We begin in 1 Corinthians (and we’ll probably move around a bit). 1 Corinthians is a good place to start because Paul is confronted with a host of problems, many of which we still face today, and he repeatedly gives answers. Better yet, he gives the reasons for his answers.
It’s not in Paul’s nature just to announce a command and say obey it. Paul was a great teacher, and he wanted to leave the church equipped to find its own answers when no apostle was around. Thus, 1 Corinthians can be read at two levels–for the answers it gives–and for the methods Paul uses to find answers.
(1 Cor. 10:1-11) For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. 6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
11 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did–and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did–and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did–and were killed by the destroying angel. 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.
Paul begins a discussion of communion in a way that might seem very odd. He goes back to the Exodus and draws analogies to the food and drink of the Israelites as God led them out of slavery. He assumes his readers know their Old Testament, and he tells us the Old Testament gives us examples of how to live.
God’s mighty works in freeing Israel from Egyptian captivity and in punishing the rebellious Israelites is taken as instructive for us today.
Now, he’s not saying that we should wander in the desert or try to walk through the Red Sea. Rather, his point is that God’s relationship with Israel is analogous to his relationship with the church. Therefore, if we commit the sins they committed, we’ll suffer the fate they suffered.
Similarly, Paul explains the cross as an antitype of the Fall of Man recorded in Genesis 3.
(1 Cor. 15:21-22) For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
He makes a similar argument in Romans 5.
Paul sees the cross and the church as an outworking of God’s plan going all the way back to Eden. He takes the Old Testament very seriously. It’s the story of God’s relationship with people–especially his chosen people–and so has much to teach us about our current relationship with God.
Thus, God’s creation, the Fall, the Exodus, and cross are all part of the plan of redemption whereby God brings his people into right relationship. Therefore, the entire story matters–not just because it’s true but because it tells us about God and his character. And this is of the utmost importance.
You cannot understand God’ s will unless you first understand God’s character. If you think he’s Santa Claus, you get angry when your prayer goes unanswered. If you see him as an evil teacher who likes to give out trick questions, you expect him to impose a bunch of arbitrary laws as tests of our loyalty. But if you see God as lover and creator–anxious for right relationship with the creatures he made, you have a chance to understand our redemption.
And so, the first hermeneutical principle is to know the great story of the Bible–top to bottom–to know how the sovereign God, our creator, has worked in history though many mighty works to bring about our redemption.