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Approaching Bible Study: Holding the Authors Accountable


You may not appreciate this article. I’m fine with that. You have every right to hold me accountable for my written words. If I write well and you get benefit, good. If I write poorly – I fail to make my points clearly or my points are stupid – or you believe I’m just wrong, my written words bear witness against me. Accountability is an occupational hazard of setting thoughts to paper for others to read.

But you, dear reader, are accountable, too. It’s not your job to fix my words to fit what you think I really intended to say or should have said. Those become your words.

So it is when we approach Bible study. Can we talk? Much of the Bible – especially the New Testament mailbag – is messy, earthy, and hardly ready for Sunday morning prime time.

Paul used every strong-arm tactic in the book to coerce Philemon not to prosecute his runaway slave Onesimus. (Philemon 1-25)Peter could cuss like a sailor. (Matt 26:74) After Pentecost, he was supposed to be a stained-glass saint. But he wasn’t. In his second letter, Peter laid on the colorful language to describe the fate of false teachers. Read II Peter 2 and see if you can better describe God damning a person.Both Peter and James wrote that Jesus’ return was imminent. (II Peter 3, James 5:7-9) People quit their jobs to await the second coming. That expectation caused some messy confusion. (II Thessalonians)

The Bible is God’s gift. The First Testament is our family album, where humanity first meets God. The New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John show us God with warm, brown, hairy skin on. Revelation is God’s letter to the fledgling churches. The remaining mailbag is a window into the first century, allowing us to watch how early believers explored being sinners whom God loved and forgave by grace through faith. It’s not only inspired, it’s inspiring.

The writers weren’t stained-glass or nice, and they didn’t always agree. There is no evidence that any of them thought they were writing a comprehensive manual for believers. I propose that we should recognize that the Bible is messy and earthy, and not sanitize it for 21st-century Sunday morning sensibilities.

Why? Because I’ve found that the authors say more to me when I respect them enough to hold them accountable for what they say instead of trying to convince them what they should have said.

They don’t need me to fix their meanings. They need me to hear their words.

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Mike Pulley

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