Sometimes we don’t particularly like what the Scriptures say, or, for some reason, we think there must be more to it—that it can’t be as simple and straightforward as it appears. So instead of just asking the question “What do the Scriptures say,” we start asking ourselves, “Is that really what that Scripture says?” or, “Is that all that that Scripture says?” and our search for the truth becomes an exercise in misinformation.
One of the most important principles you need to know and apply in order to correctly understand the Bible is, “When the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.” This is a simplification of the Golden Rule of Bible Interpretation as put forth by Dr. David L. Cooper, who writes,
“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and [self-evident] fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”
So, by “plain sense,” Cooper means the “primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning” of the words, and that if those words makes sense (not necessarily if they make sense to you, but if they make common sense—if they form comprehensible sentences and thoughts), then we’re to seek no other sense. We are to continue to seek understanding, just not look for that understanding beyond the plain sense. The rule says that unless the facts, context, related passages and other self-evident truths clearly indicate otherwise, we’re to accept what the Scriptures say as written—the plain sense… no more and no less.
And what does he mean by “another sense?” Cooper goes on to say, “one is to take the Scriptures as they are written and is not to attempt to read into the Sacred Writings his own ideas or the thoughts of men.” Apparently Cooper was primarily dealing with the error of interpreting things figuratively or metaphorically when they should, in fact, be taken literally—for example, seeing symbolism and imagery where there was none intended. Yet the “plain sense” principle also applies for all categories of Scriptural literature. The reason to ascertain the plain sense of Scripture, and then to stop at the plain sense (if it makes common sense) is to avoid the error of reading into the Scriptures our own ideas or the thoughts of men, and thereby asserting another sense.
This isn’t to say that there are never hints of other legitimate meanings beside the plain sense, and it’s also not to suggest a replacement for critical bible study, or an excuse for a superficial reading of the Scriptures. On the contrary, the principle simply says to seek another sense only when the plain sense doesn’t make common sense. We should stop with the plain sense when it makes sense—which it usually does, even when we claim otherwise.
The plain sense of Scripture should not be treated as an unspiritual obstacle to understanding the Scriptures. While all truth is spiritually discerned, we are still not permitted to abandon simple logic, critical thinking, normal rules of language and common sense when it comes to reading the Book. Because if we eradicate the plain sense, then all we’re left with is nonsense, and the ability to twist God’s word into any sense we wish.
The Bible is an immeasurably awesome book that reveals an immeasurably awesome God, but when we look for meaning beyond what it plainly says, we destroy and do violence to His perfect word. When we read the Bible, we need to take everything it says first at face value—that unless the immediate context clearly indicates otherwise, we should read every text plainly as written.
Though the deep truths of Scripture can sometimes be difficult to understand, a plain reading of the text is usually all we need. Don’t read your own ideas or the ideas of others into anything the Scriptures say. Accept God’s word as perfect, just the way it is, and when the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense.