Forget Everything You Were Taught! Part 2 of “How I Read the Bible, and So Can You!”

Erasing past Bible teaching

In this series of posts I’m outlining the process I have developed in reading the Bible. Inherent in that, of course, is the need for a process.

One can certainly just open the Bible up and start reading, and there is some value in that, but there are dangers as well. Despite the wonderful job that translators have done in giving us the Bible in our own language, it’s certainly true that you lose something in translation.

That’s just the language barrier. There are also the barriers that come as we are separated by time, geography, culture and worldview from the original writers, editors, readers and hearers.

Avoiding Bible-Idolatry

In the first post I said the first thing I do is try to suspend my assumptions, including the assumption that this is sacred literature.

I do this not because I don’t believe that the Bible is inspired but because I do, but that belief brings in a host of assumptions about what the Bible can and cannot be or can and cannot say that can often get in the way of my understanding what it is and isn’t, what it is saying and what it isn’t.

It also leads people to ascribe to the Bible divine qualities that only belong to God.

This is a form of idolatry that must be avoided.

I say this as a person of faith, not as an academic. If the danger of the academic is that they treat the Bible as less than it is, the danger of the person of faith is that they treat the Bible as more than it is. I want to guard against both.

 What’s Your Authority?

The next thing that I do is try to forget everything that I’ve been taught about what the Bible says.

Well, not everything: I was taught that Scripture is our authority in matters of faith and practice, not the teachings of humans. (Matthew 15:9)

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 also says, “Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything, holding fast to what is good.”

So while I respect and indeed hold in reverence my Bible teachers, professors, and authors that have informed me throughout my life, I do not hold their teachings as the final authority.

It is my responsibility to read and interpret Scripture for myself. I need to see what God is trying to say through the biblical writers, and if that confirms what I’ve been taught, and it often does, then great.

If it doesn’t, and it often doesn’t, then my responsibility is to go with Scripture. My teachers always told me so, and this is what I tell all of my students.

My education was thoroughly Southern Baptist. I attended the largest Baptist university in the world, Baylor, and then The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. All of my professors encouraged me to read widely but also critically, not accepting everything that the author is saying but testing everything.

They didn’t tell me to test it against SBC doctrine but against the Bible. That meant testing SBC doctrine, which was actually quite diverse and left room for differing views.

Today’s SBC leadership is less welcoming to doctrinal divergence. They want me to read the Bible for myself as long as I come out agreeing with them.

Leaning From History

The problem is, nobody’s doctrine is 100% biblical—we are all struggling to better understand Scripture and conform our beliefs and practices to it. To insist that one’s reading of the Bible must conform to the teachings of humans is not only arrogant, but is an exercise in historical amnesia.

The Southern Baptist Convention and was born in days leading up to the Civil War over a disagreement with northern Baptists about slavery. Southern Seminary was started in large part to propagate a theology that supported the institution of slavery, and quoted the Bible extensively in doing so.

This theology erred biblically, as they have come to recognize and apologize for, albeit very, very belatedly.

In other words, we’ve been wrong before, we’ll be wrong in the future, and we are most definitely wrong about some things right now in ways we obviously don’t yet recognize.

The only way to discover those errors in beliefs is to study the Scriptures without regard to what we’ve previously been taught.

That’s what I try to do, so that Scripture can speak to me the way God wants it to and I need it to.

(For the rest of the series, click here: Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7.)

Photo by © Can Stock Photo / philipimage

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