Approaching the Bible

It seems appropriate today to write about interpreting the words in the bible since one of my readers responded to yesterday’s blog with an interpretation of a biblical text. I welcome people’s opinions and don’t mean to single this person out but I learned many years ago about the ins and outs of how to read and understand the scriptures.

Years ago I was part of a community that interpreted the words in the bible quite literally. One day a priest, designated by the bishop, came to visit our group. He prayed with us and we did some reading together. Then he gave a teaching in which he held up the bible and said, “This is not a Ouija Board.” He told us that we need to be careful about applying the words too literally, especially if we hope to find guidance in how to live our lives.

Sarah Hurwitz, in her book Here All Along, has the same concern. Writing to a Jewish audience, she says, “…rife with ambiguity, the Torah* lends itself to multiple – often contradictory – interpretations. One traditional Jewish teaching claims that there are ‘seventy faces to the Torah,’ meaning many different ways to understand it. Another declares: ‘Turn it (the Torah) over and turn it over, for everything is in it.’ ”

Her experience was that reading the ancient texts “was like an ancient Rorschach test: What did I see? How did I fill the gaps? What did that say about me? How have Jews understood the Torah over the years? What does it say about us as a people?” (Italics is mine)

Lest you dismiss Hurwitz’ ideas as not applicable to Christians, remember that Jesus was a Jew and the Torah was his scripture. Judaism is our “parent religion” and we aught to pay attention to the wisdom coming from Jewish experience with the Word.

Once I let go of buying into only one, literal, meaning of a biblical text, I discovered a plethora of other meanings. In order to do this, I needed to set aside those voices that insisted they knew the true meaning, even for me, and have the humility to say, “I don’t know.” That is when the scriptures really began to open up for me as the living Word that began to change my life.

*The Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament and the most sacred text for the Jewish people.

2 thoughts on “Approaching the Bible”

  1. The first fifty years of my old testament “bible life” was dominated by the Christianized interpretation of The Hebrew
    Scripture or the First Testament which in my opinion Torah is is part of; not the “old testament.”
    The June issue of Christian Century had an article entitled “Inside Jesus Judaism.” by Matthias Henze. This “Second Temple Judaism” which evolved into “Rabbinic Judaism.”is the Judaism that developed in the Babylonian Exile and the second exodus back to Jerusalem.
    Study of this period would be time well spent.

    1. So good to hear from you, Chuck. My book presents a very Jewish Jesus that I know you would love. Do you have it? If not, I will make sure I get a copy to you.

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