Reading It Right

I read the Bible often

I try to read it right

As far as I can understand

It’s nothing but a burning light

[Blind Willie Johnson, Soul of a Man from Bruce Cockburn’s Nothing But A Burning Light, Golden Mountain Music Corp., Sony Music, Inc/Columbia Records, 1991]

A lot of time and effort is spent by seminary professors trying to teach their students how to read the Bible right. Historical/Critical, Literary, and Socio-Political are just a few ways to interpret scripture. Generations of students compare different versions, studying texts in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. But how do they read it right?

I’ve heard excellent, intriguing lectures that explain many things about complex texts. I’ve listened to blatantly biased interpretations used to justify opinions and situations that the Biblical writers never encountered, much less wrote about. I’ve heard Sunday sermons do the same.

Just like the lyrics say, I read the Bible and do my best to read it right. If I’m reading chapter and verse to justify myself or judge another, I’m treating sacred words like the family silver service – sorting it, shining it, and stuffing it in a drawer to be used at my convenience and need. I don’t think it was ever meant to be read likethat.

Blind Willie had it right: if I’m reading it right, it’s nothing but the burning light that reveals me, angels and neighbors, and the sacred path we walk together upon God’s green earth.

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Johnna

I am a Christian educator and writer.I have worked in churches, denominational offices, and seminaries. I have a PhD in Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, with a focus on Practical Theology and educating in faith. In 2010, my book, "How the Other Half Lives: the challenges facing clergy spouses and partners," was published by Pilgrim Press. I believe that words can build doorways that lead to encounters with God through the Spirit.

2 thoughts on “Reading It Right”

  1. With literally 100’s of translations in English, the Bible is more than ever open to interpretation and certainly misinterpretation, and, it seems, we still want to use it for our purposes.–to support our biases,etc. no matter how may translations are out there. I sometimes want to pick and choose, maybe even cut and paste like Jefferson or Tolstoy, and create my own version that doesn’t have some of those “hard sayings” of Jesus or some of the awful violence in the Torah or evil wishes against my enemy as in many Psalms; however, I thoroughly dislike the practice of putting versus in parentheses making them optional in the Daily Office/Lectionary–how dare they?! When I was a lad we were taught never to read the Bible without the guidance of the Holy Spirit–and does THAT open one up for interpretation!! So bring on Blind Willie Johnson and the burning light he cannot see–only “get”–amen!

    1. Thanks, Bill! Reading sacred scripture is a lifelong adventure: I’m sure I’ve strayed down the wrong paths, but have faith that someone will bring me home…peace, Johnna

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