Let the Bible Speak
In case you don't know my religious background, I am a Christian who believes the Bible is absolutely (said qualitatively, not for emphasis) true in its testimony about itself, its general message of salvation, and its particular applications. I consider it an authoritative source of information and instruction in all the places that it claims authority. Even more, I believe the Bible contains the revelation of God to man. To top it all off, I actually enjoy reading it and thinking about it!
My meditations on the Bible have lately centered around the topic of this post... letting the Bible speak for itself. What I mean is this... I study the Bible from within a theological tradition. I have a certain understanding of the unifying story of the Bible. I can recognize themes and appreciate the unity of diverse stories and narratives. I can even write about specific passages and model what I'm thinking as I look for contextual and historical clues for interpretation and application. You can find a few examples of this in the Bible category on this site.
And there's the segue... Categories. I have categories for passages in Scripture much like I have categories on this site. And these are the real topic of this post. Because of my theological tradition and formulation, I have categories for understanding various passages and verses in the Bible. I might say John 1:1ff. is a passage about the pre-existence and divinity of Jesus and John 14:6 is a verse about the exclusivity of the gospel. But my categories have come from my reading of other Scriptures and have been reinforced and/or emphasized by my broader theological background.
By way of illustration... I didn't have categories for posts on this site when I first opened it. However, now that I've been adding categories as I write, I tend to reuse existing categories before making new ones. This post might more appropriately be tagged Hermeneutics, but I stick with Bible because it's there. So with Bible study... we don't start reading our Bibles with a whole list of categories, but as we study it in the context of a church and alongside other books and commentaries, our thoughts start to follow familiar paths when we approach different passages. We develop categories for making sense of the text.
I don't think this is inherently wrong. We need to categorize information in large data sets to make sense of the whole. However, once categorized, a piece of information should still be able to speak for itself. We don't have all the right categories, and we might prioritize them differently than the Bible itself does. Furthermore, our categories can silence passages that don't fall into our majority categories. So, if we know 15 passages discussing assurance and perseverance in the faith, we might grant that category or theme a majority influence as we read the Scriptures. This in turn might lead us to marginalize or massage our interpretation of passages that warn against falling away.
As I think about how I'm interpreting the Scriptures, I want to be sure that my subconscious categorization doesn't keep the text from speaking for itself. I hope to do this by developing an awareness of how I am categorizing passages and themes, intentionally examining the Scriptures as though I might be missing something, and letting the Bible speak in areas where I might be silencing it by my "categorical majorities." I encourage you to do the same.