When I was thinking further about methodology and this blog (many thoughts of which have not (yet) made it to this blog), I realized that one area in which I had something to contribute was in relation to the confrontation (and ongoing reconciliation) of my conservative North American Christian upbringing and its understanding of the Bible with the European academic world and assumptions about the Bible. I’m still learning how best to hold on to my belief that the Bible is God’s Word and has a claim on our lives today while also seeing it as a text with a long history, whose creation, design, and reception are complicated. A lot of assumptions are made regarding the Bible and its study – and I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years wondering about these, especially the ones I have made and what ones assume I make and what ones I’m allowed to make. Hopefully I will talk more about all this in the future, but for now I will simply share an anecdote.
I recently substitute taught a Hebrew reading class that is primarily for Bible translators. They were good students and eager to learn, and I enjoyed getting to share my knowledge of Hebrew with them. One comment from a student really struck me, though. [To provide some context, he was an African student who had asked me if I was a Christian after my introducing myself and saying that I wanted to help people read the Bible better. This seems to indicate to me that he comes from a fairly evangelical sort of background.] This student said that he really appreciated how I talked about the Bible. And I think I looked a bit puzzled when he said that because I hadn’t really said anything profound; I had just been talking about how certain aspects of grammar weren’t all that cut-and-dry (this is the only sane claim one can make after spending a month trying to analyze the grammar of the last eight chapters of Ezekiel), and I had mentioned how this might have something to do with how the Hebrew of the Bible encompasses at the least several hundreds of years. But to him, I had done something unusual in my acknowledging the ambiguities of certain things in Hebrew grammar and mentioning that trying to put together a grammar based on 500 years worth of English would produce a lot of inconsistencies. He related that he’d experienced exegesis where people made claims based on the obviousness of a certain grammatical element – and I could see that the student was frustrated by these claims, recognizing that something wasn’t quite right. And I was thankful that my ramblings about grammar and the Bible in terms of a receptive text could be helpful to him, especially since to some people this uncertainty in the Bible and this inconsistency might shake their notions of what God’s Word is and ought to be.
As for myself, I do believe that it is God’s Word – I’m just disappointed that we often try to shape the God of that Word to be rather uncomplicated and lacking in mystery (and we can’t quite see the beauty in His Word being full of puzzles and layers and wonder).