58: What I Get From the Bible is What it Means

In this episode John and Gregg discuss two questions.  First, a podcast John has been listening to raised the issue of how much study and learning one needs in order to know God? Second, John questions whether memorizing scripture holds the potential problem that one may not have the right interpretation of those verses (and so risks misapplying them)? The jumping off place for this second question was Episode #54 about Biblical Illiteracy.

Gregg responds that memorizing is not necessarily understanding (or applying) correctly.  Further, the smaller the section memorized, the greater the chance of misapplying it (because understanding comes, in part, through context) and missing better understandings of a given text.

John is struck by the very notion of the “best understanding” of a biblical passage, which seems rare in churches, instead of aiming for the right understanding.  Also, while Gregg cautions against “going it alone,” for John this idea seems to count against the notion that Christians are supposed to meditate on Scripture so that the Holy Spirit can inform them about its meaning.

Gregg comments that this may amount to an “ultra-subjective” approach, and he would instead seek a sense of cohesion with how others, especially those with expertise, are reading and understanding the Bible.  So in terms of the study or skill set needed to read the Bible well, Gregg argues that no one ever “goes it alone” when it comes to understanding the Bible.  And while the average Christian may not know which biblical scholars are writing commentaries at the highest level, they should expect their minister or pastor to have enough expertise with biblical studies to be generally familiar with a number of reliable, learned sources on a given biblical book.

For Gregg this amounts to the notion of understanding the Bible “in and through” one’s community: finding those within one’s spheres of interaction who have skills and expertise (such as those with exegetical skills giving us a list of better commentaries).

Also, concerning memorization, Christians need to beware of equating familiarity with understanding.  So being familiar with a text through memorization is not necessarily understanding it correctly but perhaps prompt us to question the text further.  This in turn may help us to engage our imaginations, and curiosity and imagination may together lead us to seek better resources on this text!

Imagination, then, actually offers cautions that keep us from going too far, by allowing us to experiment with various readings without being forced to engage with one or the other beforehand.  For instance, we use our imagination to come up with other options or possibilities about how various biblical notion inter-relate (such “taking up one’s cross” yet Jesus yoke being “easy” and his burden “light”).

Gregg also questions John’s notion that this all seems very “hard”: what expectations does John have about understanding the Bible and where do these expectations come from?   John replies that, from his church background, it should be easy.  Further, from John’s background Christianity makes people’s lives happier or more joyful.  In both cases, Gregg is not convinced.

John and Gregg end by discussing whether the relational aspect of Christianity is prayer and Bible reading (and likely church attendance).  or whether relating with God may include these things but be constituted by something more?

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