I was having a fascinating conversation with a friend recently, and we started talking about chemical weapons and Syria and how the world reacts.
At one point in the conversation, I said to him, “I just can’t get around the fact that we are supposed to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us and bless those who curse us and that those of us who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
“Did Jesus ACTUALLY say those things?”
“Yeah. These ones I’m sure he did.”
“So why do you take some parts literally and not others? Why Matthew and not Leviticus?”
We all pick and choose our favourite texts, and ignore the ones we don’t like. (Note: If anybody tells you that they don’t pick and choose, or that it’s pretty straight forward, tell them to pucker up and give you a holy kiss, just like the Bible instructs them to).
So how do we pick and choose? Why some verses and not others? How do we read our Bibles?
People write entire books about this and devote entire university courses to this. So naturally, I’m going to do incredible injustice to all those professors and theologians and share a rough understanding of how I read Scripture and let it shape my life.
- My first “lens” is Jesus – My Bible is not flat. Not every verse gets equal weight. Imagine taking a book, opening it up in the middle, and putting it spine side up (so it forms a bit of a pointy, hilly, thing). The spine is the birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. Those are the most important parts. I read everything before the gospels as leading up to Jesus, and everything after the gospels as a result of the gospels. If I truly believe that Jesus is God incarnate sent to the save the world, taking him fairly serious would probably be a pretty good start.
- My second “lens” is to treat Scripture not as a building block, but as an anchor point (think of a boat attached to a dock). I have five anchors in my life.
Our theology, worldviews, ethics, morals and every day decisions starts with Scripture, but gets filtered through reason, tradition, experience and our faith communities. This eliminates much of the need to greet each other with holy kisses, keep slaves, or cut off our right hand if it causes us to sin.
Are these the most perfect, air-tight lenses on how to read Scripture? No. But they provide a pretty solid framework.
Will we still disagree? Yes. But as long as Jesus is the centre, I think we’re on the right track.