The Doctrine of Least Meaning

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If you haven’t been able to tell yet, most of my posts involve borrowed insight from someone far wiser than me. This one will follow suit.

Recently, I heard John Piper mention a Bible-reading tool called “the doctrine of least meaning” to use when we approach difficult passages of Scripture. He admitted that some passages of the Bible are hard to understand—don’t get discouraged when you feel this way!

When we encounter a strange prophecy in Revelation, an extensive description of temple ornaments in 1 Kings, or an obscure oracle in Nahum, we’re likely to ask ourselves, “What the heck am I supposed to make of this?”

But if we can step back, look at the passage and say, “Well at the least, it probably means . . . ” that truth—whatever it is—is so significant that if it is believed, meditated on, and practiced, it will massively benefit our lives.

That’s the doctrine of least meaning.

Encouraging, right? An in-depth knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, or ancient history, may help us understand certain texts, but they’re not essential. We don’t need fancy training to benefit from reading the Bible. God’s Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). Even the weird stuff.

An Example

So let’s put our new tool to use and practice together. Read this passage of Scripture with me:

“Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; as his country improved, he improved his pillars. Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt. The Lord will break down their altars and destroy their pillars.”

— Hosea 10:1-2

I don’t think I know anyone who considers Hosea 10:1-2 their life verse, and I’m not saying you’re going to either. What I am saying, though, is that Hosea 10:1-2 is the Word of God. And because of that, it matters.

At the least . . .

  • It probably means that God wants our hearts to be true.
  • It probably means that God has given us responsibility over our actions.
  • It probably means that God isn’t wimpy—that He takes things pretty seriously.

Are you with me? Can you see how those potential meanings are drawn from the Scripture? Nothing too crazy, right?

Well let’s take the first one: At the least, it probably means that God wants our hearts to be true. Now believe, meditate on, and practice that truth. Your walk with Christ will be deeply impacted.

Believe

  • That God wants my heart to be true.
  • That God is honored when I live with integrity.
  • That God cares more about my heart being sincere than my words being sincere.

Meditate

God wants my heart to be true, huh? Well, I think my heart is true most of the time. But, I guess that’s the problem. He isn’t asking for most of the time. He’s asking for all of the time. God, that’s so hard though! Think about all the ways I lie—down to the small things.

It’s like my heart is so used to being partly false that I can’t imagine what being wholly true would be like.

God, will you help me? Will you dig up these roots of falsehood inside of me? I want my heart to be true. All of it. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Practice

  • Confess dishonesty immediately.
  • Share my struggle with a brother in Christ and ask for his accountability.
  • Speak with more caution so that I can catch any false words before they come out.
  • Before going to bed, write down examples of what happened that day that reflect how my heart is becoming more true.

Don’t Be Discouraged

Some passages of the Bible are hard to understand, and that’s okay! Keep reading. Every page of Scripture matters. I hope this tool will encourage you. You know more than you’d think.

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4 thoughts on “The Doctrine of Least Meaning

  1. This post was encouraging. I’m reading the Kings and Prophets right now in Chronological order and I get discouraged sometimes because I can’t seem to understand till I dig deeper. This strategy is good. I will try to work on it thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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