Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Principles for Reading the Bible

The Bible is a Sacred book. In it Christians and Jews find words from God. But finding such a word requires a certain amount of work. The Protestant Principle has declared that Scripture has sufficient clarity that we as human beings can sit down, read it, and understand it. We don't necessarily need inspired interpreters, because it is clear enough. But to say that doesn't mean that it's an easy task. For some Scripture is a "sacred text" that must be approached differently from any other text. But, is that an appropriate principle?

Alexander Campbell, a founder of the movement I'm a member of, wrote nearly more than 150 years ago these words:

God has spoken by men, to men, for men. The language of the Bible is, then human language. It is, therefore, to be examined by the same rules which are applicable to the language of any other book, and to be understood according to the true and proper meaning of the words, in their current acceptation, at the times and in the places in which they were written and translated. (Millennial Harbinger, 1846, quoted in Royal Humbert, Compend of Alexander Campell's Theology, St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1961, p. 42).

Campbell wasn't a radical biblical critic, but he did understand the need to read Scripture as one would ready a non-sacred text. You read it in context, seeking to understand the historical and cultural context. In light of that information one may make an informed decision as to what it means. Campbell and those who would join his movement have long believed that we as the people of God have the right and responsibility to read this text, hoping to hear the Word of God. But in doing so, we're called to read it in an informed way.

1 comment:

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Bob, I wonder if Campbell counts as a neglected theologian--even by Disciples and other Cambellites. I'm doing a series of guest posts on my blog on "Recovering Neglected Theologians" and would invite you to participate--with Campbell or someone else. See
http://levellers.wordpress.com/2008/08/01/invitation-to-guest-series-recovering-neglected-theologians/

The first entry (on the Venerable Bede) has been posted.