Thursday, March 16, 2017
How to Read the Bible 1 - Why?
Welcome! You are in at the beginning, which is always fun. Day one, chapter one. Welcome to our journey to finding a way to read The Bible. Which sounds kind of silly, since there are loads of English translations - why not just pick one up and start at page one? But if you've ever tried to read The Bible, you'll know what I mean.
I argue a lot. Not with my family, they're actually rather great. Mainly with friends of friends on Facebook. My Facebook profile says, succinctly, 'Theology. Politics. Self Deprecation.' I hope that sums me up, Facebook-wise, although the self deprecation only goes so far. If people are not thinking straight, the deprecation might start to flow the other way a bit. It's a weakness of mine.
One of the things that reverses the flow of deprecation is the phrase, 'The Bible clearly says...' followed by some sweeping statement based on a single verse from a single chapter in a single book of the Bible. We're normally 'discussing' some practical application of the Christian faith like politics or ethics, and this phrase is intended to fall like a hammer blow and silence all dissent.
At this point, I'm not going to try to deconstruct all the things that upset me about the phrase, 'The Bible clearly says...' If I did, I would essentially write one long post instead of the many that I plan to write, and invite others to write, over the coming months.
Let me just say, if the Bible was clear about everything we wouldn't disagree so much about it. We would agree on what it says and then disagree about what to do about it. But that's not the case. In 2 Peter 3:16 (if you don't know how the weird numbering thing works, we'll get to that eventually) the writer comments on Paul's letters, specifically stating that parts of them are hard to understand. So even the people who wrote the Bible didn't think The Bible was clear and obvious all the time.
Also, I am a bit antsy about taking about The Bible. Capital T, Capital B. NO ONE put this thing together because it made sense as a whole, because there was a single coherent argument, or a single story being told. The 66 'books' (lots of them aren't really books) that make up The Bible were argued about, kicked out, allowed back in, loved, hated, ignored... but (thank God) no one ever got control of them.
Martin Luther, one of the early leaders of the Protestant Reformation, wanted to get rid of a few books because they didn't fit with the argument he was trying to make, but he lost that battle. The Bible is not a single book with 66 chapters that proceed from A to Z in a logical manner. Just lay that one down. If you try to read it like a textbook or a novel you are going to get a sore head.
OK Simon, if it's so hard to read and understand, why don't we just leave it behind? You seem to be saying The Bible doesn't really hold together, doesn't really make that much sense. It's really, really old, how relevant can it be?
Here's a quick answer, which is also the reason I'm starting this project.
I follow Jesus of Nazareth, the one who came to be called The Messiah or Christ, also The Son of God. Not only do I follow him, but I believe that Jesus shows us what God is like. The Bible is my only route back to him, to those who knew him and told stories about him, to his earliest followers, to the world that he lived in. At the very, very least, I have to find a way to make sense of those parts of the Bible that speak directly about him. (We'll come to the other stuff eventually.) If I think God is around, and God is like Jesus, it's really important to get some idea of what Jesus was like. Thus, we have to find a way to read The Bible that helps us find Jesus.
This is personal. If I can't make some kind of sense of the Bible, then who or what is it that I'm following? It's also collective: the community that I'm part of (www.reviveleeds.org) is trying to work out how we can handle The Bible honourably. By that, I mean honouring the text, the people that created the text, the people in the room with me right now as we read the text together, and the millions of fellow-followers who have wrestled with the text over 2,000 years.
Most of what will get written here will have been explored together first in revive. If this is just a conversation between us, that's no problem. If anyone else wants to join in, you're welcome.
In the next post I briefly want to explore why many people have lost confidence in The Bible, and why now might be a great time to explore it in a new way. Then we'll get under way properly! See you soon.