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Part Two: How Not to Read the Bible

In my first post, I explained the first wrong way to read the Bible; the second lesson is that the Bible is not always as deep as we think. Of course, because it is the word of God, it is … Read More

By / January 7, 2008

In my first post, I explained the first wrong way to read the Bible; the second lesson is that the Bible is not always as deep as we think. Of course, because it is the word of God, it is going to be bottomless, and the deeper you can make it, the more honor to God. I think about that passage where Paul says in Romans 14 that everything that is not done in faith is sin—and any theologian who reads that statement gets the existential quivers. What a wonderful statement. But when you read it in context, it seems to mean that whatever is not done out of conviction, but just to play up to somebody else’s opinion, lacks authenticity and is sin. Or, when Paul says that we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for God works in you both to will and to work—that’s what they call a paradox. But it’s no paradox there in Philippians 2—Paul is just saying: You were pretty good when I was with you, but now I’m gone; but remember, God is with you, so there is no reason why you should not work just as hard. But we like it to be so terribly deep. One of the best rules for reading scriptures is the very same as for preaching: It should be light, it should be quick, and it should be tender. It should not be ponderous, it should not be labored, and it should not be heavy. Third, in the scriptures, sometimes it ain’t as sure as you think. St.Paul—I like him, but he was arrogant. He had a lot of human flaws, but he was great. He was a great, great theologian. A theologian is someone who sees problems where no one else sees problems, and sees no problems where other people see problems. Once, when he is speaking (I Cor.7)—it happens to be about family matters, divorce, and sex, and things of that kind—he says: On so-and-so, I have a word from the Lord, but then on so-and-so, I have no word from the Lord. I think he was the last preacher in Christendom who had the guts to say that. New situations come, really new situations. What shall we then do? And Paul says: I have no word from the Lord, but I’ll give you my advice. I’m doing as well as I can. And I think I am right…. That’s wonderful insight. What a lovely Bible that tells us that sometimes we might need to think, and not just to think that it is settled. The fourth “no”: not so uptight. Apologetics, defending the Bible—defending God, for that matter—is a rather arrogant activity. Who is defending whom? I love to use the old Swedish expression, “It is pathetic to hear mosquitoes cough.” I don’t know why that is funny, but in Swedish it is funny. And apologetics is mosquitoes coughing. It kills so much of the joy in reading and practicing the love of the scriptures. It is always a little moving when believers want to help God. There was a man in the second century of the Christian era whose name was Tatian, and he was so terribly bothered that, in the various Gospels, Jesus seemed to say things a little differently. And some things that were described in one Gospel were described otherwise in another—not to speak about the Gospel of John. So he thought he should help God by creating a unified Gospel. It’s called the Diatessaron. And it was very tempting for the church, because those who wanted to attack the church said: What is this? Jesus says that, and then Jesus says that. And the apologists tried to say: Of course he said it more than once, but a little differently.
Well, that wasn’t quite convincing. So we got four Gospels, which do not always match, but Irenaeus, blessed be his memory, decided that it was more valuable to have the richness of the four than the streamlining of the one. And so the four Gospels are wonderful lessons in the fact that God is not pedantic when it comes to telling the story; rather, God wants it told a little different to catch as many aspects as possible. As I like to say, when you have four portraits of the somebody you love very much, you don’t make transparencies of them and send the light through—that becomes blur, holy blur because it is the Gospels, but still blur. You look at one portrait of a time. And actually where they are different is usually where the artist has something important to say. If you get the apologetic devil in you, then you get bothered by the richness and by the variation. And the more I have lived with the scriptures, the more loving my feelings for them have become. The more important thing for me is to make them as different as possible, in order to catch as many insights and as many perspectives as possible.

PART THREE: Who Owns God?

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