I have observed two basic approaches that people take to reading the Bible. And the more learned and scholarly the people are who read it, the more pronounced these two approaches appear and the higher the contrast between them.
One approach is like a
prospector searching for gold nuggets amid a welter of silt and rock.
The reader sifts through the material, discarding the impurities,
accretions, and distracting substances to find the comparatively few
precious elements in the texts.
The other approach
assumes that the entire thing is pure gold. The problem is that the
reader is visually impaired and handling the material in a dim room.
Therefore the gold is sometimes hard to see—the luster of much of it is
not bright, and sometimes it does not look like gold at all, but the
reader believes that it still is.
In the first approach
the defect is in the material handled. In the second the defect is in
the handler and the environment (the world) in which it is handled.
In the first approach, the reader critiques the word and alters it. In the second the word critiques the reader and alters her.
might posit that both are possible, that one could approach the
biblical texts as imperfect things read by imperfect people in imperfect
situations. In that case the critique and alteration goes both ways.
is logically possible, but in practice I believe it to be rare if it
ever happens at all. At least one reason for this is that human beings
powerfully oppose being altered deeply. (Even the most flexible and
adaptable of people, for example, oppose any attempt to make them
inflexible and nonadaptable on certain matters.) Therefore, when the
text demands something tough—a major behavioral sacrifice, or an even
more imposing relinquishment of one belief or opinion for another—the
option of identifying that text as impure (textually obscure, culturally
bound, politically motivated, from an unreliable source,
self-contradictory, etc.) is too alluring. The path of least resistance
is impossible to resist.
I take the second approach
instead. The reasons for this are complex, and I do not intend to get
into them here. But you can find part of them in this old post.