Jonathan Nicoletti – a senior at Bethel College (Indiana) majoring in Biblical Studies and Philosophy.
“Although the question may be simple, the answer may very well not be.” -N.T. Wright
I began my collegiate journey at Bethel College as a relatively new Christian, full of curiosity and questions about the faith. Some of my primary questions concerned the Scriptures. How did we get the Bible? And why are there so many different versions of it? If the “canon” of Scripture is closed, does this mean God is not speaking anymore? Can we really trust that we know what the Bible says when its text is over 2,000 years old? What’s the Apocrypha? What’s the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament? What did Jesus really say?
Without much of a church background, I only had a hodgepodge understanding of the Bible and was thus ill-prepared to engage these questions. Fortunately, I was in an appropriate position in life to take a deep plunge into learning how to read the Bible beyond my self-taught techniques. After spending my first year as an undecided major, I was no longer able to ignore these persistent questions about the Scriptures. Thus, at the start of my sophomore year, I became a double major in Bible and Philosophy, fully intending to find answers. It wasn’t long before I found out that the answers to my questions weren’t going to be as simple as I thought they would be. The difficulty arose not out of a lack of answers, but rather out of a lack of proper perspective. I had underestimated the complexity of the Bible and overestimated my capabilities to read it without an agenda. I expected my twenty-first century perspective to be an efficient mode of understanding. Further, I thought that since I had the Holy Spirit, all I had to do was be consistent in my devotional routine. With enough time, the texts would become clear to me. In my mind, the Bible was simple and needed to be understood simply.
My perspective of the Bible stemmed from a deeper root: My perspective of God. As young Christian, I expected God to behave simply. Since the Bible is often considered the revelation of God, it was easy for me to expect both to be rather straightforward. It was an easy formula: God wanted to tell us something, he told someone (probably a prophet), who he told recorded it, and now we have the Bible. The process was simple because God is simple. Besides, wouldn’t God have made the process as simple as possible in order to assure his ability to reach us?
With this perspective, I was unprepared for the struggle for answers that was about to take place. For the next two years (and even now as I finish up my senior year), this simple framework slowly began to appear more and more idealistic. As I wanted to do the smallest amount of work and still gain the most amount of progress, I never expected the substantial commitment of reading the text with integrity. The many variables that influence biblical scholarship began to influence and alter my questions. Quickly, I found myself seeking the answers for a whole new set of questions.
I found that my previous ideas completely ignored the genre, culture, history, and language of the Bible. In order to do justice to the texts of Scripture, I needed to be well-versed in the “worlds” of Scripture as much as the words of Scripture. As my perspective progressed, my questions began to develop as well. What social context is this book speaking out of/into? What utility has it had historically in the church? What nuances does this word hold in the original language? What genre is this text? What possible literary structures (chiasm, narrative, argument, etc.) are indicated by the story?
This transformation of my perspective also led me to ask different questions about God. Does God allow for the author’s creativity? Why did God choose to communicate to us in the way he did? How close and complex is God’s relationship to us if he allowed the Scriptures to be written by us? As I began to study the dynamic nature of Scripture, I discovered the dynamic nature of God. He was no longer the simple God who orchestrated divine recording sessions for everyone to catch up with. Instead, he was a God who encountered and interacted with the world. From this interaction, the Bible arose.
I’ve found that the Bible is not just an informative profile, but a declaration that he is alive and moving. In fact, he is a God who meets me in the midst of my reading of the Scriptures. Prior to my encounter with biblical scholarship, I thought much of the academic study of the Bible was dangerous and often reducible to man-made hermeneutics. Although this may sometimes be the case, I’ve found these methods of interpretation need not be categorically separated from the work of God. Rather, they may be guided by his Spirit. God doesn’t stand outside the process of biblical interpretation as if it is a completed process. He is constantly involved in the illumination and revelation of the text. I now find the reality of God’s presence to be the key to understanding his Scriptures, rather than simply parsing the precise meaning of words in the text.
As I discover the depths of the Scriptures, I slowly discover the depths of God. More often than not, these depths have enabled me to see God and the world in ways I could never have imagined. Thus, while my simple questions have not led to simple answers, they have led me to a deeper faith.