As this book is being written, a great debate is being waged in the United States concerning how the Bible is used and understood. The attorney general of the United States, in defense of a White House policy on immigration, referred to Romans 13 as a warrant for Christians to accept and support the administration’s policies: submit to the government. Pundits from the right and the left quoted Scripture in support of or in defiance to the attorney general’s use of Scripture. Most of these persons were using the Bible for their own purposes or, as this book will eventually name them, their own narratives. Persons and communities may have various readings of events, but this does not mean that every interpretation of an event or text is accurate or even truthful. A postmodern world, the world of the early twenty-first century, is revealing the unstable condition that any interpretation of events and texts is acceptable as long as it supports the already existing belief and value system of the interpreter. Text-jacking, alternative facts, and the conviction that all beliefs are justified cry out for a book to investigate and scrutinize both the reader of texts and the texts that are read.
Are words simply sounds made by a human voice with no real connection to the way people live, or are they a part of a larger background or matrix within which all human activities find their meaning?
This is the guiding query that will inform all of the investigations of this book on how to read the Bible. There is a conventional childhood chant that goes something like this: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Is this saying true, or are words the reason sticks and stones are used to bully, injure, and even kill people? Take for examples the prophets of the Old Testament, the disciples of Jesus, and even the Lord himself. It seems that words were used to oppress and eventually execute the Lord, his disciples, and the prophets. The good news is that words are used not only to bring about the abuse of others but also to equip the imagination of people who do scientific research, plan for the future, and even make sense of the past. Questions that need answering include the following: Where do the words used by individuals come from? How do they shape the values and intuitions of human beings? Are these values and intuitions active in people who read the Bible? And are they active in the very formation of the Bible?
Most books written on the subject of how to read the Bible go immediately to exegetical procedure and take the reader through each step of this technique. They explore the historical and literary contexts of the passage; then they help the beginning exegete understand structure and genre. Next these texts move through the analysis of words and concepts and finally to a consideration of the theological and ethical implications of a passage. If this is what the reader is looking for, then this book will cover these categories of exploration in its latter half. But before the journey is made to these important and key categories, the mystery of reading needs investigation. Reading with understanding is never simple, and it is especially difficult when one is reading an ancient text, written in a different language, with a radically different understanding of the world.
The premise of this book is threefold. First, the Bible is a collection of manuscripts that were developed across a long period, yet with precise messages that were for particular people at specific times. These messages were shaped by a combination of factors: the circumstances within which these words were spoken or written, the worldviews of the people that received these words, and the divine inspiration of these words for the specific space and time of the people to whom these words were written. The second assumption of this book is the belief that these words continue to possess the inspired/inspiring word of God disclosing his character and therefore his will for the being-saved people of God. The final presupposition is that the Bible is both stable (canonical message) and dynamic (incarnational message) in its composition and application.
The Holy Scriptures is the third volume available in The Wesleyan Theology Series. this series aims to discuss Christian doctrines in accessible language that states clearly what Christians believe and why. Each volume is written by an author with a particular expertise who also has the ability to simplify and clarify complex ideas.
This 13-book series includes topics covering: the Trinity, creation, eschatology, the church, the sacraments, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, Scripture, sin, grace, salvation, sanctification, Christian ethics, and atonement.
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