This class has prompted me to question many things about my faith and the things I have been taught to believe about God and the Bible (all good things), so I would appreciate hearing your perspective on a certain topic.
Is there a right or wrong way to understand God’s teachings in the Bible, or is it open to the perspective of the person reading it — not as a means to manipulate the word, but to help provide the answers we seek?
There are two major ways to read the Bible. The first is a prayerful reading alone, seeking for guidance, consolation, awe, and so forth — exactly what you describe. The second is a reading of the Bible in community, a church community, a family, a Bible study group or other association. The reading in community confronts us with different interpretations than ours. This kind of reading enriches our perspectives and corrects our interpretations. Reading in community makes us dive deeper into the various aspects of God’s word.
Both readings are excellent and should be fostered. We should never do one without the other. We can also read comments on certain biblical texts stemming from the great tradition of the church or contemporary people writing commentaries. The Word of God is never expressed by a single voice, but the single voice is still. God’s revelation occurs through an interaction between three factors — the text, the author of the text and the reader or the readers. The book alone is not enough for God’s revelation to occur! The text has to be read and a dialogue with the author of the text has to be engaged. When this is done correctly there is no manipulation of God’s word, only seeing God’s truth reveal itself in an increasing way throughout Church history. That’s what we call in the Catholic Church the “tradition of the church.” It’s an interpretation of Scripture throughout the centuries.
The biblical text is always open to new interpretations. There is not only one authoritative interpretation of the text. Through Scripture God speaks anew to every generation!
Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University. Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years. Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.