Readers of my previous entry, Literacy, not Literalism, may have wondered why I stress the role of the human author. Some may wonder, “Don’t you believe God inspired the Bible?”
I do. But He chose to do so through human beings, who lived in a particular time and place. That God gave His only Son to actually become a human being clearly demonstrates the necessity for God to communicate with us through our humanity.
We see this repeatedly in scripture, even with the simple use of the male pronoun, “he,” to refer to God. Is God the Father a human male? Of course not. But when it comes to pronouns, we only have male, female, and neuter. And referring to God as “it” would be misleading. Apparently, something about God is more male than female. Before I get angry letters, God has both male and female attributes. I’m simply describing what scripture says and does.
Imagine yourself in the place of one of the prophets. You have had a transcendent experience with God. He has given you a message to share with the world. You have a deep sense of urgency about this. You want to share what you have learned. Would you not be at pains to make certain your audience understood what you want them to know? You would want to make it as clear and persuasive as possible. And to do that, you would have to use language. Not language in the abstract, but the language you and your audience share.
When we read the Bible with this awareness, we begin to see how marvelously crafted the text is. Not only is it constructed carefully, but with great artistry as well. And we usually find that the author’s intent is quite clear, if we’re willing to expend the energy to understand his time and place.
Even though the Bible was written in three languages, none of them English, and in a variety of cultures over a 1500 year span, with today’s resources interested laymen can readily find what they need to understand more than 90% of the Bible. And we should never forget that though the Bible contains absolute truth, our understanding remains only partial. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.” 1 Cor. 13:9
Considering there are some texts we simply lack the context to understand, 90% is great, far more than adequate for living in a saving relationship with Jesus.
There are a few rules I’ve developed over the years to keep me honest–and that’s one of the biggest dangers we face. It’s sooooo tempting to nudge a little here and fudge a little there to get a text to mean what we want it to. We see this all the time in others. But there’s little opportunity for learning or discovery when we do that. Little opportunity to hear the Spirit when we keep interrupting with our preferred message. In the next few blogs, I’ll be sharing and explaining these rules, which I call “Wrestling Rules.”
I call them that because my approach to Bible study is to wrestle with the text like Jacob did with the angel, not letting go until I’m blessed. With some texts, this can take quite a while, but in my experience, it is always worth the effort.