Let’s Reverse the Reformation and Get Bibles Out of the Home

Jason Micheli —  September 26, 2014 — 4 Comments

Untitled101111I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

II. Witness

7. Can I Interpret the Bible by Myself at Home?

Don’t be silly.

You quite literally cannot read the bible by yourself.

Scripture, what we call the word of God, is the testimony to the one Word of God, Jesus Christ, and it is the corporate testimony of Israel and the Church.

Just as scripture is the witness of those who’ve come before us, it must be read in light of and in submission to the interpretation of those who’ve come before us, the saints and doctors of the Church.

If one is repelled by the rigidity of biblicism, then reading the bible for how it can enliven and enlighten your own personal faith is an understandable alternative. If one shares the modern presumptions of historicism and thinks things like virgin births just can’t happen, then reading the bible for individual devotional purposes is again an understandable alternative.

Yet reading the bible for ‘what it speaks to me’ is fraught with its dangers.

The Word of God, Jesus Christ, is mediated to us through the testimony of a People.

Scripture is a communal witness and its primary intent is to incorporate us into that Body of witnesses.

So then the sermon on the mount is not first about you as an individual being merciful, it’s about the Church, the community of disciples, being merciful, which only secondarily entails you being merciful.

1 Corinthians 13, where Paul rhapsodizes about love being patient and kind, is not about an individual’s love and the love of a married couple. It’s about the character of the believing community, which secondarily entails your own character.

The Reformation’s notions about the private individual are very modern and very Western assumptions that are by and large alien to the world of the bible. Reading the bible from or for a personal perspective can be appropriate so long as you come to the bible with that understanding.

But stripping scripture away from its communal identity, risks turning it into a talisman we turn to for answers rather than transformation.

What’s more, reading the bible only from the lens of our private devotion also risks spiritualizing or simply missing the essentially political character of much of scripture.

The Hebrew Bible, after all, is the testimony about a God who rescued Israel from oppression and the New Testament is how that God took peasant flesh and ended up executed at the hands of an occupying military power. Those are unavoidably political stories that have implications well beyond the personal life of faith.

“Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’  

– John 18.21


Jason Micheli


4 responses to Let’s Reverse the Reformation and Get Bibles Out of the Home

  1. I take issue with this, if I understand you to be saying that we are incapable of gaining anything from reading the Bible without the interpretation of a supposed scholar, or if we apply anything we read directly to us as individuals as we attempt to better understand God and how to emulate Jesus. Perhaps I just need clarification.

    • Well I am being rhetorical to make the point, Val, so the clarification is appropriate. By ‘doctor’ I mean the early church fathers and mothers as opposed to contemporary scholars. I do think it’s not only possible but often that believers can be edified by personal reading of scripture. What I have in mind though is the Reformation (mistake, I think) making every believer an authoritative interpreter. What we derive from scripture personally still has to be in concert with what other Christians have said and discerned.

  2. An aside: The Roman Catholic church forbade followers to read the Bible because of fear that scripture would be read out of context and misunderstood, which is what has happened with those who lack an understanding of how the Bible came together and who are unfamiliar with church history. .

  3. Thank you for the clarification. I believe we should always prayerfully consider what we read and hear from scholars and even, tamed cynics. Our world is always changing, as is our perspective, so each time I read the Bible I feel that I learn something new. Jason, I deeply appreciate how much I have learned from you.

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