Reading the Bible

by Richard on October 21, 2004

Chuck Currie has a very useful post on conflict in Biblical interpretation.

How we read and understand the Bible has great implications for how we view the Christian faith. Those who read the Bible as literal history (those who consider themselves to be fundamentalist Christians) will take away very different meaning from the stories in the Bible than those of us who understand that these stories are in part human theological reflections on who God is and what God wants for God’s creation.

(You might choose to distinguish these two positions differently. Between those who read the Bible properly and horrid apostates like Chuck — and me — for example :))

I agree with Chuck and others that it is this division over Biblical interpretation that lies at the root of many ongoing controversies in the church. Unless that division can be bridged there is little prospect of reconciliation, but I see no sign of that happening any time soon. Those who hold the view that the Bible is “infallible” cannot easily accommodate an alternative view and keep their integrity. As a minister who reads the Bible with the utmost seriousness I have a problem with this. I’m convinced it is a relatively simple matter to demonstrate that the Bible is plainly and unequivocally not infallible, at least by any sensible use of the word. But the attempt to make that demonstration is seen by those who hold it as an assault upon their faith, the very last thing I would want to do.

I wish I thought there could be an easy answer to this problem. Prayer, fellowship and continuing conversation would provide a route, but without settling this issue it is exactly these 3 things which are most difficult

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }


Brian 10.21.04 at 8:03 pm

I think you nailed the issue on the head. You try to discuss the nature of the Bible and you instantly become one of the “bad guys.” A member of my family went so far as to accuse of me of working for Satan. When the issue is framed that way it is pretty difficult to find any sort of common ground.


Swan 10.22.04 at 3:48 am

Fortunately, there are not only the extreme positions of the literal interpretation and the ultra-liberal interpretation of people like Marcus Borg (who is cited in the article you cite), but also more reasonable positions in between.
Also, I think, it is important to distinguish between different parts of the Bible, i.e. the Old and the New Testament as well as different parts within the Old Testament.


Richard 10.22.04 at 9:27 am

What do you mean about distinguishing between different parts of the Bible, Swan?


Swan 10.22.04 at 3:05 pm

I mean that you can for example see the creation story as figurative, while seeing the gospels as telling what really happened in Jesus’ life.


Richard 10.22.04 at 3:46 pm

I assumed you meant something like that, but didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
I’m not so sure that that’s possible, Swan, and I suppose to that extent I agree with the fundamentalists. (But don’t tell them! ;)) Clearly there are different kinds of material throughout the Bible, and we need to read it accordingly. But to say, for example, that the creation stories are figurative but the gospel records are ‘literal’ creates for me more problems than it solves. The gospel writers are not offering an “objective” account of the life of Jesus. Their purpose is to demonstrate who Jesus is. “What actually happened” is less important than what it all means. I suppose the classic example is the case of the cleansing of the Temple. Did it occur at the end of Jesus’ ministry (as per Mt, Mk and Lk) or at the beginning, as told by Jn? Or did it happen twice?


Swan 10.23.04 at 2:22 am

Hm, I didn’t mean it exactly like that. I meant that while it is actually important for the whole message of the Bible that Jesus actually lived and is the Son of God, it’s not important whether two people named Adam and Eve actually lived or whether the creation happened in seven actual or seven figurative days. The gospels talk about “what actually happened” in the sense that they tell the story of someone who actually lived, but the the writers selected and arranged the events they describe in a way that makes their message clear.


Richard 10.23.04 at 9:05 am

Right - sorry i misunderstood you.


Swan 10.23.04 at 6:30 pm

No problem!

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