“I have a Bible. I’m willing to accept that it–may–have some supernatural, or God, aspects to it that may be useful to me.


   “How do I start reading and thinking about it?”


   Here are 3 things to consider:


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   If you’re totally unfamiliar with the Bible, find a Bible with some study notes in it¹and read the first couple of chapters of Genesis. Then in the literary spirit of in medias res² jump to Matthew in the New Testament. That will center on the coming of, life of, and death and resurrection of Jesus. If some parts seem strange, remember that you bring your own moral framework³ to the reading experience. People often fall into group thinking of those they associate with–until circumstances force a reevaluation.

   1. First, there’s context.

   If the passage goes over “good” or “bad” things, old strange old-fashioned things, is it referring to a wide area and open time period or a narrow region at one time only? Foot-washing and temple sacrifice may be unnecessary or impossible because there’s no Temple. The Bible passage may simply be narrative, telling about something that happened back then. It may have no connection with what you should and should not do. God may have called Moses to lead people to the promised land, but that passage doesn’t mean that you should pack up your family and head for Israel. (But God can, and does, lead people here and there). A reader shouldn’t hijack a Bible text to make it say something he wants it to say. Many passages, of course, seem to be directed to anyone anywhere at any time.

   2. Second, there’s the limits of old language.

   The old languages the Bible was written in, Hebrew and Greek, could only go so far in detailing many things that are known to us today. We shouldn’t expect to find descriptions of atoms and molecules and animals unknown in the Middle East. If Ezekiel had a graphic vision of something mechanical or futuristic, his “wheels within wheels” etc. was about as far as he could go. There are also the complications of translation to consider.

   3. Third, there must be the acceptance of metaphor and symbol to convey important information.

   This is in no way denying the importance of honest literal expression. Metaphor and symbol and, in many cases important “generalities” that emerge from them occur everywhere in the Bible, especially in Jesus’ teaching. The super fundamentalist scholar Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night was perplexed when Jesus told him he needed to be born-again. “How can I go back into my mother’s womb?” he asked, missing the point of the metaphor. Jesus’ many parables about seeds, and talents, and such taught principles that people had to think out for themselves. If everything in a passages begs to be taken literally, however, then the wise reader needs to remember that.

   This just scratches the surface. Reading a Bible randomly is not just thoughtlessly peeling words off a page.


   ¹ Some “study Bibles” are better than others, and a translator’s, or editor’s, notes while helpful, are not the same as the Bible text itself.

   ² A standard way of saying starting at, or jumping into, “the middle of things” in a story.

   ³ Everyone has a moral framework which he lives by–whether he can express it or not. There are things a person will do and won’t do in ordinary life, or in extreme circumstances. This “code” is based upon information from somewhere. Or from feelings deeply felt or willfully chosen from circumstances of the moment. Sometimes one’s code that determines behavior is not obviously rational.