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Things Learned From Reading Every Single Word of the Bible

David Plotz, editor of Slate, read through the entire Old Testament and blogged about it sans fancy hermeneutics. In his new book chronicling the experience, Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible, Plotz makes fresh Biblical points by leaving the stories alone to speak for themselves. What emerges upon reflection is an awareness of the huge intellectual and moral gap that separates us from the Scriptural context. One of the things that lingers for Plotz is that the stories of humans talking back to God make for some of the most interesting reading.

I grew up playing legos for hours while listening to Arthur S. Maxwell’s The Bible Story on (40?) cassettes narrated by Aunt Sue and Uncle Dan. I loved ’em. I also used to have these really cool tapes of one of the Maxwell brothers answering Bible questions from youngsters – they must have been recorded in the early 80s. My family also used to listen to Alexander Scourby read the Bible straight through. And off and on, we’d work our way into and out of whole books – like Acts – for family worship. It’s a credit to my parents.

This grounding in the Bible pulled me into reading and subscribing to the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society while in academy and then moving beyond it. As I studied theology at Andrews University it became clearer to me that the adults who actually read the Bible a lot and in context are often the least comfortable with proof-texts and skimming through on top of the Bible Story edits.

In getting past texts and into the stories, I like how Plotz classifies Gideon and Abraham as the most scientific Biblical characters. Too often in sermons their tests of divine apparition are dismissed. Even among Seventh-day Adventists, who have above average Biblical literacy, it always surprises me how little of the “good book” actually makes an appearance in our community discussions. For instance, what sort of morality is taught in Genesis 34? Elsewhere, Plotz points out, Jacob comes off as pretty dishonest, even deceiving his father, while in reality Esau comes off as a pretty good guy. All too often, actual unethical behavior is excused if a person can claim to be a significant player in a God-blessed remnant. Overall, there is a morally deadening clash between the popular salvation history and the ethical as portrayed in Scripture and this sometimes leaks into 21st century rationalizing as well.

In the Bloggingheads discussion above, Plotz exhumes some of these points.

  • Adulterous, murderous, wise King David and timeless biblical truths
  • What happened to Jonah after that whale?
  • Memo to editor of Bible: You’re fired
  • How a pretty nasty god made his people very productive
  • Did the Bible save the Jews or did the Jews save the Bible?

At some point folks who actually read the Bible confront a scientific, historical, and moral gap. And frankly, those who apply verses sans context adjustment reveal how little they actually know about the moral mix and shifting story flow. I believe that actually reading Scripture in toto keeps faith from freezing to history. It takes some work – even a miracle – but there’s a God revealed in the Bible who actually transcends time, verses, place.

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