A better way to read (read) Admittedly, this is not how I learned to read the Bible. In fact, I’m not sure that I learned to read the Bible at all. I just read it. I read it like you would read anything else. I just read it and took it at it’s word. It was there in black and white.
However, there were some things about the Bible that made it different than everything else I read: it didn’t have a single author (or even a stated author for many of it’s ‘books’), it was written thousands of years earlier, and it was not written in English – it was translated.
None of that is a problem necessarily. I still got the main point of the book (I think) and was able to pick up on most of its important themes (at least they were important to me). In fact, the more general my reading and the more generic my intent, the better that way of reading works.
The problem comes when you want to either make bigger and broader claims bases on Scripture or the more narrow and specific you want to get.
For instance, if you want to make a big claim about how the universe works or the fate of every human soul throughout history, you end up doing something with the text that it may be unsustainable under further review. If you want to get specific and say that this word in the original text says ____ and therefore women can not ______ , or ministers must ______ … using the text that way may become an issue.
I put forward an idea in my previous post that gives us permission to update, revisit, and re-engage the texts of scripture based on two things:
- we do not have a pre-modern mind and therefore have a very different relationship to story, text, idea, and experience than people of the pre-modern world.
- we live in a world that is so different, has changed so much, has gone through such radical and traumatic experiences that we would be blind not to acknowledge and account for it.
In my clearest language: I am advocating for a more sophisticated way of reading the Bible and to move away from a simple reading. Like I said at the beginning, I was not taught to read the Bible, I just read it – or so I thought. I had to get rid of the illusion that I was ONLY reading. It is a simply awakening and only requires one thing to get started! You must admit that you are translating when you read. You are not simply reading , you are doing something else – even if it subconsciously or unknowingly. There is a hermeneutic (way of reading) that is being employed by all of us and we have to come to terms with the idea that our way of reading is not (and can not be) the same way of reading as the ancients did.
Here are four advantages to awakening to the presence of interpretation:
- We can read the creation stories in Genesis and call God ‘creator’ without discounting or disregarding contemporary science (and especially emergence theory).
- We can take the story of Jonah or Job and recognize that they are more like movie scripts or plays than they are newspaper reports and not get bogged down in the details.
- We can believe that the incarnate Jesus calmed a storm (the miraculous) without making the leap that God sent Hurricane Irene or directs tornadoes.
- We can see that the Book of Revelation is a political commentary (prophetic imagination) about the first century C.E. and not an exacting prediction about the end of the world.
I believe this to be a better way to read the Bible. It is both more authentic to the text and has more integrity in the world that has developed since the text was written. We are not limited to only the physics and metaphysics of antiquity but we also are not abandoning the whole project and going out on our own. We are providing continuity with the historic trajectory and honoring the tradition.
You can call this a ‘new kind of christianity‘ if you want, or something else, but it is a way a being in the world that honors Christ and engages the world as it actually is. It allows us to believe in miracles without being superstitiously ‘super’natural. It lets us listen to the wisdom of the ancients without being stuck to their ‘three-tiered’ universe. It provides a dynamic engagement between the classic themes and the world we find ourselves in.
September 5, 2011 at 10:12 pm
What is the place of authorial intent? Do you think we can still get to the authorial meaning or not? Does it even matter if we do?
September 6, 2011 at 1:44 am
I have been thinking about this since you asked, and while I have no idea (though I can guess that they wouldn’t go for it) what scholars do with it…
anyway – I actually think that I am OK with this category… as long as… and this is important, we understand that it is something we construct. It is a construction that we piece together as best we can. Some might frown on it and call it conjecture but I actually get what it is about.
What are your thoughts?
March 6, 2012 at 5:19 am
It would be a big step, if everyone did acknowledge that we all translate and interpret what we read . . . fit into our paradigm. This could lead to more of us stepping back and re-examing the ‘truths’ that we’ve always ‘known’.
How exciting, to allow the written words to be alive . . . fluid . . .
March 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm
Well said Lynelle. I like where you are headed 🙂 -Bo
March 6, 2012 at 6:03 am
Two scary thoughts about this way of doing things:
First, at what point does this fluidity become inauthentic? I’ve been thinking and writing lately about eisegesis and the catastrophic implications of misreading Scripture. Do we correct wrong understanding or congratulate folks for their creativity?
Second, how do we prevent this from becoming permission for lazy readership? There is an entire Jewish culture that is already being ignored by a massive section of our congregations. I’m afraid that many will see this and simply read this as permission to do theological work with a survey in one hand and a barometer in the other.
March 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm
Joey, I think I need a clarification … what is ‘this way’ of doing things. Do you mean mine or one of the the schools I am commenting on? I am assuming your mean the Jesus Seminar crowd from what you said.
On your second point, I am whole-heartedly with you about avoiding lazy readership. That is exactly what I am attempting to counter. That is why I am advocating for this 3rd way. -bo
March 7, 2012 at 8:43 pm
Sorry for the confusion.
There’s a great deal of talk in the circles in which I run regarding the problems of eisegetics. I hear a great deal of that in the implications of your post. Indeed, the Jesus Seminar is a culprit (as we all have been from time to time.)
My point is simple: Any interpretation of Hebrew Scripture that does not begin with a Jewish mindset cannot reasonably arrive at anything more than contrived truth insofar as it departs from that mindset. The same can be said for New Testament scholarship that does not include the competing views of Kingdom.
The danger is for the uninitiated to take this as permission to wander away from our foundations rather than doing as you suggest: Begin with the scholarship and carefully interpret into the modern context.
Thanks for highlighting these problems and keeping the issues before us.
March 9, 2012 at 9:49 pm
I will be on vacation next week and was wondering if I could have your permission to reblog this while I am gone?
March 9, 2012 at 9:59 pm
Absolutely 🙂 hope you have a great vacation too! -Bo
March 9, 2012 at 10:08 pm
Thanks! I have it scheduled for the 18th.