By Rev. Carrie Benton
Pastor - Mountain Lakes Presbyterian Church 

Nobody just reads the Bible

 

March 28, 2019



“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

I get tired of people, mainly Christians, who say – “The Bible clearly teaches that…” and then expound on their received interpretation of the biblical text. I get equally annoyed when other people, usually those who’ve rejected Christianity, point out certain inconsistencies in the Bible and then conclude that it’s unreliable and dismiss it entirely.

Both stances are full of assumptions about what the Bible is or is not, or what its purpose is.

During the Enlightenment and the many European Reformations, the notion that any person could “just read the Bible” to navigate the complexities of life began to take shape. Part of the reason that Marin Luther’s sola scriptura (scripture only) mantra caught on was because it coincided with Gutenberg’s printing press, the movement to get scripture into the various common languages of the people, giving rise to literacy.


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Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to the days when the Bible was only in Latin. I’m just saying we need to question where we get our assumptions that there is even a real concept of “a plain reading of scripture.” Such an approach ignores the presuppositions inherent in that particular worldview.

Why does it matter? Because many people in power tend to hi-jack the Bible to justify all sorts of nefarious things: slavery, genocide, westward expansion.

It makes me wonder…

Perhaps we should reexamine our nation’s history of westward expansion, where those in power would conquer native people groups, kill them, and move them from their lands to somewhere else more convenient. We sound more like Babylonians.

While we’re at it, maybe during the Antebellum South we were more like the Pharaoh of Egypt, refusing to recognize the humanity of the enslaved.

And now this migrant movement north is more like an Exodus. Maybe we are Canaan and “those people” from the south are the Hebrew people moving into a land flowing with milk and honey. So Canaan decides to build the wall of Jericho.

Human hands – often dripping with blood – have written and shaped the Bible. It did not drop out of the sky in its final form.

So let’s not kid ourselves. Not one of us just reads the Bible. We come at it through the lens of our family systems, our cultural assumptions, our woundedness, our anxieties, our questions and our history. This is what makes the Bible both beautiful and dangerous. Beautiful in that it expresses many voices of people wrestling with God – giving us permission to do the same. Dangerous when the particularities are taken for granted and weaponized to justify evil.


Let me be clear – I love the Bible. I love the Bible because it shows all the messiness of humanity trying to figure out who God is, often getting it wrong, and God moving us a little deeper into a transformative life.

I love the Bible because it shows that even when we get God wrong, even when our cultural assumptions have clouded our understandings of God, God doesn’t stop being fully present with us – in our particularities. God doesn’t stop loving us, doesn’t stop guiding us, just as we are – right where we are. And that’s good news.

 

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