Learning to Read the Bible

With my Bible sitting at the edge of my desk, I am reading Hermann Gunkel’s 1926 work: The Psalms. Uncle Gunkel and I have been, over the last twenty pages or so, getting pretty close as he goes on about liturgical poetry and different literary “forms.” As I read on, I spy my Bible and think to myself, this is all for you, baby.Yet after I’m done with Gunkel’s work on form criticism, I have many more methods for biblical studying to master. Over the past century, scholarship and the Church have unleashed a torrent of options for understanding the biblical text: Form Criticism, Commentaries, Reader-Response Criticism, Creeds, Source Criticism, Archaeology, and—lest we forget—Historical Criticism. For a moment, though, I set down my book. Something feels wrong. I’m reading a book to help me read a book. Form Criticism and Source Criticism. Commentaries and Creeds. Reader-Response Criticism. Text Criticism. Historical Criticism. Criticism, Criticism. Criticism. I don’t need all this stuff.

I slide Gunkel to the edge of my desk, and replace him with my copy of the Holy Scriptures. My Bible and me—that’s all I need.

8f93b-gunkel

And, I mean, why wouldn’t that be the case? It seems so obvious now. Clearly, my ordinary human intellect, a testament to the image in which I was made, should be more than capable of interpreting the subtleties in genre in the biblical text or identifying examples of cultural and historical custom within the Unchanging Scriptures. In addition, I have been fortunate to receive some formal schooling on the subject, and I feel that I have mastered an historical knowledge of the 4000 years depicted in the biblical narrative.

And I don’t mean to brag, because my own humility is also key in interpreting Scripture on my own. Through adopting our Savior’s words from the mount—blessed are the meek—and by cultivating in myself an openness to new thoughts, I have (fortunately) been able to completely circumvent the difficulties and trials that come along with studying the Bible’s hard teachings. As the pinnacle of humility, I allow the teachings that directly contradict my long-held beliefs to completely wash over me. 

But more than anything, it should have been my propensity for logic that tipped me off that I no longer need those silly tools. My unswerving rationality has always in the past, and will always, lead me to singular, undeniable conclusions. These are the same conclusions that would be achieved by any using the same logic. These are the same conclusions that have been arrived at unanimously by all the great thinkers—St. Paul, Nestorius, Augustine, Pelagius, Aquinas, Calvin, Arminius, Kant, Barth—and by my genetically and environmentally identical twin (if I had one).

My obvious aptitude to read the Bible makes it almost embarrassing that I had been relying on outside resources for so long. Given my education, that means for me a lot of time wasted, but oh-well. That leaves me with little choice but to gather my books—Vanhoozer, Wellhausen, Finkelstein, After the New Testament, The Gnostic Gospels, Systematic Theology, all of ‘em—and toss them in the fire.

 
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