evil.

The Bible says God walked in the Garden the day they ate the fruit (Genesis 3:8) but never says this was his common practice. Jesus began his ministry at about age 30 (Luke 3:23), and John records three Passover events during his ministry (John 2:13, 6:4, 11:55); but no Gospel states that these were the only Passover feasts Jesus and his disciples celebrated before he was put to death. Jesus entered locked rooms (John 20:19, 26), but we are not told of his entry method; perhaps he picked the lock, knocked until they opened, or had others let him through the roof on a pallet.

Like a Twitter addiction, familiarity sometimes creates intimate feelings without true closeness. We assume and repeat errors in children’s Bibles, Sunday school curricula, and informal conversation. We resist the allure, however, when we look at the Book.

Familiarity May Pilfer the Bible’s Riches

How much we miss when blinded by friendly familiarity! Its seductions are like busy little bees with no hive. We labor long and hard to search, follow, and understand their trail, but we’re rewarded with stings rather than honey. Looking carefully at the Bible’s first book, consider but a few points of drama commonly missed:

  • Chapter 3: It was not “Eve” that ate the fruit on that ancient earth-shattering day. The narrator calls her “the woman” — the one taken from man — until Adam renames her in light of God’s promise to provide a Savior-Seed through her (Genesis 3:16–20). Naming her “Eve” — “living” — evidences his faith that they will not yet die.

  • Chapter 4: God had promised to give the woman a son to crush the serpent’s head, and this son arrives to his mother’s exuberant delight: “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (Genesis 4:1). However, the savior becomes a slayer, and God must appoint a replacement who will call on his name (Genesis 4:25). Vanity of vanities!

  • Chapters 6–9: Eden is reborn when men and their wives, food, water, animal mates according to their kinds, and wood from trees are all squished up into a three-decker mini-world with a window and a door. The “windows of the heavens” open, along with the “fountains of the great deep” (Genesis 7:11), to cover “the face of all the earth” (Genesis 7:3) Do you see the three-decker world at work? At the Flood, God clicks “reboot,” and we ought not be surprised at the end by a naked man in an upgraded garden and the pronouncement of a new curse. The Flood could cleanse the face of the earth from life, but it could not cleanse the face of man’s heart from sin.

  • Chapter 12: When God calls Abram to leave his country and kindred, he doesn’t tell him where to go (see Hebrews 11:8). He wanders aimlessly until God appears to him in Canaan and says, “This is it” (Genesis 12:7). What faith! Chapter 17: Though realizing the Hagar incident had been a bad idea, Abram still believes for 13 years that Ishmael is his promised son. Notice his utter shock when God promises another son through Sarah (Genesis 17:16–21).

Though familiarity can be a devious enemy, it can also be a delightful friend (Psalm 119:11). May the Lord open our eyes to behold wondrous things in his law, day after day after day (Psalm 119:18–19).