by Jake Hall

published in Family Matters eNewsletter, 9/4/14

Ellen Davis, a favorite professor of mine, tells the story of a cartoon in the New Yorker that shows a man making inquiry at the information counter of a large bookstore. The clerk, tapping on his keyboard and peering intently into the computer screen, replies, "The Bible?. . That would be under self-help.” We get the joke. Interpreting the Bible requires more than knowing that you should read top to bottom and left to right. Beyond that reading the text is not a solitary affair. We need each other to read the text rightly. 

From 1998-2002, fifteen scholars and pastors met to consider just how we need each other when we read the text. “The Scripture Project” gathered pastors, biblical scholars, theologians and historians to read the text together. Together they joked, it takes fifteen specialists to create one whole reader. They found that we need to read scripture in community “by learning from those who have gone before us and performed, in their lives of embodied faithfulness, beautiful interpretations of scripture.” Consider their nine theses:

1. Scripture truthfully tells the story of God’s action of creating, judging and saving the world.

2. Scripture is rightly understood in light of the church’s rule of faith as a coherent dramatic narrative.

3. Faithful interpretation of scripture requires an engagement with the entire narrative: the New Testament cannot be rightly understood apart from the Old, nor can the Old be rightly understood apart from the New.

4. Texts of scripture do not have a single meaning limited to the intent of the original author. In accord with Jewish and Christian traditions, we affirm that scripture has multiple complex senses given by God, the author of the whole drama.

5. The four canonical Gospels narrate the truth about Jesus.

6. Faithful interpretation of scripture invites and presupposes participation in the community brought into being by God’s redemptive action -- the church.

7. The saints of the church provide guidance in how to interpret and perform scripture.

8. Christians need to read the Bible in dialogue with diverse others outside the church.

9. We live in the tension between the "already" and the "not yet" of the kingdom of God; consequently, scripture calls the church to ongoing discernment, to continually refresh re-readings of the text in light of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the world.

For the next six weeks we will be reading the New Testament letter to the Galatians during our Wednesday night Bible Study. We will consider how the letter was received in that first century community, even as we wonder how these words matter in our 21st century community. Come and let us read the text together.