If I told you I could help you read the Bible more biblically would you think me arrogant? You might, if you thought reading the Bible was just a simple, straight forward endeavor. If you were reading the Bible, how would you know you were reading it correctly? Does that seem like an odd question? It might if the Bible were like other books but it is not. One of the features that scholars say differentiates the Bible from other early writings is its use of specifics when recording dates, times, and years. Why is this significant? It speaks to the actual concern for time and history rather than myth and “timeless truths” and in that sense the Bible is not like other books.
While the Bible is concerned with reality and history, its authors also write cryptically or more precisely proverbially. What this means is it takes a bit of thinking and rethinking and more rethinking to understand not only what the author is writing but what he means by what he writes. In fact, very often reading the Bible depends not only on what the author says but what he doesn’t say (or by what he doesn’t say in what he does say). This way of reading I like to call /r/e/a/d/i/n/g/. One of the myths of reading the Bible is this: Jesus told parables to help his listeners understand his message better. That maxim is as false as the day is long. Listen to what Jesus says about his use of parables:
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
How does Jesus answer his disciples when they ask why he uses parables? Notice he does not say, Well, in order for my message to get across better, studies show that illustrated stories are the new thing. No, basically he says that speaking to them in parables is an act of judgement wherein their not hearing and seeing his message is because the message of the kingdom is being kept from them, not given to them. Why am I making this point? I make it because there are still countless Bible teachers who still believe parables were beautiful, inspiring examples of Jesus’ being a masterful teacher. Besides, even if Jesus did use parables according to the popular belief, why is it that very often even his closest followers didn’t get the simplistic teaching of the master? Again, my point is that reading the Bible is not easy and it takes a long time to improve one’s ability to read it well. I am no where near being a genius at it but I am better than I was and I am thankful that I have learned what I have. And so, what I have I give to you.
My goal is not to offend you, my reader. I was not offended when I learned that I was reading the Bible without squinting or as I like to say, /r/e/a/d/i/n/g/. Why should this offend? If I were lifting weights and a better trained athlete saw my error and pointed it out to me I would hope I wouldn’t get my feelings hurt or feel stupid for his attentiveness. No, I would rather appreciate his concern and try to practice what I had learned. To do otherwise would be the result of pride.
Another example of /r/e/a/d/i/n/g/ can be seen here. Listen to what Jesus says about his opinion of the Law of Moses and recall what I said above about saying by not saying. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” How would you answer this question: To what does Jesus compare the stability of the Law? Or How do we know the Law will never pass away? More than likely the answer might be, “Well, Jesus said the Law would last as long as heaven and earth would” or “Jesus said the Law would last until heaven and earth passed away. So, since heaven and earth are still here, so is the Law.” But what if I put this answer of Jesus into a modern turn of phrase? What if Jesus would have answered it like this. For truly, I say to you, until the Iron Curtain falls away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Now, what do you know of the Iron Curtain? Was the a physical iron curtain that needed to come down? No, there was not. Did the term Iron Curtain symbolically stand for something? Yes, it did. It is the same with Jesus’ words. Imagine again, Jesus said, For truly, I say to you, until the Star Spangled Banner pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Had Jesus said something like this we would understand that he meant the Law would last as long as the United States stood as a nation. This is no less than what he is doing here. Jesus is not saying that since the physical heavens and earth are still standing the Law is too. No, Jesus here is speaking a word of judgment against Israel and her Temple and what he means is this: For truly, I say to you, until the temple passes away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Here in this parable of Jesus, we can see to what his use of heaven and earth refer.
Now, this is not meant to sound condescending so brace yourself. If you know enough of your Bible, bells and whistles ought to be going off because your mind is starting to go to other places where this way of /r/e/a/d/i/n/g/ will change everything you know about reading the Bible. Reading between the lines happens whether or not we know it or like it when it does happen so let’s just accept that fact. I simply want to help you get better at it and if it works on you like it has on me, you’ll read more and more with eyes that ><. And the best way to read more is to begin at the beginning…where it all began.