- The best way to read the Bible is through context. The more immediate, the better. in other words, passages and words in the Bible are checked against not just other passages and words within the same book of the Bible, but also other ones of the Bible. But, it doesn't end there. There is much to learn about the social/political/economical/religious/etc. happenings of the day that are not given within the books of the Bible itself. For these, historians and biblical scholars look into history, into other writings of the time (again, the closer to home, the better) to gain insight into the text.
- It is after thorough exegesis that one can begin to ask other questions, such as: what did the Church Fathers and the early theologians view on this? What is the historical reading of this? How does this relate here and now? What is the Holy Spirit saying to me? To and through my community? Is there something else that this word may mean?
- To be perfectly honest, getting a clear, objective reading of the text is near impossible. Every reader brings in a certain perspective each time he or she reads a piece. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that (the Holy Spirit has longed used our quirks for God's glory. And the Truth of God is evident throughout not just the scriptures, but through our natural world. All truth, as one of the Church Fathers said, is God's truth). But nevertheless, we strive, and we should, to try to understand the word as clearly as we can in order to not be overtaken by our own personal rationale.
- It's not enough, in light of new information for historical research, to limit your readings to your favorite theologians of the last four hundred years. The Reformers, brilliant and essential as they are, read the Bible within their context (a legalistic and corrupt state church). We have the tools to go further back into the biblical period (through Josephus, The rabbinic Mishnah, the Dead Sea Scrolls/Qumran, The (Jewish) Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. These do not replace the canon, but they do help to enlighten the text.
- I cannot understand how we've come to read the Bible in some kind of rarefied air where it needs to be understood in some sort of literal and lineal phase. As if the writers of the ancient texts were writing out of space and time. No one ever writes or speaks in a vacuum. The trick is to figure how the Bible wants to be read. For example, when Jesus told a story, he did not mean for it to be taken literally, as if the things he said actually happened; they illustrate a (or a few) point(s) that he makes about, say, the Kingdom of Heaven (his favorite topic, btw). When we read the beginning of Revelations, the author says that he witnesses one as the "Son of Man" with "white hair like wool." The images are from Daniel 7. If the question is, "Did John the Revelator literally see a wooly-white haired man that looks like an improved version of humanity in front of him?" we're asking the wrong questions. We focus too much on the literal, but not enough in what it all means, and what the signs are pointing to (in this case, the established and eternal Kingdom of God through Jesus).
- Fire is pretty prevalent within the Old and New Testaments. But often in the New Testament it is not used literally, but as a way of describing a refining process (not always, of course, but Luke 3:16, 12:49, Acts 2:3, I Thess 5:19, Hebrews 1:7 to address a few). Most prominently we understand that God will test the believers with fire from I Corinthians 3. It's clear that Paul's not talking about a literal fire, nor the 'unquenchable' fire of hell, nor a devouring fire, but a cleansing, refining fire. According to my read of 2 Peter 3, the same will happen to the universe's elements.
- Yes, I get much of my insights on the New Testament from NT "Tom" Wright. He is a preeminent scholar, a pastor, a theologian and a historian who specializes on second temple Judaism. He is a Christian, affirms the creeds, and is an apologist for the orthodox Christian faith. And he's a self-described Calvinist!
- Rapture theology is relatively new. As in, just the last two hundred years (Ben Witherington, among others, mentions this here in his The Problem of Evangelical Theology). Does that mean that it stands outside orthodox Christianity? Not necessarily, although I argue that it's closer to Platonism than to historic, creedal Christianity or any views on the resurrection that 1st Century Jews had (the ones that did, that is. Of course there were Jewish leaders who did not believe in the resurrection. And none, until Jesus, would have believed in a one-man resurrection...).
Oops, one more important note:
- In Ezekiel we begin to see the concept of resurrection (as, again, those Jews that understood it would understand it) through the Valley of the Dry Bones. In Isaiah (among other works), though, we see a picture of a revived, living and redeemed world in which the resurrected people return, farm, trees dance, etc. For example, this Edenic passage from chapter 65:
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
"Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
he who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere youth;
he who fails to reach a hundred
will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the works of their hands.
They will not toil in vain
or bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
but dust will be the serpent's food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,"
says the LORD.