Once upon a time, in a land far away, there were six blind men. None of them had ever seen an elephant, though they had heard much about the creature. They hired a guide to take them to an elephant so they could satisfy their curiosity.
The guide was able to find a tame elephant. The blind men approached it from different directions and investigated it, using their sense of touch. After encountering the elephant, however, each man came to a different conclusion as to what an elephant most closely resembled.
The first man, who touched the elephant's side, proclaimed that the creature was like a mud-baked wall. The second man, who touched a tusk, affirmed that the elephant was like a spear. The third man, who grabbed hold of the tail, described the elephant as very much like a rope. The fourth man, who felt the trunk of the creature, believed that an elephant was like a large serpent. The fifth man, who had touched an ear, claimed that the elephant was like a large fan. Finally, the sixth man, who wrapped his arms around one of the elephant's legs, stated that the creature was like a tree trunk.
Each blind man, based on his own personal experience, was convinced of the correctness of his own conclusion. Each man believed with all his heart that he now knew what an elephant was like; he believed his view was the correct one.
The fact of the matter, however, was that none of them were entirely correct or entirely wrong. This truth is easy to ascertain if you have ever seen an elephant before. It is understandable how a blind person who only examined one part of the creature would believe it to be like others things he had experienced before. To a certain extent, an elephant is like a wall, a spear, a rope, a serpent, a fan, and a tree trunk. Nevertheless, to say that the entire elephant is like any one of these things is simply not accurate.
Dear listeners, what can be learned from this story?
First of all, may we always remember that "the entirety of [God's] word is truth" (Psa. 119:160). Acquiring part of God's truth is not enough. This was a critical point we stressed in our recent lessons on the importance of context in interpretation (cf. 02/23/2006 and 02/24/2006). The blind men individually considered only a small part of the total available evidence. Thus, their conclusions were incomplete and flawed. Tragically, the same thing happens regularly in Bible study when a person considers one passage on a certain theme but doesn't put forth the effort to consider what the rest of God's word says on the matter. Of course, the rest of the Scriptures will not contradict a proper interpretation of any specific passage. However, it is difficult to know if one's interpretation of a certain passage is correct until the rest of God's truth is considered. It is impossible to comprehend what an elephant really is if one only examines a small part of it. Likewise, let us desire the "whole counsel of God" and never be content with a mere fraction of the available biblical truth (Acts 20:26,27). Otherwise, we will likely end up deceiving ourselves.
Proverbs 18:17 is also relevant on this topic - "The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him." When we listen to people speak about God and His word, we are foolish to embrace their conclusions as the truth without fully examining their words in the light of the Scriptures (cf. Acts 17:11; I Thess. 5:21). There are so many false ideas being circulated about almost any Bible topic that we must be careful to examine everything closely (and that includes any lessons shared via this website). If we don't, we may be deceived into believing things that just aren't true regarding God's attributes, His church, the plan of salvation, etc. Although one can live a life that is pleasing to God while in ignorance about elephants, no one can please God being ignorant of the divine will.
Friends, don't be spiritually blind. The collective sum of God's word is truth--period. Study it, believe it, and obey it!