The Third Preposition: Bible was not written to/for/about you

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In my previous post Canaanite Genocide and another new (to me) blog I mentioned the interesting discussion in the comments on the post The Bible wasn’t written for David Ker.

One interesting detail is the possible (mis)reading  of David’s title The Bible was not written to you as The Bible was not written for you. Now, it seems to me the first (David’s actual title) is true, but at least among even half-educated people risks being a mere truism. (It is something we know, take for granted, and so risk forgetting. May David’s book help remind some…) The second (John’s misreading) is, at least for anyone who has any belief that the Bible is in some sense “inspired” clearly false. If God inspired the Bible then in some sense it was written “for you”!

I’ll return to inspiration in a future post. For now a different, but similar, wording that I have been using for some years seems to me helpful. It involves a third preposition.  This is the claim that the Bible is not about you. For it seems to me a major problem with much “Christian” reading of Scripture is the underlying claim that the Bible is about the reader. I think it is this that encourages comfortably rich Western Christians to keep applying Jer 29:11 to each other with liberal abandon, and no care for the context. Equally however honesty should surely compel that this belief force them to wield that verse eleven chapters earlier with the same frequency, but Jer 18:11 would hardly be as “comforting”.

I think it is necessary first to remember that the Bible is not about us. (And this is a pretty wide “us” for I think it includes even the “original” hearers, and even the human actors in the story.) Scripture is about God. We should ask: What is the understanding of God here? Before asking: So how does that understanding apply to us?


8 comments on “The Third Preposition: Bible was not written to/for/about you

  1. David Ker

    In the chapter “Bad Boy Bible Study meets Ship of Fools” I suggest three questions: What does this passage tell us about 1. humanity, 2. God, and 3 the new reality in Christ. You’re right in putting the emphasis on God rather than us. But I wonder if that understanding doesn’t have to be mediated through an appreciation of who is telling the story at the moment. In other words, the writers of Joshua, Job and Jeremiah have their own culture and philosophical angle. So it’s confusing for a reader to pick up the Bible and have to say, “OK, who’s writing this, when and why?” And then try to interpret and apply what their reading. No easy answer. But the Bible isn’t an easy book, eh?

    1. tim

      It certainly isn’t an easy read! Nor should it be. No worthwhile read is. Though often like a good children’s story the Scriptures can be enjoyed and worked at on a variety of “levels” with simple stuff for beginners and richer fare for experienced readers.

      I think your first question is usually best left out, it becomes part of a later stage in the process, “So what does this mean for me/us?” But I agree that all of Scripture should be read by Christians in the light of “the new reality in Christ”.

      As for the confusion of different cultures and authors, isn’t life a bit like that? And aren’t we glad that the world is not made up of all one sort of people? That Scripture is also many coloured is good news – even if it does mean that unlike a McDonald’s burger it is not (more or less) palatable to everyone with no education of the palate or learning and growing into a tease experience required! Most new Christians I know are only too ready to work at reading the Bible, it’s the blasé “experienced Christians” who can’t be bothered, and just accept whatever pap is fed them by their pastors :(

  2. Mike Gantt

    Your suggestion that we read the Scriptures focusing first on God is well taken. Nonetheless, that the Scriptures were written for us (i.e. subsequent generations) as well as the original recipients is undeniable (Ps 102:18; Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11; 1 Pet 1:10-12).

  3. Bob MacDonald

    Written for the generations to come. Psalm 78:1-8 is an operative verse – I will open my mouth in a parable to ferment riddles from of old – we need the parable and the fermentation. Focus will be given to us when we engage with these texts.

  4. tim

    Mike and Bob, I agree (I’m not sure why that did not come across, I did write: “If God inspired the Bible then in some sense it was written ‘for you’!”) my point was that we err if we think it is all about us! I ws not trying to say that it is not for us, because it is for everyone (including even us).

  5. Bob MacDonald

    I knew you agreed of course – and that Kerr fellow too – he is using his creative writing to catch the eye and draw it into something more than expected. I like your third preposition – these are such flexible connectors.

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