When it comes to reading the Bible, often Christians are surprised or confused how so many interpretations can come about. Much of these differences come about in the different ways people approach the Bible and what is seen as the central message of Scripture. Obviously if one views the Bible as a rule book: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (as some have put it) one’s reading of Scripture will be vastly different than one who sees the central message of Scripture as “Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised for our justification” (Smalcald Articles Part 2, Article 1).
To better explain how Lutherans read the Bible, I think the analogy of a 3 legged stool may help. As with any analogy, it is imperfect.
First it may be helpful to establish the foundation on which on reads Scripture, and that is Faith. This foundation encapsulates quite a bit. First, that the testimony is true, and not some fable or imaginary tale. Second, that Scripture is the written Word of God. Third is the truth that Scripture can only rightly be read in faith.
On this foundation, then each leg rests. The first leg, is that Scripture is Christ-centered. This idea is hardly a novel Lutheran idea (though you would be surprised how many people think the Bible is “me centered”). Jesus establishes this point in several places, especially Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44-48, and John 5:39. The question then, in Bible study is not “What does this mean to me?” Honestly, this question is irrelevant. A better question is “What does this mean?”… but more importantly “How does this show us Jesus?”
The second leg, then, is that of the Right Distinction of Law and Gospel. Walther wrote very well on this subject (and yes, I do plan on picking up my study of Law & Gospel again in the very near future). Once we understand this distinction that God does speak to us in two different words: Law and Gospel, much clarity can be brought to our reading of Scripture.
Finally, the third leg of Reading Scripture like a Lutheran, is that of the Sacramental Life. That God has chosen to deal with us through means is no small thing. God places His name on us in Baptism and identifies us as one of His own. Throughout our life Jesus, the Word made flesh, feeds us His own body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. In both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper the words of Scripture literally jump off the page and are tied to real tangible elements. This reality is quite profound when it comes to reading Scripture. Viewed through a Sacramental lens, Scripture has more than just a nice philosophical or intellectual meaning in the life of a Christian, it becomes a lived out reality, even as we in our vocations bring God’s Word to our neighbor.