Thursday, August 5

Thoughtful Thursday: How we Read Matters

Who wrote the Gospel of John (in Christian scripture)?

Read the text and answer the question. From 1:1 to 21:26 (beginning to end, alpha to omega!), there is no definition of the authorship of the Gospel of John. And yet we assume because someone put a label on the book, that this "John the Evangelist" wrote the Gospel. Hmm.

How we read matters!

Titles, verse numbers, chapter numbers, all these things came later. From a social standpoint, society's of the gospel writer's time (and earlier) did not have the same ideas about ownership and authorship that we have today. Today, it is super important that MY idea is written in MY hand and attributed to ME. Then, if the general idea was generated by a lowly person like me, but who was a follower of a particular person-like Isaiah, then the authorship would be attributed to the teacher-NOT THE STUDENT. Isaiah is a book that has contentious authorship issues (follow the link for some of them).

Again, how we read matters!

It is generally assumed in scholarship that the story of the woman (and man-but where is he?) caught in adultery in John 8:1-11, one of my all time favorite stories, is an insertion. The author of John may not be the author of this story. It has been, at various times, placed with Luke.  Ridding ourselves of authorship assumptions where it is not explicitly stated is a task of reading closely.

We will never be able to rid ourselves of pre-assumptions that we bring to any text. But if we slow down, read word for word, we will begin to notice things that bring greater meaning. This works for all types of reading.

What if the author of the Gospel of John was a woman? Heck, all the beautiful stories of wisdom are about women (Samaritan woman at the well) and the men tend to "not get it" (Nehemiah). What does it do to your perception of the role of women in the historical church and of women in the current church?

How we read matters!

Here are some questions an old prof of mine had us ask whenever we approach text:

  • WHAT KIND OF TEXT IS THIS? This question inquires about genre. Am I reading prose or poetry? What kind of prose: narrative, instruction, legal code, liturgical prayer, etc.? What difference does that make? Is the language declarative, imperative, execrative, confessional, etc.?
  • WHERE IS THE EMPHASIS? Which idea gets the most words in the passage, holds the position of importance (beginning, ending)? What's the ordering of ideas--ie. what's subordinated, indeed, what is not said at all? (What did I expect to hear, but found no mention of in the text?)
  • WHAT PROBLEM SITUATION SUBSISTS? If this text is the answer, what's the question? If this text resolves the matter, what was the problem situation?
  • WHO CARES? For whom does this text make a difference? Who would want to keep this text as part of the sacred tradition? This is a question about authors and about audiences--both have a hand in the final form and preservation of texts.
  • WHAT DOES THIS TEXT SAY TO US WITH OUR BACKS AGAINST THE WALL? In danger or crisis or changing times, what still rings true?
  • WHAT TRUTH FOR OUR SALVATION IS HERE? Numbers of faith traditions struggle with this one. Surely Scripture is more than a literary text, but how? The Second Vatican Council document on revelation (Dei Verbum, no.11) states:  "...the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully, and without error that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation."  Not every small unit will yield up such a truth, but the principle is still a valuable guide. "Our salvation" exceeds "my" personal vision of what life with God means. Enlarging and enriching one's salvific horizon depends upon openness to these different points of view.

I wonder what errors in reading I have brought to the text that have caused errors in understanding or reading. Worse yet, what part of the story have I overlooked? (Read the book of Esther and focus on the background characters; read John and pretend a woman authored it and see what you learn.)

How we read matters. And it can lock you up in chains or it can bring you greater freedom. What will you do?


A reminder about what Thoughtful Thursday is:

Theos – God, Logos – Words

So, literally, theos-logos, theology, is words about God. These are some of my favorite thoughts! I ask myself what is my relationship to the Divine? What is the Divine’s relationship to others? Other people? Other things? Other components of the world? Other components of the cosmos? How can we stretch our thoughts to be more, simply more?

What are your theos-logos? What questions would you ponder?

Shalom and Amen.



#thoughtful #theology #findingGod


(c) 2013, essay, Terri Stewart

Leave a Reply