The Quest for Meaning:

Some of you may have heard the story of cynical Greek philosopher Diogenes and His lamp. Diogenes walked the streets of Athens around the 5th Century barefoot and supposedly not wearing the proper attire of the day. He would walk with a lantern during the day time as though he were looking for something in the dark. Diogenese would walk up with the lantern and thrust it into a persons face and say something like "I am looking for an honest man." Diogenes supposedly never found the "honest man". No matter how sincere our quest is it is possible then that how we go about it can be counterproductive for us.

From the womb we begin a quest for meaning. Our questions as toddlers were not just a waste of time. This is why we will never get away from a quest. The very first question of the Westminister Shorter Catechism is "What is the chief end of man?" It concisely replies, "Man’ s chief end is to glorify God, (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy him for ever. (Ps. 73:25–28)"(1) This of course is true and we can know that it is so since God has gone on public record about some matters through the Scriptures.

However, even Job who remained faithful to God questioned God for the meaning of the pain and suffering of his life. I believe there are truths that are clear or at least discernible to the saved and the unsaved alike. Man is depraved and fallen but we know this by our reason and thinking faculties therefore we must realize then that we are made in the image of God and in some way reflect this. As we can all attest to though there is also theological diversity among us as well. Yet, in spite of our diversity, we act as if we have a script of certitude in some areas of the Scriptures and God.

Applying holiness principles to today is a quest as well. We are all diverse on how to implement or appropriate them. The points of our diversity speak of a quest. A quest to apply meaning from the ancient times and theological principles of Scripture to the modern times of now. The reasons I cited above are all related, fundamentally, to our interpretation or application of the Scriptures in some sense.

Take for granted, momentarily, that there are indeed clear and evident truths in Scripture. As we start our journey, or quest, through Scripture we find a river that divides us. A river made of ancient culture, language, situation, and time separates us from the text and also hinders our grasping of the actual meaning of the text at times. As an attempt to cross this river, we develop a principilizing bridge to gain accurate meaning in the texts. Each text is different yet it is our pursuit to find the original meaning as well as the universal theological principles that are still relevant for us, today. I believe there are at least four steps in this quest, that have proved useful for me, and that we all should consider:

1. What did it mean to them? The importance of this step is actually priceless because by it we should determine how or in what way the text actually applied to the original audience. Reading and observation, not interpretation, are very necessary to come to proper conclusions. The grammar, historicity, and literary context all help to synthesize a coherent observation of what the text meant to the biblical audience.

2. How does it differ for us? This step actually compels us to identify the unique differences between the biblical audience and us, the modern readers. These differences actually form the very river we will later attempt to cross. In this step we take hard looks at the river and identify significant differences between the situations of then and now. We should see how the text offers these differences that may never apply to a NT believer, we also see beyond these cultural, historical, or literary differences that there is universal theological meaning still resting and waiting.

3. What is the principle? After steps one and two are satisfied we focus on crossing the bridge that we have begun. In step one we OBSERVE and find the general differences and became aware of the actual environment of the original author and his audience. In step two we identify significant differences and measure the distance that these create between us and the bible audience. In step three we find the theological principle of the text. The meaning that transcends covenant and time. For example, in Joshua 1:1-9 Joshua is obviously fearful of replacing Moses. God warns him to be “strong and courageous” (NIV) in this time. It is true that we, as Gentile believers, may never lead possibly millions of Israelites across a desert but we are called and commanded of God to serve and as we do God will give us strength and courage to do the job He has placed before us.

4. What does it mean for us? Step four brings about what we actually began to do, in the first place—to find accurate and relevant meaning. Learning how we should apply the theological principles in our lives is what this step attempts to assist. We should examine the principle we have found to see just how it applies in our real-life situations. Some texts offer many principles others very few.

This is not THE list, but here are some guidelines(2) for developing theological principles that may prove useful:

1. The principle should be reflected in the text.
2. The principle should be timeless and not tied to a specific situation.
3. The principle should not be culturally bound.
4. The principle should correspond to the teaching of the rest of scriptures.
5. The principle should be relevant to both the biblical and the contemporary audience.

Standing before Greek Stoic and Epicurean philosophers the Apostle Paul stated, "From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us." (Acts 17:26-27 NIV) Ultimately, God desires us to seek Him. To "reach out for him" because He "is not far from any one of us"!


1. The Westminster shorter catechism : With Scripture proofs. 1996 (3rd edition.) (Question 1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

2. excerpted from Grasping God’s Word-Second Edition, pg. 178 © 2001, 2005 by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays

No comments:

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)