How to Read the Bible
Just for fun I did a Google search on the title phrase above. As I was typing it in and had inputted “how to read…” the ever-helpful search engine gave me several suggestions on what I might be searching for. The Bible came up as #1. For the record “palms” was #2.
In any event Google gave me 70,000,000 helpful suggestions. Among them were “how to read for a better understanding” which certainly seems like a good idea; how to read it “as it was meant to be read”; how to “study” the Bible, which I assume is somewhat different; and how to read it, and how to “enjoy it” which also seems to be a pretty good concept. Several websites suggested steps to take and at least one, which seemingly could not make up its mind, suggested four ways to read it.
Reading the Bible is a bedrock reality for we evangelicals that I would not want you to even slightly think I oppose. But there is one issue that keeps coming up whenever I talk about the Bible. Most evangelicals would agree with the author who says “Scripture alone is authoritative for the faith and practice of the Christian….The Word of God is the only authority for the Christian faith….[and] is the only way to avoid subjectivity and keep personal opinion from taking priority over the teachings of the Bible.”
By the way, those quotes were from GotQuestions.org. The problem is that it makes the assumption that we actually can read the Bible free of subjectivity. N.T. Wright correctly says “we imagine that we are ‘reading the text, straight’, and that if somebody disagrees with us it must be because they, unlike we ourselves, are secretly using ‘presuppositions’ of this or that sort.” In the end we place our faith not in the Bible but rather in what we, and a few people we choose to agree with, believe it says.
What is more, we often read with an assumption that the Bible was written to me. Our assumption, often not fully acknowledged, is that the process looks something like this:
God speaks -> through the Bible-> to me.
In reality it looks more like this:
God speaks -> to men of ancient times -> who were speaking into their own culture -> then later councils decided which of these writings would be Scripture -> still later people translated it into my language -> for me.
Isn’t the assurance that we are reading the Bible correctly just a tad arrogant? Yet 70,000,000 articles are out there to assure me I can do it. I take the Bible very seriously and strive to understand it. Yet the foundational principles for taking the Bible seriously, for me, need to be this:
- I must confess that I may, in spite of my best effort, not be reading it correctly.
- There is no possible way that I can read the Bible objectively; my understanding will always be filtered through my cultural and personal assumptions.
- I need to express my conclusions as opinions and do so with grace.
- I must always listen to contrary opinions with equal grace.