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The Bible is actually a library – or collection of faith stories, or testimonies. The Greek word “Biblia” literally means “library.” How do you read the Bible? Why do we read the Bible? These are the questions at the root of many of our divisions today, both among Christians and between those in & outside the church.
Some would say that the only way to read the Bible is in a literal-factual-absolute interpretation. This is a fancy way of saying that the Bible has no errors, is all factual and easily understood in a literal way. Literalists argue that this is the ancient and orthodox way of reading scripture. Some today would say that it is instead a modern one, developed in response to the doubt and questioning born of the Enlightenment or 17th C Europe.
An historical approach makes Christian language relative and not absolute. Relative can be negative, meaning not important or not true. It also has a positive meaning, it means “related to” – in this sense the biblical writers use language related to their time and place, their then. When read their story we have to ask us what it means relative to our today. Language, in particular religious language, often has a more-than-literal, or more-than-factual meaning. Metaphor is about the surplus of meaning, that language – or words in themselves – are unable or insufficient to carry. For example what does it mean to say that God is a rock, or my rock? God isn’t literally a rock, rather it’s a symbolic word that points beyond itself to something greater.
Some would say that our modern American understanding of the gospel then takes on a consumer-oriented marking slant: promoting the benefits to be received, furnishing answers to pressing questions, providing remedies to various ills, offering anew life to be enjoyed, or promising a future state to be secured. The gospel Jesus proclaims contains not only a promise but also a summons. It is both gift and challenge. The gift is nothing less than new life. The challenge is that the new life is offered within the context of a relationship of radical trust in God & obedience to the way of Christ.
QUESTIONS FOR GOING DEEPER: