John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Obedience When There Isn't A Command

Jesus says:

"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:43-45).

I grew up among people who thought that there was a precise way to read the Bible. We were told to look for either a command, an example or what was called a "necessary inference". As I got older I heard people sometimes refer to this as the "tripartite hermeneutic".

Of course, this method of Bible reading brings up all kinds of issues. First of all, it's not a hermeneutic at all. It's a method of applying the text to our lives; it has nothing to do with interpreting the text or discovering its meaning (that's what hermeneutics does). Second of all, one person's "necessary inference" is hardly universal. There are other issues but the most important issue of all is that this method of reading the Bible is ungodly. I mean that last word in a precise way.

It's ungodly in that it's completely unconcerned with God.

This is what could be called an "anthropocentric" way to read the Bible. It's completely concerned with me and what I should do. Or it's concerned with you and what I think you should do. God's hardly even a factor.

A theocentric hermeneutic would first ask what this text reveals about the character and nature of God. Then it would be appropriate to ask how I might apply this text to my life in such a way that I become more like him.

Reading the Bible that way takes a lot more work, and that's probably why some people prefer the tripartite hermeneutic. But these people often have a really hard time trying to figure out what in the world Jesus wants them to do. Take this paragraph out of Luke, for instance. There's no command. There's not even an example. And the whole necessary inference thing is confusing for most anyway.

What does Jesus want us to do? Oh, and to ratchet up the tension even farther, he adds:

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46).

Because you haven't told us what to do, Jesus!

Obviously, Jesus wants us to do more than produce good fruit. He wants us to become the right kind of tree. So, with that in mind, what do I do with this paragraph from Luke's Gospel? How do I obey Jesus when there isn't a command?