Fortune Cookie Faith (Jan. 21, 2013)

…Opening To…

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means. (George Bernard Shaw)

…Listening In…

God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17; context)

…Filling Up…

Last week, we discussed a few things you may not have known about the Bible. Continuing in our Biblical theme, this week we are going to discuss five things not to do when you read the Bible. The practices we are going to talk about lead to (a) poor interpretations of the Bible, (b) ungracious and uncharitable opinions of other people, and (c) misunderstandings both of the texts of the Bible and misunderstandings among people who read the Bible in different ways.

The first thing not to do when you read the Bible is the act of reading it a single verse at a time. As I mentioned last week, the verse numbers were added less than five hundred years ago. They artificially divide texts that were always meant to be read each in its entirety. Bumper stickers, signs at ball games, magnets, and greeting cards that point to or quote a specific verse do a disservice to the rest of the text, from which the verse comes. Take John 3:16 for example. Most folks know what it says: “For God so loved the world…” But do you know John 3:15 or John 3:17? What about the beginning of chapter three, which builds to a climax at 16 and 17 before transitioning into another passage? Reading the rest of the story helps us interpret John 3:16 as a part of a larger dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus. The verse was never meant to be taken by itself.

When we read verses individually, we run into the tendency of stringing together all of our favorite single verses until we have a fortune cookie faith. The Bible was never meant to be tweeted. The books of the Bible were meant to be heard and read, pored over and digested. Single verses out of context might go down easily, but they will never fill you up.

…Praying For…

Dear God, you infuse the Bible with your presence and give me the opportunity to encounter you whenever I read it. Help me to find the patience to read the Bible as it was written. Help me to resist the urge to boil down the Bible into tiny pieces that are easy to recall but tell little of the story. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, trusting that you will grant me the patience to study the Bible slowly and keep my eyes and heart open for your presence in my life.

One thought on “Fortune Cookie Faith (Jan. 21, 2013)

  1. I’m pretty sure you’re referring to what I think is sometimes called “proof texting” … picking a verse that makes the point that matches your opinion and then launching a discourse. I’m into my second year of “reading the bible one verse a day” and I’m finding that a deep experience. I first read Acts that way … I have a study bible with comments and references and such in the margins … digesting as much as I can on verse and what it’s saying, it’s “kernel” and noticing how each verse really feeds into the context and “message” of the passage more than I did when I read a whole passage sort of only looking for the “topic sentence” and not noticing the role the other sentences and phrases play in filling out the message. As I neared the end of Acts I felt sure I was supposed to continue on and read Romans that way. Paul can be at times hard to follow, but one verse at a time makes his complexities more digestible and sometimes keeps the message of a passage in my mind for days.

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