In our adult Education Hour class at Christ Church Santa Fe, we’ve started a series called God’s Story – Navigating the Bible without Losing the Plot. Its a 5 week series on hermeneutics, the study of how we know (or in this case, read) something.
Last week we discussed the various components of the Bible, noting that it was
- composed of 66 books,
- written by 40 known authors (some books we do not know the author),
- covers a span of history from 1400 BC – 93 AD (the entire ancient near east and Roman world)
- Written in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek)
- Its authors include: kings, peasants, men, women, slaves, free, fishermen, doctors, lawyers, philosophers, generals, artists, poets, rich, poor, and so on.
- Its contents include: information about geography, authors, audiences, population, genealogies, and much more.
- Its genres include: law, prophecy, poetry, gospel, history, letters, and apocalyptic. And each genre has its own distinct way of being read (i.e. literally, figuratively, etc).
With all this to consider, Is a definition of the “the bible” that takes all this into account even possible?
My contention is, “Yes! It is possible.” My synthesis answer taking all that into account was that:
The bible is a collection of literary works that record God’s word, to us, through others.
From here, I would like to propose a hermeneutical test: If in your reading the Bible, you never are offended or puzzled, you may not be reading it correctly?
Why? Because it is God’s Word to us – it isn’t a mirror of our own pre-conceived notions or preferences (so it should challenge and offend us at times), and it is coming from a perfect and good source – the Creator – to imperfect and “mixed-at-best” creatures (so it should leave us humble, be-wildred and questioning).
This is why it is important to recognize, understand, and when needed, de-construct how we read the Bible. In preparing for this upcoming week I came upon this quote in Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard’s Introduction to Biblical Interpretation and thought it worth sharing here. It gets to the heart of the tension between the ease of understanding the Bible at times (the perspicuity of Scripture) and the labor we need to exert in understanding the Bible at others.
“It presents a clear message to anyone willing to read it, and that is why people throughout history have understood its teachings. This does not imply that it is a simple book or that anyone may grasp easily everything it contains. The doctrine of the perspicuity or clarity of the Scriptures, so stressed in the Protestant Reformation, always referred to that which was essential for right doctrine and living – not to every sentence in the Bible.” – Klein-Blomberg-Hubbard, Intro to Biblical Interpretation (149)
The Bible is very much an understandable document, even if at times it requires more from us than we are at times willing to give.