Layers of meaning in Scripture

Origen experiences none of the anxiety that we moderns might feel about fixing the meaning of the text with one sense. The truth of the interpretation seems to depend not on making sure we have seen some thing that is really there in the text. Its truth, rather, seems to come from a sense of fit: does the spiritual meaning fit details of the text, other texts in other parts of Scripture, proper Christian doctrine, and ethics? No doctrine of particular ethical proposition is founded simply on this text or one of the interpretations. The allegorical reading is an expansion of meaning into other realms of Christian truth, not the exclusion of a literal meaning or the foundation of new knowledge.

This observation does raise a problem, especially for many of us modern readers. If the meaning derived from the text is not foundationally a source for Christian doctrine or ethics that can be used over against other sources of knowledge, such as doctrine, tradition, or experience, but is rather one expansion of Christian meaning along with all others, how can we avoid simply reading Scripture to reinforce some kind of Christian bubble we already live in? . . . If Scripture is part of Christian culture, rather than the thing that will challenge or change Christian culture, how can Scripture work to correct or reform the church or ourselves?

The answer to this problem is again in remembering the necessity of human agency for the interpretation of Scripture and the advocacy of reform, correction, or change. We may avoid living in our own Christian bubble and simply reinforcing our already held beliefs and prejudices not by seeking a source for knowledge in the independent meaning of the text, but by listening to one another and even to others outside Christianity. We allow others to challenge our readings. We work ourselves to see Scripture always anew. We profit from our imaginations and the imaginations of other human readers, and we trust in the providence of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to shake us out of Christian complacency.

Dale B. Martin. Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), location 839 (Kindle edition).

Reading Multiple Perspectives

Read and listen to one thinker and you become a clone; Read two and you become confused; Read ten and you get your own voice; Read a hundred and you start to become wise.

Timothy Keller