Reflections on the discussion: Reading the Bible

Our discussion began with a short story from the previous Sunday morning.   

A visitor dropped by St. Benedict’s and came into the Bible study meeting between the services.  She looked around the room and noted that the St. Ben’s women all had short hair, and asked, “Why do all you have short hair when St. Paul said that long hair is a woman’s crowning glory?”

To see where the visitor was coming  from, go to 1 Corinthians 11:11-16.
Do you agree with her interpretation of the passage?

The members of the group tried to explain how they looked for the deeper meaning of Scripture, not just the literal meaning.  They talks about interpreting Scripture the Anglican way: through tradition, reason and experience.

The visitor was apparently not happy with the group’s approach to Scripture, and abruptly left.

Some people read the Bible literally, using it as the instruction manual for their lives.  They believe what the Bible says is exactly what it means.

Other people read the Bible looking for its deeper – not literal – meaning.

In Sunday’s Bible study, people with two different approaches to Scripture clashed. One woman looked for the literal meaning of a text (if somewhat confused about the literal point); the others were looking for the Scripture’s deeper meaning (why does St. Paul say women should cover their hair?).

For an example that covers a deeper issue than women’s hair, look at the question of divorce.  Jesus is recorded as saying (Matthew 19:3-12 and Mark 10:2-12) that divorce is wrong.  But by the end of the 20th century most  Christians – and most churches – no longer believed that divorce is wrong in all cases.  Did the Bible change?  Did Jesus’ teaching change?  Did our understanding of Jesus’ teaching change?

How do people interpret the Bible?


turn to external authority (outside self)                       turn to internalized authority (within self)

believe ‘the Bible tells me how to live’                        believe the Bible tells us ‘why’ but not ‘how’

look for literal meaning of Bible passages                  look for deeper meaning of Bible passages

see the Bible as inerrant, a-historical                        search for context and historical understanding

Bible says everything we need to know about life       moral conscience, reason, science etc. also teach us about life

How do you decide which bits of Scripture to follow?

       Members of the group volunteered:

  • Revelation is ongoing – we have a living relationship with Scripture, and with our own life experience.
  • When reading a passage, we look for historical context to understand how to read it today.
  • We look not to Scripture alone, but to tradition, reason, and human experience.
  • Jesus  is always our window to reality, the measuring rod by which other Bible verses are judged.
  • We remember that the Bible has many important themes, and these themes need to be balanced against one another.

        On-line:  what would you add to this list?


But what about doctrinal purity (or ‘correct belief’)?

Historically, cohesive groups developed laws to enforce rules for belief and behavior.

For many Christians today, same-sex relationships are symbols of ‘secular humanism’; if other Christians accept and welcome gays, they are moving away from Biblical principles, turning their backs on God.

But what if we experience gay people as faithful Christians – loving Christ, serving others?  Are these people ‘turning their backs on God’?  Are we ‘turning our backs on God’ if we welcome them?

Are there any moral absolutes today?

Moral guidelines protect a group (and individuals’) safety.  Moral guidelines tell us what (and who) is  not appropriate for our group? (For many Christian groups today, gays are not appropriate members.  For even more church groups, people who don’t agree with our views are not appropriate members.)

But how do we do you deal with members of a group who (for instance) steal, or are violent?

How does a group protect itself?  Excommunicate them?  Let them stay in the group and do what they want?

Can groups be loving, but also insist that all members live in love?  Can living in love be the ultimate guiding rule?

What are the things so important to us that we would fight for them in our church?

       Members of the group volunteered: 

  • open-minded conversations within a congregation
  • Eucharist and liturgy
  • women clergy, gay clergy
  • openness to the Holy Spirit in the congregation
  • the importance of living out the ethical demands of the Gospel (but faith is far more than an ethical code)

       On-line: what would you add?



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