The Weakest Link Saturday, Jan 27 2007 

In the previous entries, I focused on the method a reader should use to try and understand what’s going on in the Bible. In the last entry, I mentioned the problem of how two people using the same method for Bible study can have very different answers to the simple question: What does it mean? 

In my experience, the biggest roadblock to me understanding the Bible is me. I suspect that the same problems I have with the Bible personally are also responsible for the wide variety of interpretations of the Bible. In short, so many different interpretations of the same Bible passages probably have more to do with the reader than the text.

Please indulge two illustrations. First, think about the experience of wading across a creek. The water can be running so clearly that I can see everything on the streambed and it’s just lovely: until I step in. As soon as I step into the stream, I seem to kick up enormous amounts of mud that immediately clouds a crystal clear stream. Similarly, we do not read the Bible in a vacuum, our very presence tends to cloud and obscure the meaning. However, as in the stream, if we patiently stand still long enough the streambed will settle again and we can be standing in a beautiful crystal clear stream. As we read the scripture, we need to be patient readers who are willing to check and double check ourselves to make sure that we aren’t muddying the water and obscuring the Bible passage that we are trying to understand.

Imagine that each of us is a jug. Then try to imagine the life lessons and insights communicated through Bible is an endless reservior of clean, pure, great tasting water. In a perfect world, I’d be able to be totally open to whatever the Lord wants to teach me and live according to what the Lord says. The problem I’ve always had is my jug is never empty when I go to the Bible in the first place. (Before we go further, I wonder if you’re thinking that I’m about to say that sin is crowding out God’s word in our lives and we need to be clean, empty vessels? The thought occured to me while I was writing and it serves as another good example of what I’m trying to illustrate. We make interpretive decisions all the time. For example, have you ever tried to finish someone’s sentence for them because you were certain of what they meant to say?) What I’ve always found is that my jug is already pretty crowded. There are things beyond my control like my own time, culture, native language, national origin, race, Christian traditions and history. Then things I can control like economic status, politics, worldview, religious beliefs, and life experiences. Add to all of this my frame of mind on that day, my ego, the result I want to find in the Bible, and my own ruinous desire to be right all the time and you can see that the jug I’m taking to the Bible may only allow a few drops from the Lord at any given time.

The point I’m making in this entry is very simple: I am the weakest link between God’s word and the life of faith I want to live. I cannot take myself out of the process. My life will muddy the waters. It is imperative that we recognize that the greatest pitfall we face in reading the scripture is finding exactly what we expect and exactly what we want in the word of God. If left to myself, I’d see Jesus as a middle class, American guy who sounds a lot like John Wayne and has my same priorities, knowledge, interests and goals. We need to work hard and be patient to keep our own lives from robbing the Bible of its power to challenge, upset and ultimately transform us.

In the next few entries, I hope to deal with some pitfalls to interpreting the Bible and a fuller treatment of why there are so many different answers to: what does it mean? The final few entries I will make have to do with implications on how interpretation impacts church and denominational life. Thanks for reading.

An Example of Explication Tuesday, Jan 23 2007 

A few days ago, on Brother Wade Burleson’s blog, I came across this excellent example of explicating the Bible. For our purposes, please focus your reading at Brother Wade’s heading: Key Principles of Accurate and Effective Exegesis.

It doesn’t matter to me whether you agree or disagree with Brother Wade’s conclusions about the meaning of I Timothy 2. 9-15. Nor does it matter to me what your thoughts about women in professional ministry are. What I’d like for us to notice is the methods Brother Wade uses to arrive at his conclusions. In particular, I think Brother Wade does a great job with his four step approach to explaining Bible passages. Brother Wade does an outstanding job of giving a solid example to my previous 4 entries on this blog.

I also direct you to Brother Wade’s example to underscore the next issue I hope to take up. How is it that two people can read the same text, use the same methods and arrive at such wildly different conclusions? If you want to look at the comments to Brother Wade’s blog entry, you will see several people arriving at the opposite conclusion based on the same six verses.

In my next few entries, I’m going to address different outcomes from the same text and a few cautions for the reader in explaining the Bible to his own satisfaction. Thanks for reading.