We at Peachtree are making our way through the first few passages of Genesis as a way to begin our new year. Yesterday, we considered the creation story in Genesis 1 and early in the message I wanted to sketch the importance of interpretation. In doing so, I tried to highlight a couple of extremes to avoid when interpreting an ancient text.
First, avoid considering anything old (and not written in our culture) as to be unhelpful. The Scripture may not have been written “to” us, but it certainly has been written “for” us.
Next, avoid shoving on to Genesis 1 things that we want it to say or to make it behave in such a way as it never intended to do so. Interpretation starts with some honesty: we have to let another culture speak on their own behalf. Bible-reading requires some hospitality before anything else.
I picture the Scripture text (and its voice from within it) as a toy making noise as it is piled into a crowded toy box with other toys. The toy is buried underneath other toys (that also make noise) so it is important to unpack the box in order to locate the certain one making that certain sound.
The voice from Scripture has been dog-piled by so many factors. Some innocent while others are more agenda-forming. While it may sound daunting to engage in the process to do the research to hear the voice of Scripture from ancient communities, I think that God wants us to do our best: to keep an open mind, to be humble in our reading of the text, etc.
As Scot McKnight suggests, we should “read” with our tradition; Scripture reading happens best within community. It also healthy to consider Bible reading as a round trip: travel into the world of the Bible and hear it (as best that we can) in its original setting and then travel into our own world and consider how we can now live in light of what we’ve heard. Sermons, studies, devotionals that only do one leg of the two are usually unhelpful, even if they are well-intended.
When truth from the Scripture text shapes us, it is considered “revelation” or an unveiling. Revelation is an either direct or indirect transforming event that shapes us into the human that God desires.
One theologian described a “happening” of revelation like a person coming home from school telling their parents that they wanted to become a math teacher.
“How did you come to this conclusion? Did you take a future career test? And… I know that you enjoy math, but do you enjoy it enough to teach it?” a concerned parent might ask.
The student might tell a story about some peace or resolve that grew inside them while working on his algebra assignment. Engaging in math assignments in-and-of-themselves does not lead a person directly to consider being a math teacher. Something above, beside, or within “doing math” creates an “adjacent possible” for one to consider being a math teacher.
I think reading Scripture creates a similar happening. That is why the church has always consider Scripture to be “inspired” and animated with a certain type of life. Even when the church gets further removed from the location of these inherited texts, something of relevance and honor always remains. Which is why it has been a staple diet of Christian formation to know the Scripture text.