The Christian Bible is literature. It is a book that is meant to be read, dissected, discussed, and pondered over. It is also a holy text. The Bible teaches Christians about the person of God and offers guidance for how to navigate life.
When Christians open the Bible, we ask ourselves, “How is God speaking to me? What is God saying to me through His Word?” However, I’ve started taking issue with these questions. The reason is they assume our reading practice is somehow untainted by our perspectives, our biases, or even which passages of the Bible we choose to read at that particular moment.
I am not saying that returning to certain passages from the Bible is bad. I am not saying that God cannot reveal and dispel our biases. Not at all. I will fight anyone that says I cannot read the story of Hagar anymore. What I am saying is that it is important to interrogate our reading process instead of passively consuming Bible verses.
Part of this curiosity comes from a recent conversation with a friend. As children and teenagers, we had been taught that Queen Vashti from the Book of Esther was a terrible person because she refused to go to King Xerxes’ banquet for his nobles. Now, as adult women, we know that Xerxes did not expect Vashti to just attend a banquet and entertain guests; he expected her to come naked to the banquet so he could show off her beauty to Persian nobles. Now, as adult women, my friend and I realize that “Vashti was a rude and disrespectful wife” is a more comfortable narrative for male pastors of a certain age than “King Xerxes was a terrible husband.” Now, as adult women, we respect Vashti. We have more compassion for her.
Perhaps men and other women understand Vashti differently now as well. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard a sermon on the Book of Esther in a long time. What I understand is that my gender, the fact that I’m a woman with a husband, has changed the way I understand Vashti’s predicament. My sex and gender affect the way I dissect the dynamic between Vashti and Xerxes as husband and wife and how I understand the conflict Esther faces later on in the book. If we understand that Xerxes is a terrible husband, then we better understand Esther’s fear and terror over going to see him without his permission.
Questioning who we choose to see in the Bible, what we understand about them, and why is necessary. Doing so helps us to better understand ourselves and what we might be missing when we open the Bible.
As a piece of literature, the Bible has many different characters and narratives. All of these stories offer a full picture of the person of God and the story of humanity’s relationship with God.
Reality Changing Observations:
1. Are there any Biblical stories that you intentionally avoid? Why do you avoid them?
2. What passages of scripture do you find yourself gravitating towards?
3. Are there any Biblical stories that you understand differently now as an adult? Why do you think your perspective changed?