Posted by: Philip Rushton | September 27, 2011

Free For All: Why our bible read-through group might prevent you from loosing a limb.

It was Halloween night on October 30th, 1938, when Orson Wells narrated a version of his novel, War of the Worlds on public radio. As he told the story of Martians invading earth, it was presented in the form of a live news broadcast. This resulted in mass panic. Thousands believed that they were hearing truth rather than fiction. Police stations were overwhelmed with calls from the frightened public. CBS radio announcer Jack Parr, tried to calm fears on-air by saying, “the word is not coming to an end, trust me, when have I lied to you.” However, the calls persisted with paranoid listeners accusing Parr of “covering the truth.”

This interesting historical story makes an important point. We cannot always trust our instincts when it comes to interpretation. It is possible for us to make false assumptions about what we are reading or hearing. If we don’t understand the genre or the intent of the author the results can be disastrous.

This is particularly true when it comes to interpreting scripture. As we read through the bible we inevitably face texts that are obscure, controversial, and confusing. It is not uncommon for us to feel lost or confused as we seek to understand what the text is really saying. A lot of Christians say that we just need to take the Bible literally, but this is too simplistic. If we follow this hermeneutic we might not know what to do with the Bible when Jesus says, “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” A simple understanding of the genre (Semitic hyperbole), might just save your hand from the dumpster!

The challenge of interpretation is not helped by the fact that scripture reading has primarily become an individual undertaking. This has resulted from both technological and cultural factors. It is odd to think, but prior to the 15th century people would not have had access to their own bible. Reading scripture, was necessarily a corporate act. Since the technological development of the printing press, however, bibles became available to the individual. Now we can have 10 different translations with us on an iPhone wherever we go.

Furthermore, our culture has become increasingly individualistic. Individualism not only affects how we spend our time but how we seek truth. You often hear people say today that something can be true for them but not for others. As Eugene Peterson observes, “the authoritative text has been replaced by the authoritative self.”

My concern is that the interpretation of scripture has become a free-for-all. We interpret the bible on our own, without much accountability to the broader community of faith. The danger in this is that we all come to the text with our own biases, assumptions and expectations. Like the listeners of Orson Wells, The War of the Worlds, we can easily misinterpret the story we are hearing.

The apostle Paul urges us in 1 Timothy 5:13 to devote ourselves to the “public reading of scripture.” Paul reminds us that scripture reading is meant to be a corporate act. When we wrestle with scripture together we gain different perspectives and are held accountable.

This is what Julie and I would like to recover in the coming months. For a while now, Julie and I have wanted to start a group that reads through scripture in community. Some friends of ours brought this idea back to us from Scotland. They spent time at a vibrant young church that was transformed through their weekly bible read-through groups.

We are going to start this new group Wednesday Oct. 5 after simple supper at 6:45 at the church. As a group we are going to commit to reading through the New Testament this fall. We will then meet on Wednesday night to share what we are learning and wrestling with. Along the way I will provide some teaching on how to go about interpreting scripture. We would love to have you join us!

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Responses

  1. That’s great Phil. I agree and have always found reading and discussing the Bible with others much more helpful than simply reading it by myself. I hope the idea takes off.

  2. I worked with a guy who claimed he had attended a Bible reading church in PA. seemed like a slip of the tongue to me, he must have meant Bible believing, right? So, your idea is really attractive to me


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