How Do We Read the Bible
One Woman's Quest for Biblical Truth
by Maureen Harmon | design by Lure Design, Inc.
I’ve always wanted to read the Bible.
To sit down and really read it. But it’s tough to pinpoint why. Does it stem from a sincere effort to understand the Catholic faith, in which I was raised? A wish to find some sort of spiritual peace? A way to convince myself that heaven is real when many are proclaiming that 20 little kids from Connecticut are there now, playing happily? Or is it the fact that I’m a sucker for a good story? And let’s face it, the prophets tell a hell of a story.
It’s got to be a good book in order to keep more than 2 billion Christians engaged. While Christians rely on the Bible, they interpret it in multiple ways, as do the more than 13 million Jews worldwide who rely on the Torah (the Old Testament) for their faith.
There are the biblical literalists—those who believe that Mary was a virgin, that water can be turned to wine, and that high on a hill God handed Moses the Ten Commandments. Or as Patrick Powers, dean of the Chapel, says “Who believe that what you see is what you get. And what you get is God’s inerrant word.”
There are the mystical and metaphorical and allegorical readers—those who look for the “point behind the point, the truth behind the words,” Powers says, and work hard to figure out what God is trying to reveal to us.
There are historical readers, who read the Bible as a cultural document. “Historical readers believe that in order to understand the words of scripture,” says Powers, “you have to understand when it was written, to whom it was written, and the cultural/historical world it was written in.”
And then there are those who blend one or two kinds of interpretations, such as the historical-metaphorical readers.
This much is true: Reading the Bible is an experience that largely depends on the person reading the text. “We’re not just looking at some tabula rasa, a person who can be impressed,” Powers says. “Readers have already received impressions, behaviors, role modeling.”
A reader might be a prisoner serving a life term. A single mother of four. A rape victim. A family man. A third-grader. A Muslim. A Christian. A Jew.
Here’s what this reader looks like: I’m the wife of a proclaimed atheist (who’s really an agnostic when times get tough); a feminist who finds comfort in the traditional; an organized, list-making couponer, who would desperately like to play the guitar and learn to sleep in without guilt; a child of divorce whose dad was in the seminary and whose mother taught at a Catholic school for 26 years; a sister to three brothers and two half-sisters; and a mother of two boys.