Reading the Bible Carefully

It is time that we read our Bibles more and read them more carefully. Perhaps we could try and get some serious help in thinking about the circumstances of those to whom the Biblical messages were addressed, the people of the Bible. They were people who lived in a country which was always liable to invasion by ruthless and powerful enemies.(The history of Israel might be better compared to that of Poland in modern times rather than that of Britain or the United States.) They were people in exile (‘By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept.’). They were living in a countryside by side with a permanent occupying force as was true in Jesus’ day. They belonged to a ‘minority religious group’ like the Christians in the Roman Empire. There is hardly a book in the Bible which is not coloured by these massive political realities. Some like Daniel and the book of Revelation were written precisely to confront them. So how do we read the Bible? As if it had nothing to say about invasion, exile, occupation and resistance, about injustice and the abuse of power. Even more worryingly, what if we can see no connection between the Bible and the arms industry, Third World poverty and debt, neo-colonialism, and the plight of refugees. What if we could not even see the imperialistic forces of today despite the fact that the Bible provides a magnifying glass which displays, even to the partially sighted, the text of the Domination System.

From Beyond Empire: Postcolonialism & Mission in a Global Context by Jonathan Ingleby (p. 231)

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5 replies on “Reading the Bible Carefully”

An interesting project. I’m not well-informed on the topic, but whenever postcolonial theory is brought to bear on the Bible, it always strikes me as a stretch. Given the context of subjugation (which we do often forget about), what’s striking is how little notice the biblical authors give to the empire around them. Daniel and Revelation are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Eddie, are you convinced by the arguments of postcolonial biblical interpretation? Say, that the NT subverts the Roman Empire?

I’ve not read enough on post-colonial theory to talk about it specifically. I do think Ingleby’s book is very good and will do a short review later.

As to subversion…. I believe that the Scriptures subvert all human attempts to create structures which usurp God’s authority. The Roman Empire was the greatest example of that in the New Testament so it comes in for a slice of subversion. Walsh and Keesmat’s Colossians Remixed, gives, what I regard, as an excellent insight into this.

Blogged on these thoughts a while back…

Those who should have seen clearly saw nothing, while those who were said to be blind saw clearly.

For nearly four hundred years the Jews had waited for their Messiah, and when he arrived all but a few missed him. They had learned to occupy their time so well, that they had lost the ability to perceive difference. They had their system rationalized down to the smallest detail; nothing escaped their notice. Nothing – and everything.

So trapped in the dominant ‘framing story’ they failed to grasp God’s framing story it had arrived – the Kingdom has come.

Colossians Remixed is actually the one book on the topic I have read. Their interpretation seemed forced to me; I can’t imagine Paul’s concerns mirroring those of a typical 21st-century Canadian university student so closely. 🙂

I look forward to your review of Ingleby.

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