I like the image Justo González introduces in his book Santa Biblia: The Bible through Hispanic Eyes. Writing about “perspectives” in reading the Bible, he asks us to imagine that we’re all looking at a landscape: “The landscape is the same for all of us. Yet each one sees it from a different perspective, and will thus describe it differently.”
It’s not that we have different Bibles, he goes on to say, but that we see the same Bible differently, depending on where we’re standing. To push the metaphor a bit further, what we see depends on lots of things, like how tall we are, the quality of our eyesight, and what we’re looking for. Sometimes we’re drawn to different parts of Scripture—one person to Jesus’ parables, another to stories of Sarah and Abraham, and yet another to the Psalms. Different parts of the landscape catch our attention. Sometimes we read the same texts, say, the Minor Prophets, with different interests—one congregation for their message about economic faithfulness, another for their message about the hope of God’s people for restoration, and still another for their critique of false worship. Standing in different places, we perceive the landscape differently. As González recognizes, none of us sees the whole landscape, nor do any of us see the landscape “as it really is.” Taken together, though—by the church across time and around the globe—we are drawn closer to hearing and understanding the big picture of what God is saying and doing through his Word.
In this way, we’re reminded that, even when we join our voices with the Reformers in their declarations of sola scriptura, “Scripture alone,” Scripture isn’t actually alone. We’re the ones doing the reading, after all, and we bring ourselves, with all of the textures and hues and flourishes of our humanity, to the Bible. We inhabit Scripture in different ways. Scripture challenges us and encourages us in different ways.
A lot of this difference has to do with the lens through which we read Scripture. Like eyeglasses, often unseen but nonetheless fixed atop our noses, these culturally shaped lenses filter how we read the Bible. Gathering with people not like us to read the Bible can surprise us, then, as we hear what others encounter in our beloved texts.
Recalling his encounter with Scripture’s Lord, St. Augustine wrote that he heard these words: “Take and read; take and read.” As we “take and read,” let’s do so in concert with readers from the north and south, east and west, readers contemporary and readers past.