Reading Scripture with an assumption that the only truth is historical truth or scientific truth, limits the revelation which God may be offering through a text. It leads some to assume that if every word of the Bible is not historically or scientifically true than it is not true at all. God however has often chosen to speak through narrative, poetry, parable, vision, symbol, typology and allegory. God revelation brings us to an understanding of divinity, which means it takes us beyond the limits of human understanding.
Famed novelist Umberto Eco has made the point that “reading scriptures” is not like studying a “crystal”. This is because reading scriptures engages the reader with the living Word of God. The scripture text is not static but rather its purpose, meaning and power come alive in the reader’s interaction with the Word.
“For Eco, a text not only calls for the cooperation of its reader in the construction of meaning, but also summons the reader to make a series of interpretive choices…Unfortunately, the ‘truth’ to which Scripture refers was in previous times reduced to determinations regarding the accuracy of these texts measured in terms of historical detail…This is unfortunate since it masked the capacity of Scripture to refer to ‘the way things really are’ in terms other than historical detail. However, this misconstrual of how Scripture is true means only that we must ask anew, in what sense does Scripture refer to the truth? How do we parse its capacity to refer its readers to the way reality really is, to the way God sees what is?…For Eco, texts such as those in Scripture are characterized by the invitation for readers ‘to make the work’ together with the author; they are rendered meaningful in personal and communal performance.” (Joel B. Green, Seized by Truth, pgs. 114-118)
Eco makes the point that the Scriptures were given to God’s people, to be read and understood within the context of God’s people. We come to understand the text by entering into and engaging the community to whom each author of the Bible spoke – we interact with not only the author but the community to whom he/she was directed to speak. The meaning of the text is not going to be found by isolating the text from the community but by immersing oneself in the community.
Some take Scripture out of the context of the community, and then even take verses out of the context of the biblical text. They treat each word as if it is a drop of water which they can purify through exacting scientific methods. The tradition of Orthodoxy does appreciate each droplet which makes up Scripture, but tries to experience the Bible by having the reader immerse himself or herself in the flowing river of tradition. As in baptism we immerse ourselves in the waters rather than sprinkle ourselves with a drop or two.