In my last substantive entry, I wrote about how crowded my own life and mind are. The crowded mind I have makes it harder to grasp the implications of the Bible. In this entry I’m going to give a few examples of how our culture obscures the meaning of the Bible.

The first observation is pretty self evident, so I’ll use a silly example. In Luke 13, Jesus is told that Herod wants him dead. In his response, Jesus tells the Pharisees to “go tell that fox (Herod)….” I’m pretty sure that by calling Herod a “fox” that Jesus wasn’t expressing that Herod is a really fine looking woman. This is a silly example of how our own culture and slang use of language collide with what has to be a an ancient example of slang. The end result is that without further study, it’s hard to really understand what Jesus meant by calling Herod a “fox”. Over 2,000 years, things have changed. It is important that we read the Bible the best we can to attempt to bridge a gap of two millenia. We are kidding ourselves if we don’t recognize that our culture gives us an immediate bias in reading the Bible. Only through study and several attempts at reading are we going to be able to deal with our own modern bias.

 The second example I’ll give is in Matthew 16:18-19. In those two verses, Jesus says “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”. This provides an excellent example of how religious bias influences our reading of the Scripture. If the reader comes from a Roman Catholic background, the only reasonable interpretation to these two verses is that Peter was the first pope. If the reader comes from the typical Southern Baptist church, Peter as pope is preposterous. Instead, the “right” interpretation is that the church is built on Peter’s words that Jesus is “Son of the Living God”. I’ll never forget sitting in a Sunday School class on the day that these two interpretations were interchangably discussed for over a half hour with no clear consensus on what the “right” reading. I offer this example not to lobby for one reading over the other, but to illustrate that our culture, language and religion all impact the way we read and understand the Bible. It is probably a mistake on our part to read the Bible without at least recognizing what we are bringing to the printed page when we sit down to read.

For example, if we sit down knowing before we ever read that Jesus NEVER intended people to think of Peter as the first pope, then what else do we know for certain before we ever try to understand the message of the Bible? This example forces me to take stock of the things I already believe I know before I ever open the Bible. Perhaps the things I already have settled in my mind as fact is closing me off from something God wants me to see?

One last example that comes closer to home. When I was a teenager I remember being told that if I obeyed God, I would enjoy God’s protection over my life, like standing under an umbrella. However, how does this philosophical concept of a divine umbrella measure up against the entire story of Job? Job did everything right and still suffered horribly. In fact, the first chapters of Job seems to tell the reader that Job was picked out to suffer because he was so virtuous and faithful. The reader of Job is outraged on his behalf when Job’s religious friends come to him and speak to him out of their settled religious philosophy. Job must be suffering because of his own sin, because everyone knows that sin brings judgment from God.

Today’s entry reminds me of one of the great perils I face when I open the Bible. Too often, I think I know what the Bible means before I read the first word.

Take care and thanks for reading.