Audio of this post (Note that this is from my online class and is slightly different from the written post):
I am here because I am the pastor and this is my blog! But I am here in another sense because of the life experiences that I have had. I have taught the process of Biblical Exegesis (note: the fact that this is underlined in blue means that you may click on it and get a definition) for many years. Over the years, I have been told by various teachers that:
I should just interpret the Bible as it stands without pulling it apart.
I shouldn’t “read into” the Bible because that is “eisegesis” instead of exegesis.
I should take into account my own social location because who I am determines how I read.
There is no one correct “reading” or “interpretation” of the Bible, there are only “readings” and “interpretations” that are more or less useful.
The Bible is the Word of God and is authoritative for Christians.
I have come to understand that there is some truth in all of these points of view. Since I am the teacher/pastor, you should know my own point of view. And I hope you will examine where you stand as well. Why? Because we do tend to make assumptions about who we know and what we know, and without paying attention to those assumptions, we are never aware of our blind spots.
What the heck is social location? Well, for instance, I am a white, 53-year-old female with a husband and three children. Before I had children, I reacted to Mother’s day very negatively, because I thought I would be unable to bear children. My “social location” changing over time (in other words, my previous social location of being childless) helped me to understand what it is like for other people on Mother’s Day, who may not have the same joy that I have now.
The fact that I am white, female, well-educated and middle-class affects my reading of the bible as well. I may think that I am reading in the only sensible way possible, but I really do need to pay attention to how others are hearing the text. So I come to the first of Martha’s Rules for Reading (MRR) the bible:
1) The bible belongs to the church, so at some point, read with others.
You may love to read the bible in your corner, by yourself, as your private devotion. That is fine; but at some point you need to get in a group and share what you have learned. You also need to hear how others experience the text. Without doing this, you will always have blind spots in your reading and understanding. We will talk a little later about how to use other books and resources to help, but there is no substitute for interacting with currently living human beings, whether in person or on the internet.
So what else do you need to think about? What do you believe about the Bible? For instance, I believe that the bible is the inspired Word of God. In the United Methodist tradition we say that “the bible contains everything necessary for salvation” and that the bible is “the rule and guide for faith and practice.” That’s pretty much all we say.
I don’t believe that the bible was dictated by God, but I do think that it was inspired by God, that in the text God reveals who God is and who we are as creatures made in the image of God, and that in reading it we encounter the living God, Godself. I take every word seriously and try to understand how it fits into the understanding of God that I am building up over time. If you think of a continuum between those who consider the Bible the inerrant word of God and those who consider it a secular book written by human beings, then I am somewhere in the middle. This means that I have to struggle with each text to see how much it really seems to reveal of God and how much it is culturally conditioned—which makes my life harder, but there you have it. That is what I believe, and I think the struggle is worth it. I also believe that it is authoritative for my life, but once again that involves a struggle to understand how that can be.
So MRR number two is:
2) You must understand your own approach to the bible if you want to get the most out of reading it. Spend a little time thinking about whether or not you think the bible is inerrant, inspired, totally a creation of humankind, or some mix of all. Don’t get too hung up on trying to define this perfectly; your understanding and the way that you articulate that understanding will probably change over time. But make a start on knowing where you stand.
If you would like to comment, maybe you can answer this question: what is your “social location?” What determines how you read and understand the bible or anything else. Are you a baby boomer, a Gen-Xer, a millennial generation person? Are you married, single, with/without kids. Did you grow up in the ghetto or the suburbs; or outside the U.S.? All of those things will make your reading your own in some important way and will make all of us who read together with you richer for the experience.
Something else I would be interested in knowing: How much bible study, bible training, or bible reading you have done. Where are you in your journey towards knowing the bible?