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Should we have the right to read the Bible?

I was deeply challenged by the quote below from Stanley Hauerwas:

Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to all children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eighth-grade commencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own.

North American Christians are trained to believe that they are capable of reading the Bible without spiritual and moral transformation. They read the Bible not as Christians, not as a people set apart, but as democratic citizens who think their “common sense” is sufficient for “understanding” the Scripture. They feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read. Instead they assume that they have all the “religious experience” necessary to know what the Bible is about. As a result the Bible inherently becomes the ideology for a politics quite different from the politics of the Church.

Note, it is not an issue of whether the Bible should be read politically, but an issue of which politics should determine our reading as Christians. All reading is embedded in a politics, and avoiding politics is not something for which we can or should strive.

Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America (via lukexvx)

At first I was shocked when I read this quote - of course it applies as much to South Africa as it does to North America - and, I am passionate about getting people to read the Biblical text!

But, then as I thought about it I began to wonder, what does it mean to allow people to have access to this powerful text when all we do is overpower it with our own ideas, our need to support our ideologies, and our misuse of the text to abuse others. To use the Bible in this way is more harmful than good. It disregards the God who gives us this book of love, wisdom, and challenge.

Perhaps if the Bible were more scarce, if the text was seen to be precious, we would treat it in that way! We would listen to the text, rather than choose its words to express our own thoughts.

I agree with Hauerwas' sentiments, perhaps there are better ways to recapture a respect for the text and reeducate readers of the text?

Reader Comments (5)

Very interesting indeed. I recently saw a list of books that every Christian should read. The Bible wasn't on it, but the <I>Philokalia was. The later is a compilation of texts for the guidance of monks, and in Orthodox theology it is often said that no one, and especially non-monastics, should read the <I>Philokalia without the guidance of a spirtual father (or mother). Perhaps the same applies to the Bible.

December 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Hayes

I am often tempted to think that I am the only one who should be able to interpret the Bible and that it should be done my way. The question would be who has the right to own the ideological interpretation of the Bible?
I think it is best that the community has access to it and Bible scholars share their knowledge freely. Is that very 'modern' of me?
But it is an interesting thought and I am sure that it is one that is occurring to more and more 'educated' people.

December 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Hillebrand

Thanks for the very thoughtful comment Jenny. It caused me to reflect on my unquestioned perspective that there should be a 'correct' interpretation of the Bible (if I believe that there is a 'wrong' way to engage the text it should logically mean that I assume there is a 'correct' way to engage the text).

Your reference to placing our interpretation in community is a wise one indeed!

Thanks once again! I hope you're well.

Blessings from New York.


December 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterDr Dion Forster

Wow! That is remarkable Steve!

Today I had some meetings at the very impressive American Bible society - such wonderful people. Of course their primary aim is to get the text into people's hands. I think they are doing the right thing.

After reading Jenny's comment I thought a lot about where the 'management' elect lies - it is not with the text, rather it should be with the Church. I fear that the contemporary Church does very little in the way of Christian Education. We do quite a lot of faith formation and discipleship, but fairly little on Christian education (such as what the Bible is, how we engage the text, how that engagement shapes our spirituality, mission, and values).



December 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterDr Dion Forster


An analogy I sometimes use is of a guy who comes across a lot of documents, and among them is the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the First National Bank. He reading it and treats what he reads as instuctions to follow. So he sets up business and starts taking deposits and operating like the bank whose constitution he has found. But he goes strictly by the book, and, knowing nothing of banking practice, only does what the bank constitution says. And the things that it does not mention, but that people who have done business with a bank might regard as normal banking practice, are absent.

That is what can happen if you put the text, and the text alone, in the hands of people, and if you say that the text can exist independently of the community that created the text.

December 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Hayes

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