Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Notes on Reading Scripture 1

1. Most of us take our ability to communicate with each other for granted, except when something obviously goes wrong. But our miscommunications simply reinforce our sense that, most of the time, we are able to get our basic point across just fine. "We're out of milk" means, "One of us needs to go to the store to get milk at some point in the near future." Depending on the conventions of the home, it might be fairly clear who should go and where he or she should go to get milk.

God has blessed human beings with this great ability. No other animal can come anywhere close, especially when you consider our ability to write, phone, email, and so forth. Any detailed look at what is involved in such communication is highly complex, and yet we communicate in these ways with such incredible ease every day.

Of course, the more removed we are from the person reading our text, the greater the potential for misunderstanding. The philosopher Paul Ricoeur called a written text an "autonomous text," because once it is out of the hands of its author, the author cannot control how someone will read it anymore. [1] The potential ambiguity of words and phrases, not to mention tone and connotation, is heightened the farther removed the reader is from the original situation.

It is hard to overemphasize the importance of a shared context when it comes to understanding. Even face-to-face, two people from different cultures are prone to misunderstand each other. The greater the difference in their culture or their expectations, the more likely it is that they will miscommunicate.

2. Most of us do not read the Bible like we would read any other book. In particular, we may read it as a special kind of communication from God to us, as what we call, "Scripture." In many cases, we come to the Bible as individuals who have been Christians for a long time. Accordingly, we will inevitably have certain expectations about what God is like and the kinds of things he is likely to say.

You might say that we have a certain "paradigm" for reading the Bible. A paradigm is a way of viewing some topic or issue. A paradigm is like a kind of glasses we wear when we are looking at something. Usually, we are not entirely aware of these glasses, if we are aware of them at all.

Our paradigm for reading Scripture shapes what we are supposed to do with or get from the Bible. Are these words for us or for people long since dead? Is the purpose of these words to inform us, to transform us, to command us? Our paradigms shape how we define the words and how we connect the content of the books together. They shape how we apply the words to our lives today...

[1] Interpretation Theory.

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