>Sorry for the giant delay in posting these here. I will be moving all of them over this week so that they are synced with the website. http://www.everydaytheology.net
3 things in this one: how NOT to read it, WHAT you are reading, and HOW to read it
You can’t read it like a contract.
– By His stripes we are healed.
– The Lord is my shepherd , I shall not want
– Every knee will bow and every tongue confess
– If you confess your mouth and believe in your heart- you will be saved.
We live just after a time (Modernity) where language was viewed a certain way and texts were treated accordingly. The problem is that the Bible was not written in that same period or mindset so … when we use that Modern approach there can be a bit of a gap between what it originally meant and how we read it.
Let’s look at Psalm 23 and specifically just the first line. The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. Well, the problem is that believers in every place in all times have been in want. Does that mean that God is not holding up his end of the deal? Is God breaking the contract? No. You can’t read the Bible that way. God is not actually a shepherd and you will not actually never be in want. You can’t read it like a contract.
A lot of people though – have been taught to read it like a contract. We use this Modern sense of language and say that each word and each phrase is an exact representation of it’s greater reality. That it exactly represents what it is talking about.
But this leads to some pretty complicated situations. Like when Paul says ‘God exalted his name – so that at his name every knee with will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.’ I am not sure that Paul was saying that at some point in history or after human history that every knee will bow. I am not sure that is the point of his writing that. But when we read it like a contract, we say “It says EVERY… in plain black and white – EVERY”. So then we develop elaborate constructs and scenarios where by God can uphold his end of the bargain and live up to his end of the deal. But I am not sure that it works like that.
People do this with Old Testament prophecies and say “It says that by his stripes we ARE healed – not ‘will be’ or ‘might be’ – we ARE.” As if this in an exact 1:1 equation. “God said, I believe it, that settles it”. But I am not sure that it was meant to work like that. And when it doesn’t…. well then we say ‘Maybe it’s you! Maybe you don’t have enough faith or maybe you have unconfessed sin or maybe your just not one of the elect who is meant to get it.’ You can not read the Bible like a constitution.
Like when Paul says ‘if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart you will be saved’. But then there are all these other expectations and other times he says ‘if you hold fast to the faith’ as if it were conditional. A lot of time and energy has been spent to try an explain the formula for salvation. The requirements to fulfill the contract. But I am trying to say that you can’t read the letters of Paul like a contract – dissecting each phrase, parsing each clause of the contract.
Just like we have to be careful with Enlightenment individualism and consumer spirituality , we have careful of this view of language and texts. They need to be interpreted through the lens that they were written in.
What is Hermeneutics ?
The definition is simply the study of different ways that texts are interpreted. It looks at the relationship between the author , the text and the reader. Many christian that I have met and talked to have never heard of this word. That really piqued my interest so I looked into it. It turns out that many Christians do not know that there are different ways of looking at a text. Many believers do not know that they are interpreting. I have been told over and over again “I just read the Bible literally”
I said before [link] that no one reads the Bible literally. Even if they say they do, a simple couple of questions and that gets exposed.
All texts need to be interpreted. Some as Poetry, some as history, some as parable, some as prophecy , some as Apocalypse, etc.
So this is why I wanted to bring it up. If we are all interpreting but we don’t acknowledge that we are interpreting… then it is either happening sub-consciously or we are so comfortable with our interpretive devices that it is happening by default or we are deceiving ourselves insisting that nothing is going on but a plain reading of the text.
You have to factor in TheoPoetics
Sometimes we just need to factor in that there are ways we talk about God. This is just a natural implication of using language to do something as amazing and vast at trying to describe transcendent reality and mystical experience.
It could be something as simple as when a child says ‘Jesus lives in my heart’. That is theopoetics. It’s simply the way we talk about God. It doesn’t need to be critiqued and measured in a exacting way. We know that the resurrected Christ didn’t shrink down and multiply himself then move into each person’s cardiac valve. It is a way of talking about God. It’s how we use language.
When Jesus says ‘on this rock I will build my church’ he was not speaking about a piece of granite nor of building a church building. It is a way of talking. The thing is – and this is important – I am not being dismissive by saying this as if the use of poetics means that things don’t carry weight or that they ultimately don’t mean anything.
Jesus was saying that there is something that is foundational and that he is responsible for the activity and entity that is called the church.
When the child says “Jesus lives in my heart” , just because it doesn’t mean that the actual Jesus doesn’t live in her actual heart, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t mean anything. She is talking about the Spirit of Christ indwelling that central place of passion and purpose. That means something! It’s just that the language in inexact. But this is the nature of language.
Actually – this is not a problem at all. If we give each other space and grace and acknowledge that hermeneutics and theopoetics play a role in our religious life and use of the Bible. The problem comes when we think and demand that language work a different way. When we insist that language be exacting and mathematical (this word = this exact definition) we get frustrated like the Pharisees did with Jesus as they demanded specifics and he told them stories!
“Who is my neighbor – the guy two doors down or three doors down?” he was asked. That reminds me of a story about a Samaritan… “When exactly do you rise up and restore Israel as a King?” he was asked. The Farmer sows seed…
Even when Jesus did use numbers he used them with a certain amount of absurdum or hyperbole. “How may times should I forgive my brother – 3 or 4? I mean I can’t just let him walk all over me and do the same thing over and over.” Jesus could have done the clever Rabbinic thing and added the two together and said 7. And that would have been unimaginable and challenging for them! That would have been surprising and prodigal (extravagant). But he does something incredible – he doesn’t just go up incrementally with addition – he goes exponential with multiplication! 70 times 7 !
This understanding of theopoetics is helpful to me. So that when Jesus says ‘if a part of your body causes you to stumble, cut it off.’ Just because he doesn’t mean ‘CUT IT OFF’ doesn’t mean that he doesn’t mean anything.
Just because a beast with 10 heads does not rise up out of the sea literally – doesn’t mean that the passage doesn’t mean anything!
Just because God isn’t actually a shepherd – doesn’t mean that God isn’t LIKE a shepherd. This is the same for ‘Father’ or ‘Rock’ or that ‘he hinds me under his wings’. These are Theopetics. They are the way that we talk about God. It is not exacting language, it is not mathematical or representative. It is expressive. It is expressing something deeper.
That is why I don’t get to hung up on Jesus saying ‘this is my body and this is my blood’. Like if I hold up a picture and say that ‘this is my wife’. It is not actually my wife. It is not representative – it is reflective. It reflects her. Now by saying this I am not saying that the ‘Lord’s Supper’ , just because the bread is not actually his flesh and the cup does not literally contain his blood, that it does not mean anything. It means something. But that something requires interpretation.
Like a child saying ‘Jesus lives in my heart’ – just because it doesn’t mean that literally doesn’t mean that it doesn’t mean anything. It means a lot! It is deep and profound … and that is why we use Theopoetics.