Sunday, June 13, 2010

How to Read the Bible, another view

A friend was talking yesterday about inductive Bible study; apparently some people find this a strange concept.

"What?" I squawked in mock surprise. "You mean, like reading the Bible and thinking about what it says?"

"Radical, I know," my friend said. "But sometimes people want to read a commentary..." as though that were the answer key! In some ways that's easier than reading the text for myself and asking, "What is God saying to me here?" This of course brings the question of how the text should be read. Here's a recent quote from a buddy of mine:

We'd be better off if we approached the Bible as fictional masterpiece than as reference manual. The former can shape us, not so the latter.
When this appeared on facebook, some spirited discussion followed, and the original author clarified
I didn't say the Bible is a fictional masterpiece (I don't think it is). I'm merely pointing out the relative personal impact of interacting with these different genres. "The Brothers Karamozov" can change your life and worldview in a way that "The Portable Pediatrician" never will.
I think this brilliant, though 20 years ago I couldn't have appreciated it.

Back then I thought of the Bible more or less as a textbook. But the narratives (Cain and Abel, the Judges, the kings of Israel and Judah) undermined that view, and then, around the time I understood Genesis 1 as a polemic, I began to see the Bible as a record of man's experiences with God -- the people of Israel; and then, starting with Matthew, a particular sect we now call Christians.

Another friend told me that he used to read the Bible as a novel; then he became a Christian and read it as a set of principles. When he had children, he read it as a message from a parent to his children.

But yesterday's discussion also brought to mind Kugel's book, "How to Read the Bible," which I've mentioned before (also here). Professor Kugel has a very interesting view of the Bible, which for him means the Hebrew Bible (what many of us call the Old Testament). As a source critic, he doesn't believe that Moses actually wrote the Torah and so on; yet, as a practicing Orthodox Jew, he believes the text is divinely inspired and seeks divine comfort and guidance from it.

My current view: the Bible ...

  • is not an answer book
  • is divinely inspired but each book is also a product of its time and place
  • is a love letter from God (Genesis 1 vs. the Enuma Elish for example)
  • tells us about Jesus Christ, the hope of the world
  • raises many questions
  • has a lot of wisdom
  • speaks to me differently today than it did a year or a decade ago
Those are some things that come to mind now. More later...

No comments: