So I realize this post could sound controversial, but I really don’t intend for that to be the case. I just want to state something that I think is obvious, but we often overlook. I include myself in the category that often overlooks this, so I’m not pointing fingers.
Okay, so here’s my main point. “Book, chapter, verse” doesn’t work with the Bible. Or maybe a better way to say it is, that is not how the Bible works. For every verse, there is a story and a context that must be dealt with and understood. In fact, I contend that Scripture is primarily narrative, and is best understood in that light. If we are picking it apart simply for nuggets of wisdom, moral codes, rules for worship, etc., we miss the story being told and our invitation to join.
Still don’t believe me? Try this out, then. I often have people throw out a book, chapter, verse at me and say something like, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that’s it.” Yes, the Bible says it, but in what context, what story? For example, for every “women are to remain silent in the church” I could offer a “sell your possessions and give to the poor”. Now, you might say, “Ryan, you are taking that out of context. Read the whole passage, the whole story.” And I agree! And I say the same for the other text. (As a side note, those who quote that particular text about women remaining silent in the church still allow women to speak in churches on Sundays, just not lead. So technically they are not being as literal with the Bible as they might hope.)
By the way, I am not making a claim about either of the above quoted texts or my interpretation of them, but just stating that it is easy to throw out a book, chapter, and a verse and act like that is the end, but it is really just the beginning to deeper reading, listening, and study.
So here is what I am driving at: the “book, chapter, verse” approach doesn’t work in Scripture, because that is not how Scripture works. It is not a legal code in which we can look up the rule. It is not a dead text. It is living, breathing, and active. It requires to be read, re-read, listened to, understood in its original context and story, and then read again. It requires deep listening.
Or, as I have heard said, let it read us. Let it get inside of us, push us, shape us, and call us deeper into God’s mission in the world. I like the way Eugene Peterson says it.
“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.” – Eat this Book
For further reading on Scripture, of course I recommend N.T. Wright Scripture and the Authority of God. However, that is a heavy read.
If you want something that is really informative and great for everyone, please read this series of blog posts from my friend Mike Cope. I have come back to these over, and over, and over again in my own preaching, teaching, and personal reading of Scripture.