I want to do a couple of posts based around the idea that when we read the Scriptures, we do so with an interpretative lens. This lens shapes what we do with the Scriptures, how we read them and ultimately how we interpret their meaning and function in our lives and in the church. I’d like to start with setting a little bit of a framework here in this post.
I’m curious as to how many people actually greet someone with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26)? Or how many people are looking for Paul in order to bring him his coat (2 Timothy 4:13)? Or how many are drinking a glass of wine when they are sick (1 Timothy 5:23)? All of these things are commands in Scripture, yet somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that these are specific to their context and don’t directly apply to us today.
There’s a scary phrase that gets used often today. It usually sounds something like this, “If we’d just go back to what the Scriptures say”. Now, what exactly does that mean? Probably something different for different people. The person saying something like that surely doesn’t want us to begin a search for Paul in order to bring him his coat, although that would be going back to what the Scriptures say. What we really mean when we say this is, “If we’d just get back to what my interpretative lens of the Scriptures says…”
Do you realize that every time you read the Bible, you’re making interpretative decisions. You’re deciding based off of your background, your cultural understanding, your own theological presuppositions, and a myriad of other things what that particular Scripture means. And we all do this every time we read the Bible.
In fact, if you’re reading the Bible in English, then you are reading someone’s interpretation (usually a whole group of people, but sometimes just one person’s). They’ve had to decide what word/words to use to represent something that was originally written in Greek (in the New Testament and an early translation of the Old Testament), Hebrew (for the Old Testament) or Aramaic (for small portions of both the Old and New Testament). So, unless you’re reading the Bible in it’s orginal language, you’re reading Scripture that has already been interpreted. In fact, even if you’re reading it in it’s original language, you’re reading a level of interpretation because someone had to decide which of the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts to use (in case you’re wondering, there are different manuscripts of the Old and New Testament that are essentially pieced together by some incredibly smart people who have to make informed decisions as to which pieces to use where and when).
I want to take this a few steps further. But before I do, I want to offer a few thoughts to chew on before another post, and also a few points of clarification before I sound too heretical.
I have absolute confidence in the text of the Scriptures. I think that the way that they have been put together with such a small amount of differing amongst the different early texts is a testament to its accuracy rather than being a problem. I also believe strongly in the authority of the Scriptures (although I believe that we should let the Scriptures define authority for us rather than us imposing our understanding of authority onto the Scriptures), and believe them to be the basis for my understanding of God and life.
Now that we got that out of the way, a few thoughts…
What am I bringing to the Scriptures when I read them? This is huge…but, what does it mean to be an American in the 21st century reading a document written in the Middle East and Asia Minor during the 1st century (if we’re talking about the New Testament)?
How often do I misunderstand other’s use of the Scriptures because we are approaching the text from a different perspective? Maybe our problems aren’t in taking the text more or less seriously than others, but that we have a different starting point when looking at the Scriptures because of each of our own interpretative lenses.
Lastly, is there such a thing as a “pure” reading of Scripture? Is there a way to know what it really means, or do we simply have to accept that everyone looks at the Scriptures through their own interpretative lens and that we just have to accept that, because we’ll never be able to look at it without our own baggage?
I think that these are good things to have to wrestle with. We’ll continue this with a few more posts to come…