Reading the Bible

This afternoon I'll have the opportunity to talk with this year's ELI Interns (and initiative of Vital University Missions of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas) about an extremely vague sounding topic: reading the Bible. Vital provides community and a time for worship on several college/university campuses in and around San Antonio, TX. I've had the privilege of knowing and working with the Director, Greg Richards, pretty much since moving here in 2012. He was one of the first people to reach out and introduce himself to me when we moved here from Oregon. I am thankful for the opportunity to meet with his staff and interns each year. I think it is probably more enjoyable for me than for them!


Now, what of this "reading the Bible"? Well, I'm convinced there are many ways to read it, study it, and discuss it. In a sense, the Bible "functions" differently in each context. When I was teaching at Trinity University we approached the text from a completely "secular" (if you will) perspective. For the most part this meant reading it through a historical-critical lens using the historicist worldview, but also through socio-political lenses, asking what the Bible "means" to contemporary U.S. culture. I greatly enjoy that kind of setting (and may do another internship this Fall Semester). But today's group uses the Bible as a religious sacrament, as I do too. The "function" of the Bible for this group will be quite different than it was for students at Trinity University taking a class on Christian Origins and the New Testament, even if the audience remains college students and the location remains a university campus. I know some people may not be comfortable with this shift in the "meaning" of the Bible depending on context, but I am, and I think the Bible has a lot to offer different people in different settings. When I talk with people my main concern is not what it is offering them, but how I can help equip them to understand it in their setting, whether that be in a civic, an ecclesial or academic one.

Today's talk will focus on three angles or ideas: exegesis, hermeneutics, and method. I think for all readers exegesis is shared: What does the text say? But then the paths diverge. Hermeneutics is a matter of interpretation, and one cannot interpret without regard to their own positionality. The "meaning" of text is both static and fluid. The text is there. There is intent. There are limited (though often multiple) ways of deciphering it's message. But how it is received differs from person-to-person. Then there is method: What is the overarching framework being used to sort and label the data once it has been interpreted? In other words, what is one "looking for" in the Bible? Historical data? Theological principles? Material for inter-religious dialogue? 

So, if I were to simplify things, I see the move as going from exegesis, or trying to decipher the text's meaning (speaking more so of "communicative intention"), to hermeneutics, i.e., understanding what the text then "means" (speaking more so of "value") to the interpreter, to method, i.e., what service the Bible plays for the interpreter, or, to what the Bible speaks for the interpreter (to dogmatic concerns, emotional needs, liturgical participation, etc.). Anyway, here are my notes/outline for those who may be interested: Reading the Bible: To Make the Strange Familiar and the Familiar Strange