- Traditional Reading of Scripture
A Traditional way to read Scripture is to read with one question in the forefront: What is God saying to me? The underlying assumption is that each verse of each book of the entire Bible is meant to speak directly, and oftentimes primarily, to yourself. You will find this to be the most readily used method of reading Scripture within Protestantism. It is also a major reason why there is such a pluralism of ideas concerning the Bible--we allow it to speak without any concern for context. This reading approach is lazy, ignores the historical nature of what was written, and ignores the biases inherent in personal reading of Scripture.
- Tradition-Saturated Reading of Scripture
Tradition-Saturated reading, however, provides a very different foundation. This reading approach leans heavily on the internal history of the church to define what a text should mean by looking at how it has been interpreted throughout church history. This sounds brilliant, until we dive a little deeper. The problem is two-fold. First, a careful reading of church history will notice a MAJOR shift 300 years after Christ when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman world. Everything began to change, from church structure to military involvement. Can we trust the tradition of the church to be consistent before and after this event? Second, most of church history is filled with great church leaders arguing amongst themselves about theology. Who will be authoritative? Will you trust the writings of Augustine, Origin, John Chrysostom, or Jerome? Will you listen to all the church councils, or only those that took place in the Western Church? Do Western or Eastern fathers (who have VERY different outlooks on theology) get a place of more prominence? This reading approach simply opens up the material available, while still standing on a foundation built with my own personal preferences. Surely it will not do.
- Authoritative Reading of Scripture
Authoritative Reading of Scripture is simple to understand: I am not meant to understand the Bible on my own, therefore I must rely on an authority figure to interpret for me. Catholicism uses the Pope while Eastern Orthodox trust the gathering of Church Fathers, and today we even have a new form of this cropping up in Universities where professors have become the authority. The problem with this, of course, is that you are simply trusting another's personal preferences instead of seeking out truth yourself. What makes these men authorities? Within Catholicism (and to a lesser extent Orthodoxy) this sets up a circular argument where the Pope is authoritative because it says so in Scripture, which he is only qualified to interpret (thus being the only one capable of telling you what the Bible says!). Not a great way to promote honesty in study.
- Allegorical Reading of Scripture
This method is one that was used by most teachers in the Middle Ages, but has become increasingly popular within Evangelical circles. We read the Bible, and allegorize the details so that we can find the "inner truth" of a passage. David v Goliath not sounding too relevant? What is the giant in your life? Jesus calms a storm...what are the storms in your life that Jesus seeks to calm? The problem with this should be obvious--it belittles the historical actions of Scripture in favor of deeper truth. Does biblical truth exist outside of the actual events that revealed it? Is truth purely an idea, or is it founded in actual events and actions?
- Historical-Reconstructive Reading of Scripture
This is a very scholarly method, and it is used by a great majority of the scholars today. The goal, they believe, is to get behind the text to the actual events. Mark was writing to a community of people, what was that community like? Why does he weave the stories he does into the gospel he creates? What makes his community different than that of Matthew or Luke? Did Paul recreate Christian theology or was he a product of that theology? These questions, while good to an extent, miss the point for any person of faith. I have a lot more opinions on this, but would recommend that you read The Gospels For All Christians if you are interested in my stance by someone smarter than myself.
- Pure Historical Reading of Scripture
This reading is another version of the above theory, but with a different focus. Can we get to the history of Jesus (or Moses, David, etc) by reading the text. Can we understand who they were by using historical research outside of Scripture to help us interpret Scripture. The problem with this is that it believes that history is the goal. Understanding who people were is the ultimate hope of the text, not having a life-changing knowledge of God and His works.
None of these methods do justice to the Bible. Tomorrow I will share the principles which, when combined, give us a great chance to read the Bible accurately and transformationally.
What reading style to you use? What principles guide your reading of the Bible?