Reading, and Rereading Scripture

Reading, and Rereading Scripture October 26, 2011

One often hears in testimonies that every time you reread the scriptures, you will see something that you have never seen before.  Such a claim likely functions in two different ways.  First, restricting oneself to a particular canon can and does produce monotony, so there must be incentives to go over the familiar again.  Reading a text, watching a movie, eating a new dish, kissing a person for the first time likely has a certain heightened degree of pleasure because it is “new.”  After that, there are diminishing returns.  Yet, there remains a promise of returns nonetheless.  There is still the pleasure of the “new” even in the familiar, we are told.

Second, the testimony of the “new” in the scriptures after multiple readings is sometimes presented as if it were a special quality of the scriptures, one that they uniquely bear.   The interaction between the spirit and the reader opens up new readings that were previously not possible because of a prior deficiency of the reader, or perhaps a new situation in the reader’s life gives a different meaning to the text.  The scriptures uniquely offer the “new” because they function differently from other kinds of literature, movies, food, or lovers.

It seems to me that these two explanations for the reasons that one encounters the “new” in the scriptures offer two different accounts of what scripture is.  Is scripture a canon, or is scripture an incantation?  Is scripture a limited set of authoritative texts, or does the authority of these texts derive from special qualities uniquely held by them?

I confess that I discover, and rediscover the “new” in the scriptures all the time.  But I have also found that I discover the “new” in my spouse recently as well.  I have also recently been rereading several books that I had read very closely just a few years ago, and yet rereading them has produced a whole new set of insights for me.  It seems to me that finding the “new” in the familiar is more about how we come to relate to the familiar, and the kind of care we give it, than it is about any particular quality of the familiar.  Of course, the “new” was there all along in something as static as a text.  It is only “new” to me because something about me has changed, not that the text has transformed itself for me, but me for it.  In this sense, there is nothing unique about the scriptures in being capable as documents to speak to us differently over time.  The key is that in order for the scriptures (or our spouse, other literature, food, etc) to transform into something new, it is us who must first transform.  Only as we change can rereading produce the pleasure of the “new.”

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