Let me begin by saying that I think the Bible is God’s word.

I also think that we have to read the printed page that we actually have as we try and figure out what the Bible says and means. In my last post, I referenced the US constitution and the trouble we have making sense of it just 200 years later. The Bible is even harder to understand due to longer time, different culture, and different language. My starting place in trying to explain the Bible’s meaning comes with understanding there is a writer behind the printed pages I see. Books don’t just grow on shelves. There is an author putting the words together and understanding something about the writer helps me understand the book better.

Like any other book, the Bible didn’t just grow on a shelf. Unlike any other book, the Bible is God’s word. However, the Bible isn’t always clear about who is doing the writing. I’ve met some folks who think that the Bible was either directly written by God or dictated to a person, acting as kind of a secretary, to write down. I suppose some folks probably think that the Bible was totally written by people, with no involvement from God at all. My thinking falls between these two perspectives. I think without the input and action of God there is no Bible. At the same time, I think the ancient writers were more than a Xerox machine for God.

I don’t think God dictated the Bible. I think people were motivated by God to leave a written record of things God wanted later people to learn or know. I think the human writers didn’t have to check their knowledge, personalities and experiences at the door when they wrote. For example, Acts has lots of passages using the phrase “we” or “us” which indicates that the writer was an eyewitness to what happened. In the very same book there are lots of passages where “they” seems to indicate that the writer wasn’t present. It seems to me that the writer was an actual writer and not just God’s secretary.

So when I read any book of the Bible, I try to remind myself of the human writer. From there, I work off of a checklist to try and read the printed word honestly.

1. The writer is writing intentionally. He has a big idea, purpose or message that he is trying to get across to the first readers. The goal for the contemporary reader is to try and “get” that message with the same resonance experienced by the first reader.

2. The author committed the message to the written word. All the conclusions we reach about the book have to make sense in light of what we can see on the printed page.

3. The written word the author used has its own rules, grammar, usage, word choices, sentence structure, idiom and context. The language is really beyond my ability to comment on other than to notice that it’s a big deal.

4. The writer doesn’t write within a vacuum. Each book of the Bible was written at a specific time and place. Every writer is a part of culture, history and a specific community of people. If we want to make good sense of what we’re reading, we probably should really try to understand the history and culture that the writer was a part of.

I’m going to be diligent about posting more thoughts on this soon. Thanks for reading.

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