But aren’t we supposed to read the Bible precept upon precept and line upon line?
Aren’t we supposed to read the Bible literally, “precept upon precept, line upon line?”
No. In fact, is the way we’re NOT to read the Bible. In fact, the Bible warns us on its face not to so read it.
There is a well-known teaching ministry which bases its name on Isaiah 28:13. Their stated focus is to teach the word of God “precept upon precept, line upon line” using what they call “Inductive Bible Study.” The key to rightly reading the Bible, this ministry holds, is to convert all the Scriptures into a system of orderly precepts using strict rules of grammatical logic and historical context.
Here is the ironic catch.
The very passage this teaching ministry names itself after is quoted COMPLETELY out of context. The Isaiah passage emphatically warns us NOT to read Scripture “precept upon precept, line upon line,” for to do so will cause us to “fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.”
Here is the full passage:
“Therefore shall the word of Jehovah be unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, there a little; THAT they may go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.”
Just as 2 Corinthians 3:6 warns us to NOT read Scripture “by the letter, for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life,” this Isaiah passage warns us to NEVER read the Bible as mere precepts to be systematically arranged according to the logic of men. To do so will cause us to fall backward and be taken by satanic snares of literalism.
Thus, the very name of this well-known ministry violates their own central rule of interpretation which forbids taking any scripture out of context. “Precept upon precept” is, in the context of this passage, a bad thing and not a good thing. Now, this ministry has certainly blessed many, but not BECAUSE of their precepts-based focus, but DESPITE it.
And, in fact, the context of this Isaiah 28:9-13 passage reveals another dynamic truth.
“For with stammering lips and another tongue, He will speak to this people, to whom He said, ‘This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest, and, This is the refreshing:’ yet they would not hear.” Isaiah 28:11–12
Paul quoted (completely out of context I might add) verse 11 above in 1 Corinthians 14:21 right in the middle of his teaching on tongues. This is the only New Testament reference to this Isaiah passage that I am aware of, so what is said here is crucial. His point is amazing. The people who only read the Bible “precept upon precept, one upon line” are unable to “hear” non-precept based revelation from the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Spirit (here the gift of tongues specifically), an experience Isaiah prophetically calls a “rest” and “refreshing.”
But, because those who read the Bible “by the letter” choose to view God’s word as mind-formulated precepts rather than Spirit-quickened illumination, they will not be able to hear the teachings of the Holy Spirit, and so will fall backward and be snared.
Nothing is more offensive to the legalistic mind than relying on tongues and their interpretation. Yet, Paul is promoting BOTH tongues and their wonderful “interpretations” as well when he quotes this Isaiah passage. Do people misuse spiritual gifts, such as tongues? Yes, on a large basis, but then again, people misuse most everything which originally came from God, so that’s hardly a helpful point. Paul praised God for the revelatory gift of tongues, one which he claimed to use MORE than did all the Corinthians put together. The key, as it is with all spiritual gifts, is to use them well. What is wonderfully Spirit-given can also be wonderfully Spirit-driven.
Wasn’t the purpose of the gift of tongues at Pentecost to show that whereas earthly languages have confused and divided us, as allegorized in the babble of Babel, Christ has now given us a better and brighter heavenly language to help unite and heal us? God, by this gift, was telling all men to loosen their grip on their own natural understanding, to stop idolizing language, to stop worshipping the dead letter, and to stop obsessing over the literal.
Instead, there is a non-verbal land of milk and honey waiting for us. This land flows with unspoken unctions, transcendent tingles, virtuous vibes, inner illuminations, incomprehensible utterances, and groanings beyond words.
When I now think of God, words no longer initially come to mind. Rather, a “tone,” a “vibe,” a “sensation,” a “knowing” fills my heart with divine recognition. Words can then follow, inspired words, poetic words, passionate words. But language here never leads. It always follows.
This doesn’t mean we still don’t fervently esteem and meditate on Scripture, but it does reveal that the catalyzing agent of all heavenly revelation has got to be the Holy Spirit alone. It’s “way” we receive from God here that matters, through our Spirit-quickened conscience, not a rigid man-made rule of interpretation we are chained to follow. Jesus said the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, not the Holy Scriptures.
Once we contrast how wearisome, futile, carnal, and uninspiring “precept upon precept, line upon line” Bible reading truly, we can take Isaiah’s advice and “rest” and “refresh” into something better. When we aggressively yield to our inner Spirit-quickened glowings and showings, Scriptures quickly become tender friends instead of legalistic taskmasters. This is the “rest” and “refreshing” these two passages promise. Let’s set our hearts and minds to enter this wonderful state of being.