We need not think that hermeneutical despair (‘anything goes’) and hermeneutical arrogance (we have ‘the’ interpretation) are the only alternatives. We can acknowledge that we see and interpret ‘in a glass, darkly’ or ‘in a mirror, dimly’ and that we know ‘only in part’ (1 Cor. 13.12), while ever seeking to understand and interpret better by combining the tools of scholarship with the virtues of humbly listening to the interpretations of others and above all to the Holy Spirit. — Merold Westphal, Whose Interpretation? Whose Community?, Kindle ed’n, 2009, p.18
I became a Christian at the age of fourteen after accidentally going to a Billy Graham rally. (Yes, it was a genuine accident!) I didn’t go to church for some months after that, but eventually I my best friend asked me to his church. I went, and I found that it was a Plymouth Brethren congregation. There are varieties of Brethren church; mine was the most ‘open’ there is. But they are mostly a fundamentalist group. In my time in the Brethren, I gained an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the scriptures, but really I didn’t learn good habits of interpreting scripture.
I was taught that the bible is a book chock-full of propositions and facts to be believed without question. I was taught that the way the Brethren read the bible is the only way to read it.
So there were no contradictions in the bible. The bible taught a literal six-day creation of the world, which occurred only a few thousand years ago. Jesus was coming again by the end of the 1980s. And women were not allowed to speak in church.
Moving out of the Brethren became another conversion. It was just as profound as my first conversion, and taught me not to stand on a supposedly inerrant bible.
It also taught me that we need to ask questions of the scriptures. I’d like to ask one of those questions today of the Gospel Reading. The question is Whose story is the text telling?