The Bible doesn’t tell me so
Rosalind Selby considers how to read the Bible when it isn’t answering our questions
Some 35 years ago, the theologian Hans Frei asked a question about biblical interpretation: ‘Does it stretch, or will it break?’ He was asking whether the way we interpret Scripture is an appropriate stretching of meaning, perhaps of the originally intended meaning, or if we go too far. It’s still a good question.
Across the Church there is a wide variety of views about the Bible. Is it the inerrant word of God? Is it an irrelevant document because it is from times and cultures so different from ours? Something in between? The Nature, Faith and Order of the United Reformed Church, a foundational document of the URC, says: ‘The highest authority for what we believe and do is God’s Word in the Bible, alive for his people today through the help of the Spirit.’ Even if we all say ‘Amen’ to this, there still remains the question of exactly what the Spirit assists us to understand from Scripture. We might all prayerfully read a passage but still not all agree on the interpretation of it.
Understanding Scripture is complex. To me, that’s a joy, even if it’s not always easy. A chorus to an old hymn based on the words of John Robinson, pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, goes: ‘The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.’ God has and does! Thanks be to God!
But the questions we bring to the Bible today are sometimes quite alien to the world of the people whose relationships with God are held in its pages. When that happens, we are at danger, in Frei’s words, of stretching what Scripture says until it breaks…
Rosalind Selby is Principal of Northern College, Manchester
This is an extract from an article that was published in the May 2020 edition of Reform