I remember once hearing a preacher say that there are two different ways that we approach reading scripture. The first was described as looking down over scripture, whilst the second was referred to as being under scripture. So what is the difference between these two methods and does it actually matter?
The first one is the idea that we stand over scripture and ask what do I think this passage means? I expect many of us will have attended Bible studies over the years when we have been asked that question or a very similar one by the group leader. Whilst that sounds fine in reality it is not quite what it seems. When we read scripture like this we often approach it with our own theological leanings and biases which then determines our interpretation of the passage in question. Therefore, depending on what our theological position is on a particular subject it then affects the way we interpret the passage before us.
The other way, that he referred to as sitting under scripture, is different though. In this approach we put aside our theological leanings and biases and ask God to open our hearts to truly understand what He is saying, even if it contradicts our theology! The obvious advantage to this method of reading scripture is that we have more chance of hearing God this way. Why you may ask? The reason is because we have not already decided the meaning of the passage by our own biases and prejudices and therefore we are hopefully more open to hearing God.
Do you ever read theological debates on line? I expect if you do you will have noticed that one of the problems with these debates can be we look for our “proof” verse to support our viewpoint. We then wade into the argument saying that we are right and everyone who has an alternative view is wrong. It is obvious they have to be wrong because otherwise we could be incorrect in our presumptions! Sadly the arguments sometimes do not just stop at saying someone is wrong but can generate into accusing fellow believers of not being real or genuine Christians! This to me illustrates the problems that can occur when we come to scripture and bring our theological biases and decide in advance what a passage means
I have to be honest and say that I myself have done this and it can stop one from fully engaging with scripture. I guess though it is a safe way to read the Bible because if we come to it in a spirit of humbleness and openness there is always the risk that God might show us that we are wrong in a particular area. We then might have to change our viewpoint and completely rethink our theology in that area or maybe in many areas! Additionally we might have to make changes to the way we live too. This sounds like it could potentially be dangerous and life changing!