The reason there is frustration in my “voice” is that I don’t really know how to solve the problem. Hands & Eyes wants to teach the Bible and how to read the Bible (eventually there will be a mission statement; this post might provide a clue why it is hasn’t happened yet). But typically people want a list of rules on how to read the Bible. I don’t have a lot of faith that a helpful and accurate list is possible. Addressing the problem in that fashion seems to exacerbate it. On the ministry Facebook page, I wrote the following:
“What does the text mean?” In what context?
Jael puts a tent peg through Sisera’s head. That means she killed him. It also means that it can be OK to be at war with the enemy. It also means that Barak is being lightly disciplined by not getting to kill Sisera. It also means something about Mary the mother of Jesus (because in the next chapter Deborah describes her in a similar way). It also means
that God is keeping his promise that there will be war between the Woman and the Serpent, and the Serpent will be defeated by a head wound. It also means that Gideon’s idolatry is the pivot of the book of Judges (because this is one of two Woman-delivered head wounds in Judges and they are part of a chiastic pattern that centers on Gideon’s ephod). It means that wives don’t always have to agree with or obey their husbands (Jael’s husband was allies with Sisera). It means lying is allowed sometimes (Jael got Sisera to sleep by making false promises). It means…
It means answering the question “What does the text mean?” is much more complicated than people want to realize.
I point this out because I think Christians need to realize several things:
1) One of your lifetime mandates is to read the Bible. Read the Great Commission. We are supposed to be trained by the Word of God. Read “the Hands & Eyes life verse.” The Bible is supposed to be bound to our hands and eyes.
2) One of the real obstructions to carrying out this mandate is the desire to get “meaning” from the text. That process never ends. And it is not limited to syllogisms. I remember in the movie Wit, the question of whether John Donne intended to use a period or a comma made a huge difference. The Bible needs to be read, in some ways, as one large poem or song.
3) the fact that many seminary students (God bless you all; I love you!) start their first year needing to take an English Bible Knowledge “catch-up” course, has consequences in many cases for how much Biblical literacy ever gets projected or encouraged from the pulpit (It isn’t incurable, but a student has to want to really take care of the disease!)
4) the fact that most scholarly commentaries in the Evangelical world are written for the purpose of proving to other scholars that the author is a real scholar has consequences for lay people trying to find a commentary to help them read the Bible. (If any of you commentators somehow stumbled onto this blog post, there is hope for you too; but I would be lying to express the same affection as I have in the case of (3)).
5) adding some Sunday School material to the complexity does not really help the problem in (4). We pass on anti-intellecualism and intellecutalism in the same book.
6) There are no rules for reading small passages of Scripture that will really protect exegetes from making mistakes. There is no substitute in to comprehensive Bible familiarity in reading any passage of Scripture.
I could write a lot more (and probably should have written less). But these things really bother me. We have probably more Bibles per capita in our country than ever existed before in world history. We need to make better use of what we have!