An Old Testament professor told us to open our Bibles.
Any page we wanted. There were about eight of us staring at her with our open Bibles. She instructed us to put an ear to the opened page.
“What do you hear,” she asked.
We all looked at each other in silence. “Nothing,” someone confessed. The professor responded with a bright, “Exactly!”
Her point was that the text does not say anything to us. We read into it.
Now, God uses scripture to speak to us. She wasn’t arguing against that. What she wanted us to acknowledge is that we bring a lot to any reading of the Bible.
Any time you open a passage, you bring what you already believe and know about God and a text. You also bring what you don’t know. There are assumptions we make about the Bible and its stories. And we all have a bias or two that can cloud our reading and understanding.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read the Bible! Of course, we should. We should also be reading it together. That’s one way to acknowledge our God-hearing limitations.
So much of our theological differences stem from not what we read in the Bible, but how we read it. When we finally carve enough time to sit down and read the Bible, or join a Bible study group, we aren’t thinking about how we read it. We’re just finally glad we are reading it. I understand that. It can seem daunting. But if we believe the Bible to be God’s word, we’re going to want to hear from scripture throughout our life. So, start by reading and be ready to grow in your understanding.
Have you ever heard the old saying: God said it. I believe it. That settles it.
That’s the approach to scripture my professor wanted to challenge. Are there straight-to-the-point passages that need little thought to make sense of or understand? Yes, but not nearly as many that need further reflection and a willingness to stretch our first and second impressions.
Let’s use today’s reading as an example. It is widely believed that Mark 16:9-18 is a passage later writers added to Mark’s gospel telling. The belief is so ingrained in academia that some Bible translations don’t even include that passage. The ones that do usually have a note about the last verses, they change the font of the text or leave it in a bracket to signify its separation.
I’m glad we do that because it highlights one of the Bible study ideas we need to be comfortable with. Are we to believe Mark 16:9-18 is the only later addition of a biblical text? Most people who study scripture do not believe that. And there’s always a debate about which parts might be later additions. We aren’t always sure where an original text ends and a later idea is added. The idea finds more headroom in the Old Testament. And we still take it all to be God’s holy word.
My point is those kinds of conversations are a part of how we view the Bible and how we read it. Why would someone add an entire passage to a story about Jesus? It could be they didn’t like what they read or how the story ended. How they read the story dictated what they did with it. I’m not asking you to write new passages of the Bible. Just understand how easy it is to read into the text.
None of that takes away from God’s ability or desire to speak to us through scripture. This doesn’t compromise the truth of the Bible. I’m convinced opening our minds to accept those kinds of understandings allows us to dive deeper into the meaning of the Bible and how God uses scripture to lead us.