The Toxic Use of the Bible and Its Antidote

by Winn Griffin on October 24, 2015

Original Post from Facebook with Comments

 
nullRecently I saw an article where a large Bible publisher who has published a Bible without chapter and verses in order to expedite non-fragmented reading was setting aside the resource area which develops material to help fragmented readers learn to read more wholistically. A demonstration in my mind of how the publishing industry has a bottom line and is more interested in developing genre study Bibles like men’s, women’s, prayer, kids, life recovery, and the list goes on, which have less resistance in the marketplace, but also produces less help of understanding the whole story of God as presented in the sacred text.
In Tom Wright’s book Paul and His Recent Interpreters, he suggests the following:

As soon as we think about it, we know we should do our best, in reading any texts from other contexts, to avoid two dangers: anachronism, imagining that people in a former time saw the world the way we do, and what Coleridge called “anatopism,” imagining that people in a different place saw things the way we do. Of course, we are at liberty to read the texts how we like —just as, notoriously, the guardians of ancient scrolls and manuscripts have sometimes been known to use them for shoe-leather, or for lighting the fire. But we know instinctively, I think, the difference between use and abuse. History is about what happened, and why it happened. We do not advance that quest by projecting our own personalities, or cultural assumptions, on to material from other times and places (N. T. Wright, Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), 3.

Wright’s perception has been my experience in teaching over the years. The two presuppositions that he shares: that we believe that people who live in a different time and place see things the way we do, is prevalent and even rampant in ChurchWorld. Our modern inclination toward individualism has increased our own belief that “we are at liberty to read the texts how we like.” I ran into this early in my life with my mother, who was predisposed to have a Bible verse to sling at me for almost any infraction that she believed I had committed. Her favorite verse was in 1 Thessalonians in the King James Version (KJV), which reads: “Abstain from all appearances of evil.” She had a list of things a mile long that I was to “abstain” from. When later in life I suggested to her that that verse did not mean what she believed it meant but meant something else altogether, she just rolled her eyes and said, “If it was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me!” Really! She said that to me. I smile all these years later and remember the encounter, but seriously she could have been a “poster girl” for quoting verses to prove a point.

So What?

Here are a few ideas for you to consider:

  • Stop quoting verses. Period.
  • When you are tempted to quote a verse, don’t!
  • Stop quoting verses. Period.
  • Next time someone quotes a verse, play nice, but tell them to stop it!
  • Stop quoting verses. Period
  • Question everyone who quotes a verse, with, “do you really think that is what the sacred text is saying?”
  • By the way: Did I say, “Stop quoting verses. Period.”
  • Here’s the antinode: Start Reading Stories!

What might you do in place of quoting verses? Here’s a thought: start thinking about the smaller stories in the Bible. Remember, that they come from a different time and place and, may I add, stories come to us visually different from the presentation given to us in verses.

As an example, this week I had the opportunity to share with a friend two stories that form a single literary unit in the larger story of the Gospel of Mark that can serve as an example. The two stories are marked out by the “finding marks” of 8.22-30 and they read as follows from the NIV:

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

These two stories are mirrors of each other. When we quote a verse from them to make a point that we want to make that substantiates our own belief, we do the story damage. When we separate the two stories from each other, we do damage to both. When we separate them from the full story of what has already been said in Mark’s story of Jesus, we do them damage. Every large story has an arch; this is the place where that arch reaches its highest point in the overall story of Mark. In all the stories that come before these two stories. Mark has shared about who Jesus is by sharing his words and his works. Mark’s artistic design in these two stories demonstrates how a blind man gradually received his physical sight and how the disciples, well at least one of them, had received insight into who Jesus was based on all that had already happened in their walk with Jesus.

Notice the sequence: a blind man asking for his sight. Jesus asking questions and praying (his works) and the blind man gradually gains his sight and then is told to go home and not go into his village. In the second story, Jesus asks questions of his followers. He wants to know what they have heard about him. Their response, “well some say you are like John the Baptist, others say you are Elijah, and still others say you are one of the prophets.” Notice the parallel with “I see people; they look like trees walking around,” from the previous story. It is altogether possible that they may have been in one or more of these camps themselves. Jesus continued his inquiry. “Well, who do you say I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Messiah. The response of Jesus seems shocking, “do not tell anyone what you just proclaimed,” as paralleled in the previous story by “don’t go into the village.”

Why is all this important? Because seeing the structure, you get an opportunity to see how Mark’s story of Jesus provides us insights about our own blindness about Jesus. We are like the blind man gradually coming to see him more clearly. We are like the disciples who lived with what others were saying about Jesus, but could finally with some insight begin to understand the real mission of Jesus.

Doesn’t that sound just like us? We stumble along quoting verses to make our points while missing the bigger picture that is provided with the slower reading of the stories. Stumbling along trying to make sense of life’s ills and mishaps, i.e., the verses in our own lives, and missing the larger story we are living in. Stumbling along from one problem to another and looking for answers in all the wrong places while the beginning answers are right there in our holy writ in the stories of the Creator of the Universe making all things right.

Here’s an intriguing question: What are you going to do about this?

Winn Griffin
Winn Griffin’s participation in the church spans about 60 years, ministering in four different denominations, serving on the staff of three mega churches, and functioning as a pastor in four churches. He has a BA, MA, and two Doctor of Ministry degrees. In addition, he has authored two books and eight eBooks. Winn writes extensively on ChurchWorld.org to help diagnose systemic problems so that ChurchWorld leaders and congregants may become more aware and realign their churches to its only mission: to be the agent of the kingdom of God for the sake of others. He is married to Donna Faith and they have two adult children and live in Washington State. » Read Winn's Full Bio

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