Martin Luther, Wycliffe, Cranmer and other church reformers of the fifteenth and the sixteenth century were some of the first to suggest that the Bible should be available in the languages of the people – English for the English, German for the Germans etc. Previous to that, people generally didn’t own their own Bibles, the church would own one in Latin which the priest would read and interpret for them.
Everyone having access to the Bible was a wonderful thing. But it didn’t half cause problems. Almost as soon as the reformation caused a split in the church between Protestants and Catholics, the church split again into smaller denominations – lutherans, calvinists, anglicans, anabaptists, puritans and so on. They all read the same Bible, but came to different conclusions on what certain parts of it mean (not, I might add, on anything fundamental like the deity of Jesus, the Cross etc, but mostly on issues of practice.)
It is fantastic that now everyone can read the Bible for themselves. But doesn’t that lead to the possibility of everyone understanding it differently?
I am a Bible-believing Christian, but what does that mean?
It means I take the Bible seriously and I work to understand it and apply it to my life. I consider it inspired by God. There are no parts of the Bible that I can simply ignore, but I work to understand what it meant when it was written and what it might mean for us now. I don’t pretend to understand it all.
Having said that, there are many other people who also ‘believe the Bible’ who come to different conclusions from certain passages than I do. Rob Bell, in his book, Velvet Elvis, mentions a lady he met who said something like this “I just believe the Bible”. But at the same time, she describes her faith as ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’. The phrase ‘personal relationship’ is not found anywhere in the Bible. It’s not a bad phrase, it can describe what being a Christian is like so long as you define what it means, but the point was that someone had interpreted what it means to know got and summed it up in the phrase ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ So, Rob points out, that she obviously believes a lot more that just what is found in the Bible – she believes in the interpretation of the person who told her that phrase too. So, everything is interpreted.
Rob bell says:
“The idea that everybody else approaches the Bible with baggage and agendas and lenses and I don’t is the ultimate in arrogance. To think that I can just read the Bible without reading any of my own culture or background or issues into is and come out with a ‘pure’ or ‘exact’ meaning is not only untrue, bit it leads to a very destructive reading of the Bible that robs it of its life and energy”
How can we be sure we have the right interpretation?
This is his point. The Bible is inspired, and it’s words are ‘living and active’ because they came from a God who is ‘living and active’. This is why we shouldn’t just read the Bible alone, we should read it in the context of prayer, and of a community who prays, thinks, and supports each other. Point of the Bible is to point us to God, and the joy of reading the Bible comes from a desire to seek God and wrestle with the texts as we apply them.
Rob Bell again:
“The writers of the Bible are communicating in language their world will understand. They are using the symbols and pictures and images of the culture they are speaking to That’s why the Bible has authority – God has authority and is present in real space and time. The Bible is a collection of stories that teach us about what it looks like when God is at work through actual people. The Bible has the authority it does only because it contains stories about people interacting with the God who has all authority”
It has authority because God has authority, not because it fell from the sky as a holy book.