I spend a fair amount of time reading and exploring the Bible, and as you might imagine, I am sometimes asked both why I read it and how I read it. Let me summarize some of the core assumptions and principles that influence my reading of the Bible.
Briefly, I believe that:
- The Bible is composed of a variety of distinct literary works, each arising from an equally distinct cultural context, spanning both time and geography. Their collection into the Old and New Testaments was purposeful and logical.
- The Bible is of divine origin and contains divine revelation; it consists of the words and thoughts of God as presented through the writings and teachings of various followers and representatives. If the Bible is of divine origin, then it is reasonable to conclude that the voice and authority of God can be discerned in and through its words.1 While the mission, character, and truths of God remain unchanged throughout time, the specific actions that are attributed to God are strategically and culturally relevant (and are therefore variable at times).
- The Bible contains communication from God to humanity, and the intent of the biblical authors is not only to inform humanity of the divine author and message, but also to invite humanity to respond to both him and it.
- Reading a verse is not the same as reading the Bible. Discerning the message and meaning of a specific text recorded in the Bible is different than discerning the message and meaning of the Bible in its entirety. As an analogy, the former are the individual colours in a painting, the latter is the entire picture itself. They work together, but they are not the same.
- The process of discernment involves identifying the original content and intent of a specific text, locating the specific text within the entire Bible and exploring its message and meaning in relation to other biblical texts, and identifying the overall biblical themes that are directly related to the specific text.
- Christians have interpreted and applied the Bible in various ways, always striving to discern its relevance within their specific contexts. While the same is true today, we would do well to pay attention to earlier Christian interpreters, as we affirm and discern the message and meaning of the Bible in our own contexts.
- Reading the Bible faithfully is both a strategic exercise and a spiritual exercise. There is a necessary connection and tension between the careful application of interpretive skills, and sensitivity and submission to the Spirit of God.
- The Bible can be, and often should be, read and interpreted together with other followers of God. Community interpretation is to be based upon careful discernment, not upon careless democracy.
I believe the Bible to be the reliable expression of the identity, character, mission, and truths of God. As a communicator of the Bible, then, my primary role is to act as a match-maker or facilitator to help people personally discover and encounter God for themselves, through the Bible.
I invite you, therefore, to read the Bible, respond to God, experience transformation, and be a part of God’s life-changing mission to redeem and restore the world!
- In textbooks, these concepts are often referred to as inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration. ↩