Reading with Both Eyes OpenFar too often we read the Bible with one eye closed. Try this little exercise. Close either eye and look at the page you are reading. Then switch eyes. Normally, you should notice that the words on the page shifts. With one eye you get only one perception. Unfortunately, the one eye that you read with serves like a presupposition; you only see stuff from one point of view.
When it comes to reading the Bible that is usually the view of the ones that taught you to read the Bible, i.e., family, church, school, etc. One of the predominant ways that we were taught to read the Bible was in fragments, i.e., verses. We will say more about that anon. Another way we were taught to read was to defend some supposed doctrine, i.e., to form an apology for what we were taught to believe.
Several years ago I was visiting with a friend and he told me he was having a difficult time reading the Bible. He found himself reading verses and thinking, yep, that would help me make this point for what I believe. I suggested that he disband that form of reading and just pick a book, like Mark, and read for the pleasure of reading. I suggested that he read it several times watching for how the author told his story. I also suggested that he find a Bible without verses so he would not be stymied with the crude interruptions. He told me that he had never thought about just reading the text for enjoyment. A month of so later I saw him again and he told me he had tried what I had suggested and that he had gained a fresh view of reading the Bible text.
Stop for a moment and reflect on how you have been taught to read the Bible. Now think about this: The purpose of Reading the Bible with Both Eyes Open is to offer you some ideas about reading that you may have never seen with only one eye, i.e., the way you were taught to read. Think about the color of the lens you read through. Take a look at what I have written about colored lens here.
We all have a special set of lens through which we read. These presuppositions cause us to arrive at meanings that the authors would surely be surprised by if they heard or read about them today.
The ending section of the book of Revelation may have caused untold fear at this point to generations of Scripture readers. John writes:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll:q If anyone adds anything to them,r God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.s And if anyone takes words awayt from this scroll of prophecy,u God will take away from that person any share in the tree of lifev and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. (Rev 22.18-19, NIV).
We read this at the end of our Bible and suppose that it is referring to the whole Bible when it really applies only to the book of Revelation. We read in fear and trembling that we are changing the sacred text, when in fact the literalness that we read with is changing the text.
Every reading journey starts somewhere. In the reading journey, our presuppositions, which assume beforehand; or to take for granted in advance, and are our starting points. They are our colored lens. Our starting point will always determine our ending point. As an example, If we were to take a ride from the beginning of I-5[ref]For readers outside the United States, the “I” means Interstate. These are special marked roads that run north and south in the US designated with odd or even numbers, i.e., I-5, I-15, etc., and east and west with numbers like I-10, I-40, etc.[/ref] at the Canadian border at Blaine, WA, and travel south to its ends just below Chula Vista, CA, at the Mexican border, we can only go through towns and cities that I-5 goes through. Other cities cannot be reached while on I-5. Let’s say we were in Portland, OR, and wanted to drive to Reno, NV. We can’t make that journey on I-5, because I-5 doesn’t go through Reno. In short, we can’t get anywhere on that highway except where it takes us. Our beginning point really does determine our ending point. In Bible reading, a presupposition is the root belief(s) we hold from which, as we read, all our other thoughts and beliefs flow.
Let’s think about this in terms of the topic “end times.” If we believe that the church will be raptured before a tribulation that would be our beginning point, our presupposition. As we read Scripture, we discover all kinds of verses that support our presupposition. Such is the presupposition of the Left Behind series of books. Presuppositions are also at play in our present topic of women in ministry. If we believe that Genesis teaches male hierarchy in creation, then we collect all other material in our Bible reading to support that presupposition. If, on the other hand, we read Genesis as not teaching male hierarchy in creation but equality, and we follow the storyline through the fall to the new creation in Christ, then we collect material that supports that point of view. There’s nothing magical about this process. Our starting point determines our ending point.
Here’s another example: when we read Arabic numbers like 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 in our sacred text, we assume that we are reading quantity, i.e., there are seven plates on the dinner table. However, what if we are reading those numbers in terms of quality, i.e., “there are seven plates on the dinner table” could be understood as “there is one perfect plate on the dinner table.” For the ancient reader, this latter reading would be a more normal reading.
Finally, the version of the sacred text we choose to read causes us to wear colored shades and see things differently. Translators make interpretative decisions, which then affect the way in which we read. As an example, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7.1: “Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.'” In early translations, there were no quote marks around “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” This omission caused readers to think that this statement was a “Paul saying” rather than a “Corinthians saying,” which Paul was quoting and then refuting that saying in the following text. You can take a look at my Kindle eBook Veilless in Corinth to see an example of how this literary reading works.[ref]Winn Griffin, “Veilless in Corinth: An Interpretative Read of 1 Corinthians 11.2-16 [a Kingdom Praxis Solo],” Basileia Publishing: An Imprint of Harmon Press. http://amzn.to/10KHD4d (accessed January 23, 2012).[/ref]
We need to be intentional to discover what our presuppositions are. Being aware of our presuppositions is the first step in changing them, which will surely change our reading and interpreting of the sacred text for the better. To accomplish this goal, it might be well if we were exposed to the different approaches to reading to help us discover how we read. We start with the premise that God is a speaking God.[ref]Winn Griffin. God Has Spoken.[/ref]
Prepare for your presuppositions about reading to be challenged. Realizing your presuppositions might hurt for a moment, but you may be offered a process of healing that will produce for you a greater desire to read with the new skills that you will be offered. Remember, two eyes to read is better than one!
The Bible is an Exciting Book!
It is true, the Bible is one of the most exciting books in the world to read. However, sometimes it is difficult to read and understand. There are several reasons for this. First, the Bible was written to a different culture in a different time frame. People spoke, thought, and lived differently. Second, because of the way it is printed—in chapter and verse—we tend to read incomplete portions of Scripture instead of whole stories. Third, we don’t know where it came from or how it developed. Fourth, we overlook the part that man played in God’s plan to share his words with us. This introductory reading is designed to help you discover that Scripture, though years in the making, is built on the communicative strength of God choosing humankind to write them down and share them. It is my greatest hope that when you read Scripture that you are encountered by its message so that you can know and have allegiance to the faithfulness of God.
Interpretation Happens Automatically
The very first process that occurs when you pick up a book to read and begin scanning the words on the page with your eyes is interpretation. You are trying to understand what the author of the book is saying to you. Hearing an author is like hitting the bull’s eye of a target. It is fair to say that the genre of the book that you choose to read also has a lot to do with how you will interpret the book you are reading. As an example, you would not read a John Grisham thriller with the same set of rules that you read a piece of poetry by Robert Frost.
What is true of your everyday reading is also true as you read Scripture. God has seen fit in his bountiful creation to choose many authors and many types of literature to express his Story to us. It is incumbent on us as twenty-first-century readers and interpreters to honor him by taking the time to understand the way in which he chooses to send us his Story.
In order for you to acquire good Bible reading skills, you must know some of the basic kinds of literature and how to understand them in order to help you appreciate value, and hear God’s voice through the pages of Scripture.The very first process that occurs when you pick up a book...is interpretation Click To Tweet
It is my opinion that there are two basic groups within the church when it comes to the reading and interpreting Scripture: first, those who believe that God now only speaks through the words on the pages of the Bible and maybe by “a still small voice.” Second, there are those who believe that God speaks in the various ways that he spoke in Scripture, as well as speaking through his written Word.
Those who are in the first group miss the rich variety of ways that God has chosen to communicate with his children. What a shame! On the other hand, those in the second group often pay lip service to hear God’s voice in the pages of Scripture while spending most and in some cases, all of their time, trying to hear God speak through many other vehicles while ignoring his written Story.
Content With Fragments
The Bible was designed by God to be read. It is not a dull book! While it is the best selling book of all time, it is often the least read. In the State of the Bible 2017 commissioned by American Bible Society and conducted by the Barna Group only 38% of those surveyed were classified as Bible-friendly.[ref]American Bible Society and Barna Group. State of the Bible[/ref]
Bible Friendly (38% of the population) includes the most US adults. They believe that the Bible is the actual word of God or the inspired word of God, without errors, but read the Bible less often than four or more times a week. On average, Bible Friendly adults are 5 years younger than those who are Engaged, at 47 years old. Like Bible Engaged adults, nearly half have never attended college, are more likely to be married, have children under 18 at home, and reside in the South and Midwest. Half of Bible Friendly adults are Christians who do not have a practicing faith. While two in five attend church weekly, nearly one-third (32%) are unchurched. About half of them are notional Christians (49%), that is, they call themselves Christian but do not believe Jesus died for their sins. About one-third of Bible Friendly adults are Catholics. Three out of five (60%) report reading the Bible at least three or four times a year (State of the Bible 2017. 6).
Sometimes without knowing it, we have been fashioned by the sayings of Scripture. Which of us has not said or heard, “…out of the mouth of babes” and knew that we were quoting a part of a verse from Psalms 8.2? Have we not spoken of a person’s attitude as being “holier than thou,” and knew that we were quoting a few words from Isaiah 65.5? Some of the greatest speeches in the world have quoted Scripture. One famous line from Abraham Lincoln was, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was quoting a line from the pen of Luke (Luke 11.17). Parents have told their children to “beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.” They are quoting Jesus or misquoting him (Matthew 7.15). While we know some of the classic sayings of Scripture, we are often still illiterate of its meaning and power. We have focused on learning the smallest part of Scripture, its verses, being content with collecting fragments. By doing so we become mentally poorer in knowing its overall meaning.
The Bible is a wonderful book to read. However, in order to glean its riches, we must begin by reading. We are too often driven to study the Bible before we have learned to read it well. Even when we study Scripture it is often with misplaced American presuppositions about topics such as love, grace, mercy, hell, heaven, and the list goes on. Rather, what God gave us is a group of books, which came to us over several hundred years, written by many human authors, and guided by one spiritual author, which presents a Story made up of a beginning, middle, and end. These many and books, think literary pieces, have smaller stories
For the modern reader, we have the added distraction of a chapter and verse format in our Bibles. A long time ago, the books of the Bible were broken down into chapters and verses. You may wish to note that the original human authors of these inspired texts did not read or write in such a way. Chapters were added about A.D. 1250 and verses were completed in A.D. 1560. We might also note that the church did without these little sometimes-annoying additions for a millennium and a half. Reading chapters does not present a difficulty for the modern. From our earliest reading experiences, we learned to read in chapters. The books of the Bible follow this tradition even though they often break in funny places (the end of Genesis chapter one should be at 2.4a others suggest 2.3). Verses, on the other hand, pose a different obstacle. While verses are a convenient way to lookup our special, loved passages, they often only add to the confusion of trying to read and understand what God has said to his people. Most verses are often only part of a sentence. There really is no rhyme or reason for where the verses are numbered the way they are. It would be like you reading this sentence:
3 I love the sound 4 of your voice in the springtime.
Then, for some unknown reason, you decide to memorize only verse 4, “of your voice in the springtime.” Doesn’t make much sense, does it?
Remember, verses in Scripture are often only part of a complete sentence. The church has taught us to memorize Scripture verses.[ref]ChurchWorld.org. The Toxic Use of the Bible and Its Antidote.[/ref] Memorizing verses equips believers with the bad habit of quoting verses. Usually, when we do so we are only quoting a part of what God has actually said. Folks that hear us practice quoting verses may come to believe from these “quoting sessions” that God doesn’t know how to speak in a complete sentence. In addition to this, we often quote the passage out of its context. If one wants to memorize, maybe a paragraph or a chapter would be a good place to begin.
It Means What?
Nothing has real meaning in Scripture outside of its historical and grammatical context. This is not to say that God will not apply passages of Scripture to us in our personal reading. He does and will continue to do so. An edifying moment, however, is not the meaning.
We all know of people who have the “finger-pointing” approach in Bible reading. Here is one such story.
Tim was in a hurry one morning. He had been depressed for days over his family life. He hurriedly took his Bible, opened it and pointed his finger to a passage. The passage read, “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” “This can’t be from God,” Tim reasoned. So he shut his Bible and opened to another passage. Tim’s finger landed on the last part of Luke 10.37, “Go and do likewise.” In his Bible, it was in red. He believed that this was the very word of Jesus for him. What was God trying to tell him to do?
While we may look at this example with some humor, it is not uncommon for thousands of believers to look to God for guidance in their lives in this way. Many of you may hear stories that attest to God actually giving guidance in such a fashion. God can do what he chooses to do. But, experiencing his guidance in this fashion does not mean that this is his primary way of his guiding us and speaking to us.
The meaning of Scripture only comes from its context. As we journey from week to week, this little axiom will become clearer to you. We will help you understand some of the guidelines that are useful to use when reading Scripture. It really is not the book that is dull!
|Living into the Story!|
It is always important to live into what you have learned. Pause at this point and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to meditate on and put into practice some or all of the following.
- Why is it important to know that the Bible was written to a different culture in a different time frame where people spoke, thought, and lived differently than we do?
- Why do you think that there are so many different interpretations of any one passage of Scripture? Does that bother you?
- Why do you think that we often read the Bible in such a fragmented style instead of reading the stories as a whole?
- If you knew the background history and some of the meanings of words that are in Scripture, how do you think that would change the meaning of some of your favorite passages of Scripture?
The articles below come from various Bible Dictionaries and other sources. The posting of these brief articles are to introduce some readers to the vast amount of information that is provided to enhance your reading of the text of the Bible with a hope that it will lead to a better understanding of the text and will lead the reader to an improved praxis in his or her community of faith and personal life. You might read the articles offline in a number of different Bible Dictionaries. If you do not own a Bible Dictionary, I would recommend New Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like lots of color pictures, try Revell Bible Dictionary. Revell Bible Dictionary is no longer in print but is available from Amazon. One of these should suit your personal needs. Another option is Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, which is one of the most useful and practical theological reference books online. With bibliographies for most entries, further reading help and study is very practical.
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