You can read part 1: Why We Don’t Read the Bible
and part 2: The Teacher’s Edition of Life.
Let’s start with a story, shall we?
Ten years ago I was just finished with my sophomore year at the University of Oregon. Several people from my InterVarsity Fellowship spent the summer in Los Angeles learning about God’s heart for justice, the marginalized, and the oppressed.
One of the first things we did to get oriented to this new way of thinking (and it was VERY new to me) was to study Isaiah 58. I’ll give you a little snippet of the text.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Now, I don’t know how clear that reading is to you, but this was how I interpreted what I read: God thinks his people are doing too much on the sabbath. They are working too hard doing all this “loosing bonds” stuff and “sharing their bread.” What they really ought to be doing is repenting in sackcloth and ashes. They should be bowing their heads. Isn’t that was is acceptable to the Lord?
I shared my brilliant observations with the group and to my surprise received about ten blank stares.
One girl, Laura, a Latina student from SoCal, kindly invited me to read it again.
Then the color drained from my face.
I realized that I had interpreted this passage to mean the exact opposite of what it actually said.
Thank God for Laura
And thank God that you don’t have to read the Bible by yourself. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t.
1) You Are Not As Smart as You Think You Are
That is not to say that you are an idiot, but let’s be honest, you ability to understand, interpret, and apply a book as complex as the Bible is limited at best.
My very first comment on this blog was a person telling me how I had missed the point of the chapter.
The Bible can be understood. It can be interpreted well. And it can be applied in a way that makes the world better. But do you really think that you can figure all that out by yourself?
I read Isaiah 58 and almost ended up doing the very thing God was warning against!
2) You Have Tons of Biases and Assumptions
Your experiences. Your Ethnicity. Your culture. Your geographical location. Your gender. Your tradition.
All of these things shape how you approach the text of the Bible.
Most of the time these things go unquestioned, particularly if you are part of the dominant or majority culture. “Of course this is what it means!” you might say.
Until you do a Bible study with someone from Kenya or someone who is a first or second generation Asian-American. Then you realize that there are entire worlds of meaning that you have never even considered.
3) Personal Reading is a Relatively New Idea
Most people throughout history didn’t know how to read.
How were they supposed to have quiet time? How were they supposed to spend time in the word?
Well, most likely, they weren’t. That is a luxury of an affluent and literate society. It also is a product of the individualistic philosophies of the Enlightenment.
So we shouldn’t act like personal Bible reading is the be all, end all of spiritual growth. I think it shouldn’t even be in the list of most important practices.
What do you think are the pros and cons of personal, individual Bible reading? Do you think there is any inherent irony in the fact that my whole blog is basically that?