Yes, I love my Bible. No other book that I have read (and I have read many) speaks to me about God better than the Bible does. And yet, I am aware of its limitations. As we have seen in this series, the Bible is not God, and should not be revered to the point of being idolised – the line between these two states can often be quite blurry.
But the main thing for me is that this enigmatic, ancient, complex, terrifying, encouraging, feel-good, feel-bad, feel-terrible, uplifting, edifying. life-changing tome can be interpreted in so many ways. I personally use two main Bibles; here they are, a 1939-printing King James Version and a 2008 – printing NIV which uses the better 1979 translation.
I also use a copy of The Message. The idea behind all these different translations, for me, is that I can get a better handle on the meanings of many passages of Scripture without having to look at the original Greek; however, I can also do that if required, having had a classical education.
But that’s all about translation. It’s a different beast entirely from interpretation and application. What does this passage mean, and what does it mean in my life today? Sure, translation is an important part of interpretation, but to me the key is this:
We cannot read the Old Testament (or even the New) while ignoring the life, teaching and example of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
In other words, we need to take into account what Jesus said, did and demonstrated about God’s nature, and interpret the Bible – and especially the Old Testament – in that light; through a ‘Jesus Lens’, if you like. You see, there are so many contradictory and conflicting ideas of the nature of God in the Bible that we often don’t know which way to turn. Which of these two apparantly contradictory passages is ‘correct’, if either? Jesus, then, is the standard by which we must weigh all of Scripture. (This, I feel is what 2Tim 2:15 speaks of when it says about ‘rightly dividing’ the word of truth – although I appreciate that this passage may not necessarily be referring to the Bible per se).
Here, then, is Jeff Turner on this very subject. This is a reprint of a recent Facebook post of his; he is well worth following on Facebook and his insights are always excellent. I don’t know how he does it. Well actually I do, but I’m not telling (it should be pretty obvious, really!)
Over to Jeff:
Would you like a feminist Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.
Would you like a misogynistic Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.
Would you like a gay-affirming Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.
Would you like a gay-bashing Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.
Would you like an anti-slavery Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.
Would you like a pro-slavery Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.
Would you like a pro-child sacrifice Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.
Would you like an anti-child sacrifice Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.
Would you like an angry, violent God? I could give you that, using only the Bible.
Would you like a loving, forgiving, non-violent God? I could give you that, using only the Bible.
The point? We can paint any portrait of God we desire, and only ever dip into the pallet the Bible provides us with to do so. The raw materials are there for us to craft any image of the divine we’d like to, and to therefore justify any action or attitude we’d like to. One will not have to necessarily go “against the Bible” in order to craft a certain image either. Yet one person’s image of choice contradicts another’s, and both were able to craft their respective images without ever having to go “against the Bible.” Both will have piles of proof texts to help prove their points, and neither will have to have taken them out of their contexts.
Humans, left to interpret the Bible on their own, will do so to their own hurt, as we have seen thousands of times throughout history. The Christian has the responsibility, not of simply reading what’s on the page and assuming its 100%, inherent truthfulness, but of reading every statement, prediction, prophesy, and exhortation in light of the God who is revealed in Jesus. I may be able to “prove” that God is pro-violence using only the Bible, but I will never be able to prove such a thing using Jesus. And so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
The Christian’s interpretive lens must ever be the person of Jesus, or we are just one more group using their sacred text to create the God that they wish was, regardless of what God actually is.