Let the Biblical Writers Speak! Part 3 of “How I Read the Bible, and So Can You!”

philipp-berndt-173197When reading the Bible there are six things I do as part of my interpretive process which I have found helpful. If you will do these six things you will find the meaning of Scripture opening up for you.

The first two things I do are 1) Throw out all my assumptions; and 2) Question everything I was taught.

The next thing that I do is I give the biblical authors their voices back. This follows hard on the heels of the first two things. The assumptions I bring to the text, and everything that I’ve been told that the Bible says all get in the way of letting the author have his say.

This includes the assumption that as sacred literature any particular passage represents the actual voice of God. Whatever else the inspiration of Scripture means, it most certainly does not mean that.

The biblical authors were not mere transcribers as God dictated Scripture or inanimate pens in the hand of the Great Author. Of all the names of God, “Author” is not one of them.

Creative Genius

These were people who lived in a historical culture and who both wrote to that culture and were influenced by that culture. They had their own voices, their own points that they were trying to get across, and they utilized great creativity in making those points.

Some writers were somewhat clunky in their writing styles, but some—Isaiah comes to mind, especially chapters 40-55—display genuine literary genius that can stand up against the great literature of our Western culture.

I want to see their genius and their creativity, and I want to hear their individual voices, but I can’t do that if I assume the Bible speaks with one voice, that of God.

Neither can I do that if I assume that all these voices agree with one another. If Scripture is univocal i.e. speaks with one voice, then you would expect some consistency and agreement in the various things that are said.

If Scripture is multi-vocal, then there may be agreement and consistency, but not necessarily so. And if you know anything about ancient Israel, you know that there wasn’t agreement or consistency at any point in their history.

No one person or group spoke for all of Israel, not even the king. There were always groups competing with each other for power and influence, and this means two important things regarding Scripture.

First, they all claimed to represent the viewpoint and will of God. When they wrote, they all claimed that God was on their side. As Lincoln famously said in his second inaugural address, both could be wrong, but one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing.

 The Argument You’re Meant to See

Second, it’s important to see the dispute, to hear the argument, to understand the sides. Chronicles covers the exact same history as Kings but tells a very different story.

To understand what is going on you must understand the view of the writer of Kings and the view of the writer of Chronicles. The last thing you should do is try to reconcile the two views to fit your univocal assumptions.

It’s the argument that you are meant to see, and to see it you must let each writer speak with his own voice.

Treating Chronicles as a supplement to Kings misses the whole point. If there is any truth to the saying that history is written by the winners—and there is lots of truth to it—the presence of both sides in our Bibles means that they argument was never really settled.

It is in fact still raging in the first century when Jesus is born, teaches, and is crucified.

And it is the cross which is God’s definitive answer. It is an answer that none of the sides anticipated nor accepted.

But more of that later. There is still one thing to say about the authors’ voices, and I’ll take that up in the next post.

Photo by Philipp Berndt on Unsplash

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