This is a question I heard the other day. It’s quite a common one. At one end of the spectrum is the insistence that yes, when you read Scripture there is a specific purpose and meaning and you should not deviate from it. At the other end of the spectrum you will hear people say that they discover a new meaning every time they turn to Scripture. So, which is right?
First of all, it is important to remember that these are the same considerations when reading any text. Remember Baroness Hale, she was the judge who delivered the Supreme Court Ruling last year about parliament being prorogued. Imagine if the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Speaker of the House of Commons had all claimed to see different meanings, each one valid.
We expect texts to have specific meanings. We know that the author has a particular thing that they want to communicate. This is seen by carefully following the logical flow of a letter, or seeing how the different characters talk, act and are described in narrative. We find it be capturing the flow, rhythm and poetic methods used to create a psalm or proverb.
This means that yes, each Bible passage has one specific meaning or purpose. It means that we cannot all sit back and speculate, describing our own “reader response.” Not all views are valid.
However, I don’t think this means the reading is minimalist and that we might as well only read it once. There is place for variety.
- Often when people say that they discovered something new, they mean that as they revisited the text, it hit them afresh, they got a deeper understanding or they spotted a detail they had missed which refined their understanding.
- Within the main point we can pick up on lots of little subplots that allow us to follow up on additional meaning which contributes to the whole
- Sometimes we use Scripture to illustrate a point. It is not new meaning to that specific text but the illustration illuminates some other point.
- There may be a variety of applications depending of context. The starting point is that we may see immediate application to first hearers and then application to Christ and through him to us.
So although we discover that there is a specific meaning to the text, this shouldn’t prevent us from continuing to re-read Scripture and discovering deeper riches in God’s Word.