Rabbi Kushner on Reading the Bible

The Rabbi Lawrence Kushner wrote a book called God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know, in which each chapter is a different interpretation of the same passage in the Bible. ...

You keep turning the gem, seeing something new each time. That’s what we’ve been doing in this book—we’ve been turning the gem.

We read it, and we let it read us. We dive into their story, discovering our story in the process.
I’ve heard people say that they read it literally. As if that’s the best way to understand the Bible.

It’s not.

We read it literately.
We read it according to the kind of literature that it is.

That’s how you honor it.
That’s how you respect it.
That’s how you learn from it.
That’s how you enjoy it.

If it’s a poem, then you read it as a poem.
If it’s a letter, then you read it as a letter.
If it’s a story but some of the details seem exaggerated or extreme—like when Samson kills exactly one thousand Philistines
or Balaam’s donkey starts talking to him
or Elijah is taken up into heaven before their very eyes—
there’s a good chance the writer is making a larger point and you shouldn’t get too hung up on those details.
You read it,
and you ask questions of it,
and you study and analyze and reflect and smile and argue and speculate and discuss.

Other times people want to know the right answer to a passage in the Bible. As if there is a right and a wrong reading of each verse in the Bible. There are, of course, lots of ways to miss the point and truly read it wrongly. But to say that there’s a right way may unnecessarily limit your reading of the Bible.

There are lots of right ways to read it. In fact, right isn’t even the best way to think about the Bible.
How about dancing?
You dance with it.
And to dance, you have to hear its music.
And then you move in response to it.

My friend Kent was doing graduate work in Jerusalem with a rabbi who one day gave the class an assignment to go home and read the story of Abraham offering his son Isaac (which is called the Akedah, or the Binding of Isaac) and then think up as many questions as they possibly could about the story. They returned to class, and the rabbi asked the students to share their questions. They each had a few. After a few students had read theirs, the rabbi launched into a rant about how dumbfounded he was that they had so few. Hadn’t they read the story? How could they have read it and come away with so few questions?

You dance with the Bible, but you also interrogate it.
You challenge it, question it, poke it, probe it.
You let it get under your skin.
We read it, and we let it read us,
and then we turn the gem,
and again,
and again,
seeing something new over and over and over again . . ."
- Rob Bell


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