It has always bothered me that I was unable to properly contextualize particular passages of the Bible in the face of such vastly divergent commentators as Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong to name but two rather prolific writers exemplary for the opposite ends of the spectrum of biblical interpretation that they stand for. Not to mention young earth creationists of course, the less is said about them in this context the better.

After having read the Bible – or more accurately The MacArthur Study Bible – from cover to cover over the past 18 months, I feel at least somewhat more qualified to comment on the Bible and the passages so very liberally cited in support of positions as far apart as those of Dawkins and Armstrong. But before I begin to present an outlay of my own insights gained and interpretation formed as a result of this journey some words about the journey itself.

Reading the bible was an experience and definitely not for the faint of heart. All in all the Old Testament has about 600,000 words while the New Testament has roughly 180,000 for a combined 780,000 words. Compare that to the complete 7 volume canon of JKR’s Harry Potter of just under 1,100,000 words. Now add to that the fact that the Bible, while technically shorter, is written in a style that required active effort to understand, consists of long stretches of ancient genealogy as well as measurements and descriptions of temples and regalia accounted for in minute and excruciating detail and one gets an idea of the effort required to break through the pain barrier at times and making it through every single page from beginning to the end.

But why read the bible from cover to cover to begin with? Why not just the ‘good’ parts or the ‘bad’ parts? When I mentioned to a Harvard educated professor of the anthropology of religion at the University of Melbourne that I was reading the Old Testament, she made it very clear that she did not see the value in such an endeavor. I however wanted to read the whole Bible. With my particular interpretative approach those passages that I would consider the most interesting to me, may just have been buried in the obscurity of one of the lesser quoted sections of the Bible. Missing those sections is something I simply could not risk.

Further to that, I now know for a fact that Dawkins’ interpretation of the Bible is rubbish at best and utterly schizophrenic at worst. Not to mention the gems of 1 Timothy 5:23 and surely many would have loved to cite Matthew 15:1-10 growing up once a while. On a serious note however the Bible makes no two ways about subordinating women to men and condemns homosexuality as a sin on various occasions. The broader contexts these two examples, and not to mention the treatment of sinners more generally, is embedded in however are so vastly different from what one would have heard from either the atheists
or the fire and brimstone spewing young earth creationists, that only independent study of the broad biblical context in its entirety could reveal. It is clear to me now that the Bible very much stands and falls as a whole, making the all too frequent citation of individual passages out of context worse than useless.

As a whole and after having just finished reading not only the entire Bible but large stretches of biblical commentary and several books on early Christianity I am confident to say that the Bible is not only the most powerful and accessible expression of love and wisdom I have read to date, but – if properly interpreted – very much more relevant today than I could have ever imagined before reading it.

Over the coming weeks I will work on condensing my thoughts on the nature of God, sin, and salvation in line with my interpretation of the Bible. And while I understand very well that the space of interpretation is essentially infinite, only a small subset of interpretations are plausible, and only a small subset of the plausible interpretations are life giving, and strictly speaking only a single interpretation is optimally life giving by fostering a mindset that will enable one – in the words of Shakespeare – to “look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not,”

2 comments on “Thus spake life – musings on having finished reading the Bible

  1. polypubs on said:

    ‘strictly speaking only a single interpretation is optimally life giving by fostering a mindset that will enable one – in the words of Shakespeare – to “look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not,”
    So you are saying the best Biblical hermeneutic has the property of univocity, it rejects Dialethia, and furthermore some reason exists such that we can be insured that this interpretation also has the highest inclusive fitness or instrumental value even though we don’t know what the future fitness landscape for ‘life giving mindsets’ will be.
    These are extraordinary claims. It is not obvious that Duns Scotus is better than Aquinas or that Christ’s own Dialethic or ontologically dysphoric interpretations of Scripture- e.g. ‘ye are Gods’ in the context of a duty of parrhesia or speaking plainly- is somehow second rate.
    I’d be interested to see how you defend such claims.

  2. Polypubs, thanks for your comments. I am far from providing a complete argument at this point. ‘Better’ is of course always tied to certain ends. A Schopenhaurian denial of life or a Nietzscheian affirmation of the same. I am of the opinion that – simply put – compassion affirms life while Nietzsche’s ‘egoism’ denies it which of course turns both philosophies on their respective heads. As my best current summary of my thoughts I suggest you read: The Logic of Spiritual Evolution. It is a paper that I received highest distinctions for in the context of my Graduate Diploma in Anthropology and Social Theory at Melbourne Uni – I just mention this to give some indication to you that I am not in fact insane but on to something.

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