May 2, 2024

This past Sunday, we explored the story of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). As Philip approaches the man’s chariot, he hears the man from Ethiopia reading aloud a passage from Isaiah 53. Then Philip asks: “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. (Acts 8:30-31) The man did not understand this passage with a simple reading of the text. Instead, his reading required interpretation that Philip could provide.

In my office, there is a book on my shelf that I have used throughout the years called the Women’s Bible Commentary. It’s a volume in which female biblical scholars offer their thoughts and interpretations on each book of the Bible. A man once entered my office, saw the title, scoffed, and said, “Why do we need books like this? Can’t we all just read the Bible?”

Well, no, actually. Because every single one of us brings our cultural lens to a reading of the text. As a white, male, reasonably able-bodied person, I am going to read the biblical text differently than somebody with a different cultural experience than mine.

See, there are three steps that take place when we read a biblical text:

  1. Observation
  2. Interpretation
  3. Application

First, we simply observe what the scripture is saying. This plain reading of the text is the simple ingestion of information. Second, all scripture requires interpretation and that includes the cultural parts of ourselves that we bring to our reading. Nobody (save Jesus) is a pure interpreter of the Bible; we each bring our own lens. Which is why it is important for us to read widely and try to understand how people with other cultural experiences will interpret a biblical text differently than us. In my opinion, that is how God speaks – through the kaleidoscope of perspectives and not solely through my own. Third, and finally, we can then apply the text to our lives.

If you are looking for some good resources on reading the Bible with a wider view of interpretation, I highly recommend these books:

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