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Bible Reading

I would consider myself part of a textually-focused culture, one where reading and literacy are vital. Especially as a student and teacher, and life-long book lover, my life has always revolved around written texts. Just how do people from that context, relate to and understand hearing-dominant cultures, where texts are generally oral, publicly shared, and rarely written?

You might be wondering why this matters, or why it’s something I’m concerned about. After all, neither my neighbors nor co-workers are hearing-dominant people, so why am I spending time thinking about this and how does it affect my daily life?

As a Christian, I affirm the authority of the Bible in my life, and affirming the Bible’s authority is much more than making verbal statements about the Bible being inspired, authoritative, and so forth. Affirming Biblical authority means I seek to understand the Bible well, in order to know God better and follow His guidance more closely. And the many texts that make up the Bible come from hearing-dominant cultures, oral cultures. God communicated to and through people who thought and communicated in very different ways than we typically do in North America, people with different cultures and values.

You probably heard sermons this past December about Christ being the Word made flesh, coming to dwell amidst humanity. I recently finished reading a book by John Walton and Brent Sandy titled The Lost World of Scripture, dealing with this topic. The authors point out that Scripture’s orality affects both the way Scripture communicates as well as how it is authoritative. For example, they note that ‘Word’ in Greco-Roman culture of the time, and in nearly all of the NT texts, refers to an oral, audible message.

This oral message was passed along in conversation, teaching, and preaching. It was shared in communities, perhaps explained and even performed by someone who understood the message well. Depending on the audience, the storyteller might emphasize different aspects of the story, while keeping the same core elements. This did not compromise the truthfulness or authority of the story, because having word-for-word precision was not the goal. In short, the orality of Scripture forces us to re-think how we understand its authority, how we read it, and how we evaluate differences of how an event is described.

Walton and Sandy also explore how speech-act theory helps today’s readers understand where Biblical authority resides, and offer a revised understanding of the Bible’s authority. It’s one of the three best books I read last year, and one I continue to think about. If questions about inerrancy, textual variations, or the Bible’s relationship to science are of interest to you or someone you know, read this book. A deeper understanding and renewed confidence in the Bible is something all of us could use this year!

About the Author:

Stephanie Lowery

Stephanie Lowery

Stephanie Lowery is a graduate of Biblical, and adjunct professor of theology there. She grew up in East Africa, and is currently pursuing a PhD in systematic theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. Her dissertation evaluates ecclesiological models in African theologies. Please read her personal blog.

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