Just a quick word about resources. If you’re going to go about the business of examining, understanding, and deepening your faith, you’re going to need quality resources. Sermons. Devotionals. Bible studies. Teachers. Commentaries. These are all pieces we use to construct our understanding of Scripture.
Some people are so intimidated by the Bible that they rely exclusively on other people explaining it to them. It’s not as common, but sometimes people get the idea that Scripture should stand alone. That we should be able to study the Bible, and, well, that’s it. That we should be able to sit down and just read from this book and be all good. All too frequently throughout history, church leadership, big and small, have determined that the best way to maintain their power and influence is to convince the people that they are not equipped to understand the holy word and that the ordained are the only ones able to interpret and apply scripture.
I believe we can trust the Spirit to guide us and protect us as long as we approach the discipline with the right attitude. I believe that involves humility and requires basic critical thinking.
[Humility: admitting we don’t know everything. We aren’t all scholars of ancient languages and history. Basic critical thinking: admitting that historical context (such as prevailing scientific understanding of the day) and the language used to record that passage (including idioms and ‘common knowledge’ references), as well as the historical context of the translation are all relevant to understanding the text. Language use changes over time. Even if there weren’t significant issues with the King James translation, our use of English has shifted so much since it was published that we understand a lot of words quite differently today than they were understood then.]
But that means we can approach Scripture. Because it is such a complex text to begin with, I believe the Spirit will protect us as much as we allow it. I believe if we are careful, we can be spared from dramatically misunderstanding Scripture, so long as we are comfortable walking away from it with questions, whether we consult other sources and authorities or not. I genuinely believe we need to get more comfortable holding onto questions than we are insistent on parsing every last idea and declaring mastery, but that’s a topic for another post.
I believe that people God calls and equips with wisdom and discernment are able to write incredibly useful devotionals, sermons, and study guides. I also believe we should consult voices who have extensively studied history, historical cultures, and ancient languages. We should ask questions about language and culture rather than just trusting other people to do so for us.
And we must always be cautious. They have studied, both academics and pastors, but they are human. They are subject to the same personal and inherited biases that we are, and sometimes their education just means they can proof-text (take an idea to the page and find the support they need) that much more convincingly. We must always be cautious, always test what is said against what is clear in scripture with an open heart of prayer.
For example: after the flood, Noah gets drunk, Ham sees him naked, his brothers display respect and modesty, and Ham’s son is cursed in a way that affects the course of history! All because Ham saw his dad naked? That’s…a bit extreme.
Sunday school and Bible studies, when they covered it at all (which, lets be honest, how often is this passage actually addressed?) glossed over it as quickly as possible, suggesting Ham’s offense was disrespect. Ham laughed at his dad when he told his brothers about it. But…it doesn’t say he laughed.
Personally, I can’t make sense of this passage, and none of my teachers over the years had adequately explained it to me. So, I consulted the Faithlife Study Bible. They are transparent in their methods and contributors, they support their assertions, and they admit when our modern understanding is vague at best. They present three different interpretations of this passage and the support for each. The most support (linguistic comparisons to contemporary writings and other passages, contextual clues, etc.) suggests that Ham committed an incredibly vile act against his mother to produce a child and usurp Noah’s authority over his brothers, not being the eldest set to inherit. It makes the curse of his son much more understandable, and the entire passage reads as a euphemistic summary of a very complex event.
I am incredibly grateful to have resources available to consult, especially considering how many people throughout history were, and are, denied the right to study the scripture on their own at all. We are blessed with a myriad of study guides and devotionals. We have a wealth of commentaries. And, best of all, we have the Spirit to guide as we sort through them all. What are some of your favorite resources?