Now, let’s all do a little critical reading of the Bible together. In keeping with the Christmas season let’s read the Christmas stories in the New Testament. These stories are in Matthew 2 and in Luke 2:1-20. In order to do this you will need a piece of paper and a pen. Fold the paper in half, lengthwise. At the top on the left side of the fold write “Matthew” and on the right side write “Luke.” Now just start reading Matthew and write down all of the nuggets of information you see, one nugget per line. As an example the first verse of Matthew might lead you to write down: “Herod is king,” “Jesus is born in Bethlehem,” and “Wise men show up.”
Once you have finished with Matthew, make sure the Matthew side is covered up or turned over and now do the same for Luke 2:1-20. Once you have finished Luke’s story, uncover both Matthew and Luke. Now match up nuggets that are the same by drawing lines, numbering, lettering, or color coding. Finally, make a third list of all of the common elements in both stories.
Congratulations, you have now started doing some critical reading of the Bible. What conclusions can you draw from these three lists? As you are doing this try and remember three of the main features of biblical criticism: 1) Ignore tradition and authority for the time being, 2) Allow differences to count (avoid the tempatation to harmonize or justify) and 3) Follow a specific methodology. You are already doing #3 by using the list. Biblical critics call this method “reading horizontally” as opposed to “reading vertically,” which is how most people read scripture. Please share any insights in the comments section. I will post my own comments and my lists in two parts coming up. The first part will be on how these lists inform a literary reading of the Christmas stories. The second will be on how these lists inform an historical reading of the Christmas stories. Good Luck!