November 19, 2017

Bible Week: Quotes about the Bible – Michael Spencer

Kneading. Photo by Hannah Rosen (alt)

Quotes about the Bible
#4: Michael Spencer

How do I Interpret the Bible?

Ever think of the Bible as….a grocery store? I worked at grocery stores for a long time. People come into the store with their grocery lists, and they know what they are looking for. They need some bananas, ice cream, a case of root beer, a head of lettuce. They run up and down the aisles finding what they want, find everything on the list, check out and go home.

That’s how evangelicals increasingly approach the Bible. They have a list of what they need. Parenting principles. Verses for healing. Advice for marriage. Rules for children. Stories to inspire. Challenges to give. Information on Heaven. Predictions of the future. We run into the “Bible” looking for these things, and when we find them, we leave.

This “grocery store” view of the Bible is built on the idea that the Bible is an inspired “library” of true information. A “magic book” as some have called it, where passages contain unquestionable information and authoritative rules. This approach to the Bible is flattering to the human ability to catalog information, and it is used in many churches to build confidence that the use of scripture puts a person on a foundation of absolute certainty.

In this approach, interpretation is important, and good interpretation is common. But the problem is fundamental. Scripture is not a grocery store. It’s not a place to run in and find principles for parenting or prophecies about the future, even though the conversation contains discussions about these things.

No, the Bible is a cooking show. And if we are going to interpret any part of scripture correctly, we need to get out of the store- the encyclopedia of true things in a magic book- and get to the kitchen.

And, amazingly, here we are! If you look on the counter, you will see all the ingredients for a cake. This cake is really going to be magnificent, and we have all the ingredients to mix together and create this wonderful creation. Eggs. Flour. Salt. Sugar. Butter. Vanilla. And many other bowls of ingredients.

All these ingredients, of course, are the contents of the Bible. The eggs are Genesis 1-3. The flour is Leviticus. The salt is Proverbs. The sugar is Psalms. And so on. These are good ingredients. Crucial ingredients. Now…we need to ask an important question: What are we baking?

The cake the Bible is baking is Jesus Christ, the mediator of our salvation, and the Gospel that comes in him.

There are people who like eggs. There are, I suppose people who like to eat flour. There are other things you can make with these ingredients besides the cake. But if you follow the conversation/recipe, this cake will turn out to be Jesus, the Lamb of God, the bread of Life, the salvation of the world. The cake scripture is baking is Jesus. If you recognize that cake for what it is, and eat it believing, you will be saved.

Using this analogy, we must interpret the Bible backwards. Reading it forward is fine and necessary. Interpreting forward is legal, but far from adequate. We must get to the Gospels. We must get to John 1 and Revelation 4 and 5 and Romans 1:1-4. We must get to Jesus, and then we can read Genesis 1 rightly. We can read it without Jesus, and do a lot of good or make a huge mess. But we will be missing the point of every part of scripture if we don’t interpret with Jesus in mind.

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Photo by Hannah Rosen at Flickr (alt). Creative Commons License

Comments

  1. Still reading it forward.

    However, see your point about how evangelicals interpret the Bible backwards with the whole Jesus thing. Or, maybe they start in the middle, the Gospels and go forward (Epistles) and backwards (OT) from there. It’s in their label – Good News or evangel or Gospels. Then they explain why (OT), and where the Good News brings us – the rest of the NT.

    Reading it forward, I see God the Creator, making a Covenant, giving the Law or Shavuot, sending Prophets to announce Yom Kippur, showing up himself as Messiah our dwelling place or sukkah, exiting then showing up again as the Holy Spirit and Light, and finally the Elect are evident and saved for Eternity.

    Teachers start in different places. Francis Schaeffer always started in Genesis. Different outcomes or perspectives, your point? Perhaps different paths or journeys or quests for a variety of seekers?

    • JY, with all due respect, it’s my opinion that, in some sense, Christians can only read it backwards, because we know the climax and end of the story.

      For example, Jews don’t generally see a “Fall” in the story of Adam and Eve, and “original sin” is foreign to the story as it is written in the context of the Torah and Tanakh alone.

      If it weren’t for common interpretations of Paul, most Christians would not read it that way either.

      • It’s curious – setting up camp, settling in the Gospels, the whole Jesus thing. But then, that was the official invite to the table, grafted on, included in the network, so that becomes the central starting point or the re-start of the faith for all. Regime change. Define or re-define. Control or re-tell the narrative.

        • Oops – “… legacy of Jesus-shaped spirituality.” Noted.

          I probably don’t belong on this blog. God bless you and your work.

  2. Then he took the cake and when he had given thanks he cut it into pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Somehow doesn’t have quite the same ring.

    Jesus looked backward into Scripture all the time and saw himself as Messiah. He looked forward too, seeing the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, the destruction of the Temple, and the spread of his Good News thruout the world. There is a serious snag in looking backward and forward as a Biblical hermeneutic in that this is linear thinking, and linear thinking is incapable of grasping the message as a whole, especially if we consider ourselves as the middle and center of that linear continuum. The only one who gets away with doing this is Jesus himself as Messiah, and I believe it would be more accurate to say that he saw himself as as the center of a circle rather than a line, and if you could take it up another notch, the center of a sphere without borders. If we dared to take Jesus’ prayer seriously that we might become One with him and the Father, we might find that center.

  3. I realize that Michael Spencer wrote this, and agree with it on the surface. However, is it possible to have CM, or another poster flesh this out (no pun intended) a bit more? I’d like to see this in more detail, because this is one reason I left evangelicalism–ithe bible was only a ‘how to’ and ‘answer’ manual/book, and after reading through it the first time, I was so mad. I realized that there was stuff in there no one ever had told me or preached about, and there wasn’t stuff in there that I had been told there was or preached about. Frustrating….hence my long journey out of there.
    Thanks

    • I would start by going up to the search box and searching for two of Michael’s best posts on the Bible — A Conversation in Gods Kitchen, and Magic Books, Grocery Lists and Silent Messiahs.

  4. Christiane says:

    “we must interpret the Bible backwards. Reading it forward is fine and necessary. Interpreting forward is legal, but far from adequate. We must get to the Gospels. We must get to John 1 and Revelation 4 and 5 and Romans 1:1-4. We must get to Jesus, and then we can read Genesis 1 rightly. We can read it without Jesus, and do a lot of good or make a huge mess. But we will be missing the point of every part of scripture if we don’t interpret with Jesus in mind.”

    this works for me

    I have a husband who, when he dies, will be cremated and buried at sea (he was a Navy man and he has that privilege) ……. so I wondered about this for a long time, and then I read this, in the Book of Revelation:

    “And the sea gave up the dead that were in it ” (from Rev. 20:13)

    And I remembered how the sea calmed during the storm at the Word of Our Lord ….. the sea and the wind obeyed Him :
    “The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him!””
    (from the Holy Gospel of St. Matthew 8:27)

    and then it became more clear to me the meaning in Genesis of these words:
    ” ….. and darkness was over the surface of the deep,
    and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” (Gen. 1:2)

    yes, Michael saw it …… the ‘Story”s ending and beginning are strangely the same:
    the Alpha and the Omega are both Christ Himself …… if we remove Him, we are left in the dark