The Intimidating Task of Bible Study, Part 2

Second in a series of posts taken from Wes Howard-Brook’s introduction to his commentary on the Gospel of John, Becoming Children of God: Read the first post here.

If we choose to accept this life-changing invitation, how do we start? How do we know that the path we take is not simply a trail that loops back to Egypt ends in a cul de sac in the desert? If we journey alone, we indeed run a high risk of picking a futile road to nowhere or, worse, to a place of great danger. The Bible’s narrative of God’s mighty acts and words is heady stuff that can, to the misguided, justify the worst sort of violence and brutality.

Fellow travelers somewhere in Turkey

The antidote is the one given by the Bible itself in nearly every story: to journey not alone but in the community of fellow travelers. Whether that means starting a Bible study group, going to church, or delving into the scholarly conversation, the joyous task of encountering the Bible makes sense only as part of an interpretative community. From Eden to Revelation, the Bible’s various forms of discourse present one of the most intensely social collections of writings known to humanity. Its people are constantly in dialogue, either with other people or with God directly.

And its questions are persistently in the first-person plural: Who are we and where are we going? The Bible contains virtually no notion of the isolated individual, no flinty-faced Marlboro man gazing outward with a private vision. The first challenge of reading, then, is to share in whatever ways we can in acknowledging this most basic premise of the text.

This book is an attempt to share some of my own reading of a particular text from the Bible. By putting my reading into writing, I am aware that I risk the same freezing of live conversation that the gospels writers themselves risked. Each day, new insights unfold for me about the fourth gospel, as I continue to grow in my self-awareness and my awareness of the gospel’s own intertextual and intercultural contexts. But, as with the gospel, I hope that readers of this writing will continue the conversation, albeit at a distance, by continuing to think, pray, and act in response to what they read here.

This work, as with the Bible, is the product not of an isolated individual but of the collection of energies that make up the matrix in which I journey. In the following section, I will state openly some of my life commitments and reading strategies. I do this not so much to persuade readers that these are the best or the correct perspectives, but in the interest of encouraging all Bible readers to continue the process of demythologizing the notion of the “objective” or “scientific” reading.

In the next section we will note the importance of asking the question: “Where are you from?”, in order to name one’s commitments before encountering the Word.

Stay tuned for Part 3!


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