I come at the study of the Bible with the understanding that it is here, that God is here, and in us, to build us up.
The Bible, by its very nature, by its design, invites a variety of interpretations. We see the variety evidenced in how people have used and understood it in the past, and how people use and understand it today. It has meant widely different things to its readers at different times in history; it means different things to different people today. Biblical scholars and non-scholarly readers alike, people of good faith who earnestly want to hear what God is saying through its words, all draw varied beliefs even while looking at the same exact text.
Our understanding of its meaning is evolving. It has to. It has to as we discover more about the past, and, more importantly, live more in the present.
That's how God/ Source/ the Universe planned it. The Bible itself endorses our having different perspectives. Why else would it provide us varying versions of some of the same events?*
I personally don't think the choices of the stories told, the structure of the histories, lists of laws, lists of names, psalms, proverbs, or anything else in the books of the Bible are accidental or insignificant. But that's me. What about you?
After all, what the Bible means, what the stories, ideas, concepts, and situations it presents mean to you, dear reader, is up to you.
Really, it is.
The meanings you take from the Bible are up to you even if you fully subscribe to a particular religious tradition. Even if you follow a specific teacher's leading and view of what the Bible means. In either unwavering adherence to a religious tradition or the complete following of someone else's view in every instance and every verse (as if either unwavering adherence or complete following were possible), you would, in trying to look solely outside of yourself for the meaning of the Bible, still be deciding the meaning of the Bible for yourself. You would simply be deciding by default.
To use an older phrase, applicable here, "There are no second-generation believers."
To employ a new one, "You cannot outsource your faith."
In other words, you can't push off what the Bible means to you by claiming that you're only following a long-standing tradition, or following another person's enlightened lead. That you're only "following orders." You're still the party responsible for you.
If you believe the Bible has things to say to you, it probably does. I suggest you might want to listen.
In the Jesian Chronicles series, I am laying out how I think about the Bible. What I think the passages I've selected from the Bible could mean. What they, in fact, do mean, to me.
Don't let anyone fool you: everyone chooses and talks about the passages that are more important to him. The passages which he believes are the more true, if I can put it that way. Any inconsistencies found in relating the favored passages with passages which seem or may be contradictory are typically handled in one of three ways:
—the problematic passages are explained away by steps of logic (a logic which is usually intricate and often shaky);
—the difficult verses are called mysteries and passed over;
—or the less-liked passages are ignored altogether.
I admit to having done all of the above. I still do. We all do, and have to. The Bible is long and complex, and, at times, contradictory. I've come to peace with varied understandings of the Bible because I believe there is no humanly understood way to have the whole of the Bible all make internal and external rational sense. Not in our finite, individual human minds. Not even in our collective human wisdom. Oh, I know people have tried, and try. Some have tried to boil the Bible down into one coherent, one-interpretation-fits-all-and-should-fit-all system. A number think they've succeeded. I'm not convinced.
I think this paradox is part of the Bible's message. It is leaven worked through the bread. Extraordinary life hidden amidst "ordinary life" (which is also extraordinary, if we would but see it so). It is in our own personal working with what we believe the more important verses and passages to be that we are given the opportunity to learn how to live with the uncertainties of life. To have faith and to grow our faith. To decide what we believe, not only in word but also in practice, in the face of not really knowing how things are going to work out. This moving forward through uncertainty can teach us to trust God/ Source/ Universe at all times. Including when things look (or are, in fact) their most dire.
I am, in the Jesian Chronicles series, presenting what I believe. I am writing what I consider strong, powerful, and reasonable understandings of the texts addressed. You may agree with me. You may agree with me in some parts and not in others. You may be humored by what your consider my naiveté. You may think me well-meaning but hopelessly "lost." You may not agree with me at all. You may consider that I'm off-base, flat-out wrong, and hell is going to be my reward. Or you may consider my perspective in yet some other way. So be it. As each of us does, I answer to God/ Source/ the Universe. The bigger point, bigger than if you agree with me in principle or not at all or in some other way, is that you are developing, seeing, choosing your own perspective.
What I do suggest to all reading these words is that you, you, dear reader, you have the privilege, and responsibility, and opportunity, of deciding what the Bible means to you.
I believe the Bible can reveal life. I also know that it by no means contains or explains anywhere near all of life. I do not think the reading, studying, knowing, or believing in it are not necessary for a good life, knowing God, or being at peace.
If you are unfamiliar with it or its stories, I ask you not to discount it out of hand. Not to shy away from the reading of it because of what you've heard others say about it. If you are curious, investigate. If you are interested in my understanding of what it can be saying, read the Jesian Chronicles.
*The Bible includes different versions of some of the same events. For example, there are two creation stories, two accounts of the lives of Saul, David, Solomon and the kings who followed them, two lists of names of the Jews who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (lists that don't match up). And there are also four, count them, four accounts of Jesus' time on earth. Each tells the story of Jesus from the author's own perspective. There are variations among them including some significant ones that cannot be easily explained away. I believe this clearly indicates we are meant to have, and develop, our own individual perspectives of what the Bible is saying. That, by the Spirit's leading, we do.