The ways to read Scripture

Well, since it is apparently giving iMonk an aneurysm, let's talk a little more about reading your Bible, and whether there's more than one way to do it.

Let's be honest: there are probably quite a few approaches to reading any text that you could apply to reading the Bible. Seriously -- why not? We live in a relatively-enlightened age, right? We don't have to read the Bible in any way differently than people read Margaret Atwood or Maya Angelou or John Milton -- which is to say, the reader ought to choose the way he sees fit to read any text, and booyah -- that reader gets what he brings, right?

Right? Anyone with me?


Yeah, I thought so. The Catholic apologists are sharpening up their version of "see: I told you so," the liberals won't touch that with your hand and blame it on LaToya Jackson when you put it that way, every teacher of critical reading is ready to hit "next blog" for the rank ignorance of such a thing, and the conservatives reading are split between the fundies who never imagined that there were more than two ways to read any text (literal and figurative, which is to say, as if is was true and as if it was false) and my friends who are again worried that I have split the difference with non-conservatives and am about to say something they will have to chastise me for.

So if everyone repudiates the idea that the reader sets the terms of engagement with the text, why worry about whether iMonk or anyone thinks the Bible is "inerrant"?

Here's why: the way you read the Bible dictates the kind of truth you can get from it.

You know: Hemmingway never wrote anything but fiction, more or less. Even his autobiographical stuff was fictionalized -- so if you want to take truth away from Papa, you can't take factual truth away from him, because there's no way to read what he wrote and distinguish the "rote historical data" from the "whimsical authorial license". None. If you take truth away from Hemmingway, you have to take allegorical truth away from him -- what he writes has to come across in some way other than as example or anecdote. If it means anything, it means something by talking around the things it means.

And some people will read the Bible that way -- and they come to the conclusion that things like the resurrection are themselves analogical truth and not something which happened on calendar days to people with (so to speak) birth certificates and dirty sandals. And their conclusion is honest insofar as their approach is honest.

Which is to say, what exactly do you expect to get from the Bible if your major premise is that it is not a story by witnesses about something that happened on the streets of Jerusalem and in the Roman courts and on a filthy wooden cross?

See: the problem with the idea that there are "quite a few" ways to read the Bible is that it makes the intention of the writers of the Bible a non-determining factor. It actually inverts the bogus Fundie dichotomy that the text is either "true" (and therefore woodenly literal) or "false" (and therefore some kind of subjective buffet). It says that because the text is "true", we can use all kinds of techniques to extract that truth. We can read John like fantasy literature or a poem and extract the truth; we can read Psalms like they are newpaper reports and lament the "barbarity" of Psa 3 with its call for God to break teeth, having extracted truth; we can look at Adam interpret him as a cool-ective metaphor rather than a person that both Jesus and Paul said was a real guy.

While the Fundie may ignore the fact of genre types in the text and read everything as if it was just blank statements of fact, the buffet reader is doing exactly the same thing with just as bad results: he is ignoring the demands a genre makes on the reader as expressed by the writer. You know: the word "authority" has, as its root, the word "author" for a reason: something has "authority" based on its source, based on who the author is and whether he has can give to the text what he intends to give to the text.

So sure: go ahead and brush up on the many, many ways people have, in the past, read the Bible, and the ways some people today are trying to "read" the Bible. But then ask yourself this straight-up question: isn't the first person we should ask about what this text means the author of the text? If yes, how does he tell us this?