Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Bible is Foremost among Books to be Studied

I've had a lot of exposure to the Bible in the course of my life, especially in the last four years. It's a rare day that I'm not reading the biblical text or reading someone else's analysis of the text. (That's not bragging, by the way--it has more to do with my job than with my discipline.) Sometimes I read a paragraph in a commentary that just "clunks" against the side of my head--it manages only to state the obvious, or recite a vague and hackneyed harmonization. At times like this, I feel the force of Pirate Jimmy's question below: Is the Bible overanalyzed? Has too much ink been spilled for too many years over a corpus of a few hundred pages?

The Bible has been subject to more study than any other corpus in human history, I imagine, so if anything has the right to be called "overanalyzed," surely the Bible does. Of course, if I understand the background of Pirate Jimmy's question correctly, it's born out of seeing people try to dig meaning out of the Bible that just isn't there. I think we can all agree that such things happen. I would distinguish, however, between bad analysis of the Bible, which is plentiful, and overanalysis of the Bible. I'm not discouraged from continuing to study the Bible simply because a lot of people do it poorly. Just because people take a lot of bad photos of the Eiffel Tower doesn't mean it's not worth seeing.

The truth is, the Bible is the foremost of all books to be studied. God is at work in our world, buying it back and recreating it bit by bit. He has several hands doing this work, including the world itself and the group of people whom he has already bought back and begun to recreate (that is, the Church). The Bible is both a record of his past work (written by his people across thousands of years) and another, ever present hand in his present work. It has the right, not merely on account of sentiment and tradition, to be called the Word of God.

One of the little features of life that confirms this is the fact that, in my experience, even bad analyses of the Bible are often transformative. It's an encouragement to humility for those of us who pride ourselves on knowing what a good or bad analysis looks like: Sometimes God uses that lousy exegesis to do genuine redemptive work. It doesn't mean that I shoot for lousy exegesis; but it does tell me that God is still speaking.

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