I grew up having the Old Testament taught like it was a giant collection of moral stories: Adam and Eve, the bad snake, Joseph’s coat and mean brothers, Moses, the burning bush, evil Pharaoh, plagues… then skipping to the love story of David and Bathsheba and ending with Daniel in the lion’s den. With the New Testament, I was pretty much taught: baby Jesus is born, tells people to be good people, dies, then there is an empty tomb. Eventually, someone else says that you’re free from those ten commandments and you just have to love Jesus. And you’d better love him because REVELATION.
Obviously this is completely incorrect, incomplete, and to be honest, I don’t even think it’s Christian. If you look at my very first Bible (KJV of course), the only verses marked in any way are Genesis 1-3, random parts of Matthew, and the end of Revelation. My parents left church when I was 11, and I didn’t crack my Bible open again until I was about 19.
When I went to college, I jumped into biblical studies classes thinking I had a decent grasp of the Bible. I was so wrong. I was shocked: Genesis doesn’t have to be literal? Levitical laws? What are those? God calls for the destruction of an entire people group? There were kings? Multiple kings? The kingdom split? There are different psalm types? David was a WHAT? What’s a covenant? Chronicles is kingdom propaganda? What the heck? I thought this thing was telling the truth! WAIT… Jesus wasn’t Plan B because Israel sucked? What do you mean “synoptic”? What do you mean “epistle”? We don’t know some authors? REVELATION ISN’T A BLUEPRINT?! Historical context? I thought I was supposed to be able to read the Bible and have the meaning come to my head! Isn’t the Holy Spirit supposed to make you understand?
I know all of that sounds pretty silly to people who’ve grown up with a healthy church community and a healthy family. Those things are so basic and so central and so much better than anything I ever learned. The problem is that my mind is so overrun with everything I learned as a kid that it’s difficult to ignore it whenever I do read the bible. I’m terrified of reading something into a text that isn’t there, or thinking some verse is saying something that it isn’t. My parents did not encourage any type of historical study or companion reading at all. In fact, my dad still gives me a hard time about all of the reading I do about Christianity because he believes I’m not relying enough on the Bible. I’m supposed to take the work of the Church Fathers and the like with a grain of salt because all I really need is the Bible. Sigh.
It’s not like I don’t know how to read ancient literature— I have a degree in philosophy. However, I don’t have to worry about misinterpreting a section of Plato because it has no significant bearing on my life. I don’t think Plato’s creation narrative in Timaeus is real. I don’t believe the Demiurge is real. I don’t believe the Forms are real. But, I do believe the God of the Bible is real. I do believe that Jesus is God incarnate. I do believe that understanding Israel’s story is central to understudying our story as part of the Church today. How I deal with THIS text does affect my life, and it’s affected millions of lives throughout history. I want to do it right— but I believe there are several right ways. And that’s difficult for me to handle. I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities and I’m terrified of coming to wrong conclusions because my issues are, in part, a product of others’ wrong conclusions.
I’m sure this is a longer response than you were anticipating, but it’s honest. I always talk about how important it is to read primary sources, and I can barely deal with the primary text of my own faith. Shameful! Thankfully, God has graciously given me a healthy relationship with Alvin who is patient, understanding, and nonjudgmental. Every day, we teach each other, correct each other, and learn together. It’s a difficult journey for me, but I’m so happy I don’t have to do it alone. The good news is, I’m getting better.
Thanks for the question.
Thoughtful response. I appreciate Aubrey’s honesty here.