Wrestling with….the Bible

19 01 2009

Recently I was challenged to read the Bible more. Not with the traditional, thump accross the head, but in a more subversive way. You see I read a lot of books. I currently have about 8 or 10 on my shelf waiting to be read (and an ever growing wish list on amazon). When I gloated about the number of books I was reading my Dad gave a me one of those looks. You know the one that only parents are capable of producing. The one that says “Oh boy you’re still so naieve, and you’ve got a lot to learn, but I love you and am proud of you, even if you don’t like what I’ve got to say next”  Well it was  something along those lines.

All my Dad did was to ask me how many times I had read the Bible compared to all the other books. Right then and there I was stopped in my tracks. I’ve said before that while I  have read the New Testament many times, the Old Testament still remains a mystery in many places. I needed to spend more time with the primary source.

But I also found myself at a cross roads. While I agree I need to read the Bible more often, the commentaries and theological books I have read have greatly enhanced my bible reading. For example, when I first began to see the Bible as a narrative, a coherent story, my understanding was greatly improved. Suddenly the question of how the OT relates to the NT all but dissappeared. When I learnt that the bible contained many different types of literature it helped me to understand how to interpret each book. When I learnt about systematic theology and the five points of Calvinism I saw scripture with fresh perspective. When I found out about the new perspective on paul, for all my struggles with it, I again saw scripture with fresh eyes.

During the Reformation, one of the battle cries was “Ad fontes“. Its a latin expression which means “To the sources”. It literally means “to the fountain”. To extend the metaphor slightly, the Reformers did not want to drink from a pool downstream. They did not want to  drink from waters muddied with tradition. They wanted to go back to the pure fountain of the word. Scripture was to be the final arbiter of matters of faith. If examined, tradition should be able to show scriptural evidence for its being, otherwise it should be jettisoned.  Although correct, some saw this as instating a “paper pope” instead of a real one. But now more than ever we need a fresh understanding of the authority, sufficiency and clarity of scripture. (More on this in another post)

I think of the attitude of some of the people in the Bible, most quotably, the Bereans (Acts 17:11) is one we should see as normative. Whenever Paul preached, they searched the scriptures to see if what he said was true. They tested everything he said. They did not swallow his ideas uncritically.  They were in effect the first reformers and this is exactly the attitude we need to have. If someone wants to make the claim of having a fresh interpretation of scripture then we need to search the scriptures, individually and corporately, to see if it rings true. How much richer would we be for doing this?

When we start talking about scripture and its place in Christian life, a million extra questions pop up. I can’t answer them all in one post but perhaps I should take a look at some of the more pertinent questions in future posts. Until then I challenge you to read scripture as much as you read other books.




2 responses

20 01 2009

Really challenging post Grant, and well said.
I struggle with this as well, I try to keep in the Scriptures, but at the same time there are so many things I want to read that I’m certainly not spending anything like an equal time in both.

There are couple things that admittedly make it difficult for me to read as much in the Scriptures as I desire to, one of which resonates with something you said here,

“While I agree I need to read the Bible more often, the commentaries and theological books I have read have greatly enhanced my bible reading.”

I’m in that same position. I learn so much from the theological works I read, and they quite enhance my reading of Scripture, so it is easy to rationalize spending more time in them.
Also, having grown up in the church it is too easy to get the feeling that it’s theological works that are the ‘fresh’ part, despite knowing deep down that the Scriptures are infinitely more engaging, fresh, relevant, and challenging than any other book.

I guess the other part is that most Bibles don’t ‘read well’ as it were. I don’t mean as translations, but with all the chapter divisions, verse divisions, footnotes, cross references, they just don’t flow well. I see why those things exist, and like them for close study, but when you want to just read they get in the way I think.

20 01 2009

Yeah I guess we’re in the same boat. Often I find it easier to read someone’s opinion of the Bible than wrestle with it myself. With regards to your last comment on the Bible not reading well, I found the same thing when I had a life application Bible. I spent too much time reading the footnotes the editors had added. Then I got a TNIV with no cross references, footnotes. Just verse numbers and the odd textual variant. It helped me to read entire books in one go without getting distracted.

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