Don't apply Scripture; embody it

January 15th, 2015

I dislike the language of application when it comes to reading Scripture. To apply something is to coat the surface, as one applies a coat of paint to a house. Application just covers what is underneath. The paint does not change the wood, it just makes it look different.

The same can be said for the language of applying Scripture. For Christians to apply the Bible to their lives suggests that the wisdom of the Bible is a veneer that covers over who we are. We are not really changed, but it just seems that way to those around us.

Now I know that those who speak of applying the Bible to one's life are not intentionally embracing the implications of application language; they are using, I believe, a bad image for the relevance of Scripture in the life of individual Christians and in the 21st century church.

Instead, I like the image used by L. Greg Jones and Stephen Fowl many years ago in their book, “Reading in Communion,” where they suggest that Christians should not apply Scripture, but should embody it in their lives. To embody something is to be changed by it to the very core of our being and to the very core of the community of faith. To embody Scripture in our lives is in a sense to incarnate it, to live it, to breathe it, to become what it commends and to reject what it condemns. It is much easier to apply Scripture than to embody it.

When Christians seek to apply the Bible, they treat it only as an instruction manual to be consulted on occasion when they need to know how to do something or when they need an answer to an important question — Scripture as a reference work. To embody the Bible is to view it as the Constitution that gives the church its identity because its pages bear witness to the writer of the Constitution — God. We seek to embody Scripture because we are in Christ. The Bible is the unique and decisive revelation that bears witness to the unique, decisive and central revelation of Jesus Christ.

It is therefore critical that Jesus' followers seek to embody in their lives the biblical narrative. As Christians incarnate the biblical narrative in their lives, those around them, who have never read the Scripture, now can read it in a living way as it is reflected in the lives of the faithful. As the old adage goes, Christians are the only Bible some people will ever read.

To apply the Bible is to make it one more how-to manual among others; to embody Scripture is to give it a central and supreme place in our lives. John Wesley, who was well and widely read in many different subjects, could nevertheless say that he was a man of one book.

May we all be able to affirm the same.

Allan blogs at

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