“If you come with a fixed, set in stone preconceived idea your bible reading will only reinforce that concept”.
True words that are easily said but harder hard to respond to. We can all too easily recognise the biases and weakness of others but identifying the mote in our own eye can be challenging. But reading the Bible yourself is a valuable thing as part of a life of faith, so how do we do it without fooling ourselves?
To quote an interesting (and challenging) book by McKnight “The Reformation’s best and most dangerous, revolutionary idea was putting the Bible in the hands of ordinary Christians.” He goes on to speak of the importance of education and understanding the prism through which the Bible is read in order to avoid the chaos of millions of interpretations.
We come to every conversation, every interaction and every reading with experiences and knowledge that shape our expectations and perceptions. How I read the Bible depends on who I am at that point in time. This prompts the question from our opening thought: how do you know the meaning you find is the Biblically intended one, rather than one that is purely defined by your preconceptions? No amount of tools will open the safe of our mind if we refuse to open the doors just a little. There are tools that can improve our ability to understand what the text means (versus what we want it to mean).
Books like Osborne’s “The hermeneutical spiral: a comprehensive introduction to biblical interpretation” help identify our particular preconceptions by forcing us to think about how we approach the text (rather than diving head-first into the Biblical text). Regarding our preconceptions he says,
…we need to ‘bracket’ these ideas to a degree and allow the text to deepen or at times challenge and even change those already established ideas. As readers, we want to place ourselves in front of the text (and allow it to address us) rather than behind it (and force it to go where we want). The reader’s background and ideas are important in the study of biblical truth; however, this must be used to study meaning rather than to create meaning that is not there.
Christ was a radical preacher who demanded change and commitment from those who heard him. The scholars and leaders of his day were outraged by his rejection of centuries of preconceptions and his approach to their own social mores. When we come to the word we should feel challenged, not comfortable. If it doesn’t hurt a little sometimes then we probably just aren’t doing it right…we are just resting on stone like preconceptions.