One of the first things I realized when I became a Biblical Studies major is that reading the Bible isn’t as easy as many make it out to be. That’s because reading the Bible requires that we interpret what we’re reading and interpretation is a tricky endeavor. It’s tricky because every one of us brings a whole wealth of prior knowledge, experience, biases, etc. to the table when we read the Bible.
A helpful illustration is the idea of a pair of glasses. Each of us, when dealing with the Bible, reads the text through a pair of lenses that we have on. The lens through which you read the Bible is composed of your own biases, past experiences, theological tradition, former conversations with people of influence, etc. All of these serve as a framework for you to make sense of the words you read in the Bible. They make up your lens.
So when we when read the Bible we’re not reading it objectively. We’re reading it from a very particular perspective. That means that whatever interpretation we derive from the text is automatically going to be a subjective interpretation, one that’s been influenced by the lens through which we have read the Bible.
No matter how sincerely we pray for God to grant us the “correct” interpretation when reading the Bible we have to recognize that whatever we end up with will be dependent upon our own lens. There’s no such thing as divine objectivity when it comes to reading the Bible.
This is why proof-texting is not a good way of engaging in conversation about difficult issues. Proof-texting is when your friend quotes Genesis 1 as if that somehow settled the evolution debate. Proof-texting is often accompanied by statements like “It’s as clear as day in the Bible” or “The Bible clearly says in such and such a passage that….” The problem with quoting any Bible passage as if it settled any debate is that no Bible passage is self-interpreting. You and I could read the same Bible passage and derive totally different meanings from it. That’s because the Bible doesn’t say anything. It’s a book. You actually have to read it and interpret it.
Proof-texting ignores the fact that reading the Bible is more complicated than quoting a Bible passage as if it settled the issue. The proof-texter fails to acknowledge the lens through which the text under consideration is being read and understood.
Something we all could do a little bit more of is owning up to our own biases and presuppositions. We all need to acknowledge what our own lens looks like.
The following are some of my own biases and theological commitments that I bring to the table when reading the Bible. This is my attempt to own up to my own personal Bible reading lens:
- Being faithful to the Bible must include our being critical of, and even at times disagreeing with the text under consideration.
- The Bible doesn’t speak with one voice.
- Violence is never redemptive.
- God has to be at least as nice as Jesus (compliments of Tripp Fuller over at Homebrewed Christianity).
- The Bible and science are not at odds with one another.
- Biblical interpretation must always translate to a more loving and inclusive response to those who are different than us (otherwise it’s disqualified from being a “correct” interpretation).
- Liberation of the oppressed is a major theme of the biblical narrative.
When I read the Bible I read it with these assumptions. I recognize that, because of these biases, my reading of the Bible is highly relative and subjective. Subjectivity is not something we ought to fear, however. All knowledge is situated knowledge, that is, everything we know about the world is conditioned by our own personal experience of the world. This reality is not necessarily good or bad…it just is.
Thus, since we can’t avoid them, it’s time we start owning up to our own biases so that when we address the difficult issues of our day we can better understand where everyone’s coming from.
What’s your lens? What are the assumptions that you bring to the table when reading the Bible?