Have you ever played that game beloved of youth pre-shows where you have to choose one of two alternatives?
How about these:
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Well, nowhere in the Bible can I find a text that says ‘may the force be with you’, but Deut 5:33 does say ‘live long and prosper’. So clearly for Bible believing Christians there is only one answer to this.
Microsoft or Apple?
Again, I can find no biblical reference to Microsoft but of course, arguments from silence are notoriously poor… on the other hand, didn’t an Apple cause loads of problems for mankind from the early chapters of Genesis onwards?
How about some more silly ones, such as:
Traditional marriage or gay marriage?
Egalitarian or complementarian? (As in, what do you think about women in leadership).
Not silly at all in fact, but serious questions requiring serious and well thought out answers. Which brings me to my point, not to tell you what to think about these important and controversial questions, and not even to tell you what I think about them, temping though both of those are!
My point is that we are not well served by proof texts taken completely out of context to prove that I am right and you are not (Live long and prosper, seriously?). Nor by poor exegesis – nowhere does the text in Genesis identify the forbidden fruit as an apple, despite this idea being so firmly embedded in our culture.
We are well served by working hard at our understanding of the whole Bible. That means that our effective canon has 66 books not just our favourite half dozen. It means going beyond Word for the Day/Every Day with Jesus/your fav bible notes – nothing wrong with bible notes, far from it, but why live on snack food when there’s a three course dinner available? It means reading some background stuff so we have a bit of a grasp of the historical and cultural contexts, not that we become experts but so that we can at least spot some of the more obvious evangelical myths.
Try reading more than one translation. Translation is itself a form of interpretation. Some are a very literal translation of the original. That’s hard because there’s not always an English word equivalent and neither does it convey nuances of tense and syntax. So the opposite approach is to try to give the overall sense of the meaning, even if it means introducing words not there in the original (hence all those footnotes). The best approach for the reader is to pick out a couple of translations from either end of that spectrum. My personal combo is the NLT and the NRSV. It really helps you get a better insight of what is being said.
And it’s really important that we have some grasp of the overarching story of the Bible, and can place whatever we are studying at the moment into that meta narrative (big story, don’t you just love Greek). It makes so much more sense that way, and it means that you are thinking about the all important context. As teachers of hermeneutics love to say, take a text out of context and it’s just a con.
Bible study is hard work. Brain stretching. And without any doubt the most rewarding and life- giving thing you will ever do.
My child, if you accept my words
and treasure up my commandments within you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
if you indeed cry out for insight,
and raise your voice for understanding;
if you seek it like silver,
and search for it as for hidden treasures—
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
My child, listen to what I say,
and treasure my commands.
Tune your ears to wisdom,
and concentrate on understanding.
Cry out for insight,
and ask for understanding.
Search for them as you would for silver;
seek them like hidden treasures.
Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord,
and you will gain knowledge of God.
Ps Star Trek and Apple. Of course.