Let My People Think

BibliolatryIt’s fascinating how often the Bible gets deified, based on the way we use certain phrasings: “The Bible says …”, “The Scriptures teach us “, “The Bible tells us”.

In all of those examples, the Bible is antropomorphized – i.e., it’s getting endowed with characteristics which belong to sentient beings. That is without warrant. The teacher is the Holy Spirit. The One who is to be obeyed is God. The human being to emulate is Jesus. And the Bible is simply a very, very useful tool on the journey. It is the official historically accurate record of God’s dealings with humankind, containing a lot of “inside information”.

Typically, by the time we get to studying our Bibles, we are already given the looking glass through which we perceive everything that’s written in the Bible. In doing so, we calibrate our reading experience to our apriori theology, and we draw out and magnify things that are in line with what we already believe, and minimize and discard the things that could challenge our existing beliefs.

So, often times it’s not “the Bible teaching me”, but actually quite the opposite of that. It’s “me” telling the Bible what I think it should be saying.

I took several semesters of literary criticism in college. I can tell you from experience that if you don’t go in-depth as to the main theme of the literary work, its backstory (or history in the case of historical writings), its literary genre, the relationship between the text and its intended audience, if you don’t analyze the writing style, and if you simply limit yourself to pulling semi-random quotations out of context – what you are doing is not studying the text. You are simply constructing your own text using phrases and sentences plucked out of the original and arranging them in desired order.

Usually, with that very simplistic approach we at some point develop a go-to Bible quotation compendium which overall bears little true resemblance to the original text. It is actually much more illustrative of the things that we leave out of the Bibles rather that of what we include.

So, it’s much more appropriate to treat the Bible as a collection of God-inspired writings, and study it out as such within the context of its native culture and history.

What we refer to as “the Bible” is a collection of 66 seperate writings written to various ancient persons and groups of people. There’s a common theme behind those books, but there’s a myriad of other historical, cultural, and covenantal details that need to be properly accounted for in order to extract the correct and author-intended meaning. It’s much more difficult than it appears on the surface.

Therefore, the question of the type “what does the Bible teach me?” contains 2 errors from the get-go. The errors are:

1) The Bible doesn’t TEACH you anything. It’s an inanimate object – you may learn something from it, but it in and of itself can’t teach you anything. God, however, may teach you something through it. And he can teach you things without it too. So it’s between you and God, not between you and the Bible.

2) The Bible doesn’t teach YOU anything. It wasn’t written to you. In fact, even your great-great-great-granddaddy wasn’t even born at the time. You need to understand what God’s dealings were with people to whom a given book in the Scripture was addressed, why the book was written, and what problems it was trying to solve within the covenantal, historical, and cultural context.

That’s why a better question to ask is this: “What is God trying to teach me in this season of my life? What parts of the Bible can I look at that would relate to this experience?”.

Ask God what you want to know. Ask God to teach you what you want to know. Learn to hear from him. And use Bible as a tool in that process.

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