When was the last time you read through the Bible? I must confess to having never actually read through the Bible, though I have listened to it through on audiobook, once. (Mind you, the earliest faith communities did not read the Bible, they listened to it read aloud.) With that admission, I am obviously not one of those who believes that reading through the entire Bible, particularly reading through it every year, is one of the higher Christian virtues, though I respect those who, like my parents, do it year after year.
Biblical scholars/enthusiasts can get away with not reading their Bibles, rather conveniently, by talking about the Bible and about how to read the Bible. I agree with Charles Halton, however, who in one of our recent discussions suggested that the scholarship of those who talk about the Bible, particularly how to read the Bible, tends to be less persuasive when they don’t actually read it (and this occurs more often than one might think). One can easily extend this observation to the transformation evident in the lives of those who talk about versus those who actually read the Bible.
In this respect, I appreciated the following observations from L. Gregory Jones who, in his essay “Formed and Transformed by Scripture: Character, Community, and Authority in Biblical Interpretation” in Character and Scripture: Moral Formation, Community, and Biblical Interpretation, writes:
American Christians have increasingly lost a familiarity with ruled patterns for reading the Bible, the kind of familiarity that shapes people’s lives and, at its best, enlivens a scriptural imagination. Indeed, this loss is at least in part a consequence of an increasing preoccupation with questions of biblical method and biblical authority. As Christians in modernity have increasingly argued about the appropriate method or methods for biblical study, as well as the perceived status of Scripture’s authority, we have failed to attend adequately to the task of actually reading the texts themselves. . . . Further, our loss of familiarity with Scripture is also a cause of our preoccupation with biblical method and biblical authority. The less familiar we are with the texts of Scripture in all their diversity and complexity, the easier it is for us to remain at a more generalized level of argument about whether Scripture has authority or not — or, more accurately put, what kind of authority diverse people are willing to ascribe to Scripture. (20)
Jones goes on to point out that this preoccupation is “morally convenient.” He cites a United Methodist Bishop, Kenneth Carder, who pointedly writes: “It is much easier to argue about evolution and creation than it is to live as though this is God’s world. Or, debating whether a ‘great fish’ really swallowed Jonah is far less costly and risky than acknowledging that God loves our enemies as much as God loves us.”
Methods of biblical interpretation are fascinating and, for biblical scholars and serious Bible students, a necessary object of study, but they are not (or should not be) an end unto themselves.