Read this great article last week by Morgan Guyton on why English majors make lousy fundamentalists.
Growing up I know we were encouraged to take everything we read in the Scriptures at face value. But it’s been fascinating, as I’ve gotten older, to look at the Bible from a more literary perspective.
You think of a book like The Great Gatsby, and part of what makes it great is the subtle differences between what the *narrator* wants us to see and what the *author* is trying to show us. Sometimes the narrator isn’t always reliable. It’s ambiguous, complex, multi-faceted.
But that’s what makes it a great story.
And if we read any other text the way we sometimes read the Bible, we would be treating it disrespectfully.
So I want to use the skills I acquired as an English major to really challenge a straightforward, surface reading of the text.
Look at the prophet Samuel, for instance. One reading of the story sees him as a PROPHET, a great man of God whose actions aren’t up for debate.
And another reading says, he’s a good man, but he’s not perfect. He’s defensive, temperamental, frequently angry.
When he chooses Saul to be king of Israel, is it really God’s decision, or his? Later in the story he almost anoints David’s older brother to be king just because he’s good-looking – is it possible he made the same mistake with Saul, the tallest man in Israel?
When God ordered Saul to slaughter every man, woman, and child in Amalek – whose command was that?
Is it possible that Samuel sometimes confused his own will with the will of the Lord?
And if you read it in that way, might the whole book of Samuel be a case study in how the gift of prophecy can lead to spiritual abuse?
Is it possible God *wants* us to ask these questions when we read the text? What if he wants us to protest the injustices that some of these characters committed, and we’re dishonoring him even more when we blindly accept everything as written than we do when we engage the text with a critical mind and compassionate heart?
2 thoughts on “I Read the Bible as an English Major (and That’s Okay)”
Yeah I do like this reading of Samuel. He turned into a real curmudgeon in his old age.
Yes, he did! For the last day or so I’ve been reading Robert Alter’s commentary on the story of David and it’s opened up the text to me in a whole new way.