Reading the Bible seriously…

Faith Matters, a blog I read on a regular basis, had a link to an interesting article this morning (8/11) about reading the Bible.

I’ve always felt that the Bible needs to be read seriously and honestly, but that a literal reading does neither the Bible nor us any favors. This article reinforced that belief.

And for me it’s an extremely important notion–that the Bible should not be read literally–because how we read scripture is at the heart of the issues that have the potential of tearing so many denominations (including my own) apart.

Part of the problem is that we tend to read the Bible from an “Enlightenment” point of view–as a historical document. But that was not how it was written. Yes, it was written to tell a story–an important story–but not a story in which every fact, every detail happened exactly so.

I once heard a Native American storyteller begin his story this way: “I don’t know if the story I am going to tell you happened exactly this way–but I know that it’s true.” His focus was on the point he wanted to make, and the details were selected from what happened to make that point.

If I don’t insist on reading the Bible literally, then I am freer to see the focus…to see the emphasis on God working in history. I am freer (and more able) to understand the context out of which biblical stories and letters were written–and to look for the underlying/foundational principle rather than saying that every word that was written 2000 years ago exactly fits my century. I don’t have to worry about all the contradictions to be found in the Bible (and there are plenty!).

Reading the Bible seriously allows me to see it as an important corollary to the scientific stories–which focus on the “how” of life. The Bible focuses on the “why” of life.

It allows me to read the stories of imperfect/flawed human beings and society–and still see God’s love and caring for God’s people. It allows me to read all of this through the lens of what Jesus called the two greatest commandments (out of all of the ones he could have chosen):

  1. Love God with all of my being–my heart, my soul…everything.
  2. Love my neighbor just as much as I love myself.

Everything else (according to Jesus) hangs on these two commandments. And for me, they are the lenses that allow me to read the Bible seriously and have a better understanding of its message.