It never fails to utterly astonish me that, even with all of my familiarity, even with all the Sword Drills and the Memorization Contests and AWANA and the constant stream of “the Bible says…” that I really had no idea what it actually says.
And I’ve read it as least half a dozen times.
How did this happen? How did I grow up going to church four times a week, grow up reading my Bible, go to a Bible college, take eight separate Bible courses, and come out on the other side so completely clueless?
And what I’ve been realizing, slowly, is that I never really read the Bible.
The Bible was just another tool, just another opportunity for fundamentalism to become an ingrained part of who I was. On top of the words I read in the Bible was layer upon layer of interpretation, of meaning, of what I was taught was the “correct” way to read it. I read those words with the black and white lens of literalism.
And when I read my Bible, the words that could have revealed a God of love, of justice, of mercy and compassion, were almost utterly obscured by a god of vengeance, wrath, judgment, jealousy, and righteousness. When I read my Bible, fundamentalism lay down on top of it and forced me to read through a glass darkly. The doctrines of fundamentalism cloaked and disguised things it didn’t want me to see– like the fact that Paul calls Junia “outstanding among the apostles.” I must have read those words. They’re right there, smack dab at the end of Romans. But I never saw them, never understood them, never once thought about what they could mean. I never once realized that the last good king, Josiah, went to the prophetess Huldah. Not Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, or Nahum, or Habakkuk. Huldah– a woman. Entire stories were completely erased– obliterated by the battle cry of sound doctrine.
I was taught to “rightly divide the word of truth,” but what I didn’t realize was that they were limiting me. Rightly dividing was, intrinsically, interpret anything you find according to the doctrines you’ve been given. If anything in the Bible seemed to come into tension with those doctrines, it wasn’t the Bible, no, it was just my interpretation of it, and I just needed to go back and rightly divide it this time.
All of this has left me with whispers and voices I can’t ignore when I try to read it. There are whole passages–entire books– that I have to avoid because I can’t read them without hearing another person inside of my head telling me what to think, what to see, what to believe.
This is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about in my recent post about “Interpreting Scripture in Light of Scripture.” Ultimately it privileges some parts of the Bible and silences others, leaving many who have “read” the Bible countless times still unable to hear parts of it, because of the lens, the approach to reading it, that they have been taught to use.