On this blog and elsewhere, I’ve written articles involving detailed and systematic interpretation of the Bible, most recently in a long series about how Christianity appropriated Judaism. I’m a former Bible student, but there are a multitude of interpreters of the Bible on the web, with perhaps nearly as many interpretations as interpreters. So it’s a reasonable question to ask: What makes my interpretation worth considering?
Just to be clear, I am not aiming to present the one authoritative interpretation of the Bible. When I write about particular Bible topics I aim to be as correct and thorough as possible, but I’m still presenting my posts as something to think about, not as “If you don’t agree with me, you’ll burn in Hell”.
Strong familiarity with the entire Bible
For the first 25 years of my life, I did the Christadelphian “daily readings” with family or by myself, using a reading plan which covered the New Testament twice and the Old Testament once in a year. What this means is that I should have read or listened to any specific verse in the Bible at least 15 - 20 times. And when it comes to key verses, I must have heard them hundreds of times.
This stretches to some of the most obscure facts of the Bible, so that if there was a Bible quiz, people wanted me on their team. Even now, after a few years away from it all, I still find random verses and Bible stories floating to the front of my mind when pondering a topic, sometimes nearly word perfect. And I can still often cite book and chapter for major stories, or chapter and verse for key doctrines.
But my familiarity wasn’t just limited to reading the Bible: I started giving talks on a range of Bible topics before I’d left high school, and I’ve led or participated in a multitude of discussion groups over the years. I’ve even written detailed blog posts about the Bible - but I guess you already knew that…
Exposure to a variety of viewpoints
When it comes to a familiar text like the Bible, there is always a risk of reading a text and only seeing what you already expected to find there. I doubt I am completely free of this, but I think exposure to a variety of viewpoints has reduced this.
Early on, I interpreted all the texts I read in a Christadelphian approved manner. By Christianity at large this would be viewed as extremely unorthodox as well as fairly literalistic and fundamentalist.
However, once I reached adulthood I was exposed to a much wider variety of orthodox beliefs and more scholarly Bible interpretations. I worked for a while managing and responding to comments on a Christadelphian Bible question answering service. There, many of the commenters objected to our unorthodox teachings, and, while I didn’t change my viewpoint, there were some comments I had difficulty responding to to my satisfaction. I was also a hobbyist Bible software developer, which brought me into contact with people who had far greater training and experience in Bible scholarship than I did. And as a result I became something of an unofficial Devil’s Advocate in discussion groups, since I got sick of responses that were unnecessarily trivialising orthodox theology or the views of unbelievers.
Then I quit religion, and in the few years since I have spent a large amount of time in atheist forums. This has exposed me to other, more critical perspectives on the Bible. I’m also helped by the time away from repeated Bible exposure - now, when participating in the occasional family Bible reading, I’m much more likely to see the differences between what we expected to see in the text and what is actually there.
So, whether you are a practicing Christadelphian, a cradle atheist, or anywhere in between, it seems likely that part of my perspective will be unknown to you. I can still remember my upbringing and former beliefs, but have spent enough time away from it all that I’m (hopefully) not bound by those beliefs.
When I was a believer, I know that I dismissed many arguments I heard from skeptics because I felt they were over-simplistic. What this means now is that I do at least try to be more thorough. And if there’s a choice between verses well-known to skeptics and less well-known verses, sometimes I’ll go for the less well-known verses just to demonstrate core problems with the Bible aren’t just a few (possibly cherry-picked) verses.
So, for the budding apologists out there like former me: Yes, it’s possible that I’ve missed the one key proof text that would overcome all my objections and bring me to belief. But given the background I’ve described, I think it’s much more likely that I know the proof text and reject it. Perhaps because I know three other contradictory proof texts that undermine it in different ways.
In short, when I actually choose to study the Bible I try to be both correct and thorough, and I have strong familiarity with the Bible and access to a variety of perspectives. I aim to consider what the text actually says, without giving God or the Bible the benefit of the doubt. And I think that means that my ideas are worth considering, whether or not you ultimately accept them.
For balance, consider some of the reasons why you shouldn’t trust my Bible interpretation.