I was reading Walter Brueggemann’s book, An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible, today, and I came across this quote: ”
“I suggest that a Christian reading of the Old Testament requires, in the present time, a recovery of the Jewishness of our ways of reading the text.”
He goes on to suggest that Jewish scholars have always seen our interpretations of Scripture as provisional, not final. There is always more to the text. My view may be challenged, and I welcome the challenge as a means by which we all learn more in the process of interpretation. We wrestle with the text, and we recognize the value of continuing to wrestle in the pursuit of wisdom.
This brought to mind some things Pete Enns said in his wonderful book, The Bible Tells Me So. In the course of his own journey, Pete learned to appreciate the much different dynamic of Jewish biblical studies and their willingness to tolerate differences and tensions within the Jewish community.
In other words, reading and studying the Bible ought to open and encourage conversations, not shut them down.
I thought it might be good to think about that today.
…the history of Judaism is a lively tradition of wrestling openly with scripture and coming to diverse conclusions about how to handle it. More so than the Christian tradition, Judaism embraces debate as a vital part of its faith. Disagreements are preserved (not silenced or marginalized) in official core texts of Judaism, like the Talmud and medieval commentaries on the Bible. Opposing opinions sit side by side as monuments to this wrestling match with scripture— and with God.
As I mentioned, I was influenced at Harvard by Jewish professors as they introduced me to this rich history of struggling with the Bible. Though I still handle the Bible as a Christian, through their influence I also came to appreciate and embrace the spiritual benefit of keeping conversations open rather than closing them. That influence is written all over this book.
The Bible isn’t a cookbook— deviate from the recipe and the soufflé falls flat. It’s not an owner’s manual— with detailed and complicated step-by-step instructions for using your brand-new all-in-one photocopier/ FAX machine/ scanner/ microwave/ DVR/ home security system. It’s not a legal contract— make sure you read the fine print and follow every word or get ready to be cast into the dungeon. It’s not a manual of assembly— leave out a few bolts and the entire jungle gym collapses on your three-year-old.
When we open the Bible and read it, we are eavesdropping on an ancient spiritual journey. That journey was recorded over a thousand-year span of time, by different writers, with different personalities, at different times, under different circumstances, and for different reasons.
In the Bible, we read of encounters with God by ancient peoples, in their times and places, asking their questions, and expressed in language and ideas familiar to them. Those encounters with God were, I believe, genuine, authentic, and real. But they were also ancient— and that explains why the Bible behaves the way it does.
This kind of Bible— the Bible we have— just doesn’t work well as a point-by-point exhaustive and timelessly binding list of instructions about God and the life of faith. But it does work as a model for our own spiritual journey. An inspired model, in fact.