how not to read

One more thing which I have to share with you today is this. In yesterday’s Scotsman there was a small notice with a Bible verse and a comment by a minister. The verse was, “He shall gain life who is justified by faith,” which is apparently Romans 1:17, and the comment was: “We need to know something of the linguistic, social and religious background of our text if we are to understand it correctly.” (That’s the comment quoted in its entirety.)

I had to laugh it was so tragic … as if to say, Here’s a bible verse for your edification, but unless you’ve got three areas of speciality you’ve really no chance of understanding it, sorry.

This sums up pretty much exactly the attitude which a reader shouldn’t take when reading the bible. Or most other books for that matter, but you understand why I focus on the bible. You don’t have to be a sociologist, a theologian, or even a linguist, before you can read a chapter and understand what it means. “He shall gain life who is justified by faith” (aka “the just shall live by faith”) isn’t really that hard to fathom. All the equipment you need in order to approach the Bible is a heart and a mind and a conscience; or, in short, to be a human being.

When you know “something of the background of a text” it obviously helps to add to your understanding, but the bible is for normal people, not experts. It is perspicuous, clear, with its meaning on the surface as well as deep down – and ministers who suggest otherwise, and imply that understanding it is best left to experts and learned scholars in a variety of disciplines, are doing a disservice both to the book itself and also to people who might be tempted by these suggestions not to bother reading it under the illusion that it’ll just be too hard for them. Average folks on the street, as well as academics, although they won’t ever understand it fully, are certainly able to understand it correctly, just by reading it.

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