By Robert MacSwain
Having read both Bishop Daniel Martins’s “Top Ten Rules for Reading the Bible” here on Covenant and Bishop Jake Owensby’s “Eight Things to Know About the Bible” at Pelican Anglican, I thought it would be a helpful contribution to the current conversation on both of these blogs to direct readers to the “Ten Themes” and “Seven Principles” of Anglican biblical interpretation that were identified by the Anglican Communion’s “Bible in the Life of the Church” project and published in the report Deep Engagement, Fresh Discovery (2012).
Unlike the two lists offered by Bishops Martins and Owensby, these points are made in the report without further discussion, but it is both interesting and encouraging to see how much overlap there is between all three of these sources. As indicated below, the “themes” were compiled as a list of descriptive observations — what the members of the steering comittee thought was the case in regard to characteristically Anglican biblical interpretation — whereas the principles were offered somewhat more normatively as proposals for best practice.
So, to complement the lists offered by Bishop Martins and Bishop Owensby, here are the Ten Themes and Seven Principles of Anglican biblical interpretation offered by Deep Engagement, Fresh Discovery.
Ten Themes (descriptive observations)
- Anglicans accord Scripture a central place in the life of the Church.
- Anglicans value biblical scholarship while acknowledging that Scripture must also be read within the context of the Church’s practice in order for us to hear its fullest meaning.
- Anglicans experience the Word of the living God through the words of Scripture as we participate in liturgy and worship.
- Anglicans recognise that the application of Scripture to complex issues requires serious study and prayer.
- Anglicans recognise that there is a healthy and necessary diversity of views on the interpretation of Scripture but that such diversity exists within limits.
- Anglicans recognise that both the original contexts in which biblical texts were written and the contemporary cultural contexts in which they are heard are important to the way we read Scripture.
- Anglicans recognise that Scripture “reads” us as we read the Bible.
- Anglicans recognise that we hold a great deal in common on these issues with our ecumenical partners.
- Anglicans recognise that the dynamic interplay between Scripture, reason and tradition constitutes a classic Anglican way of viewing and approaching Scripture.
- Anglicans recognise that every generation has to approach anew the task of engaging with and interpreting Scripture.
Principles (normative proposals)
- Christ is the living Word of God.
- The Old Testament is the foundation of Christian Scripture.
- The Bible is to be taken as a whole and has within it great depths of spiritual meaning.
- There are many different literary genres in the Bible, which are to be distinguished carefully and consistently.
- An accurate reading of the Bible is informed, not threatened, by sound historical and scientific understanding: the God who inspires Scripture as a true witness is the same God who created the world.
- The Bible must be seen in the contexts of the world in which it was written and also brought into conversation or confrontation with our worlds in order to discern God’s will for us today.
- We listen to the Scriptures with open hearts and attentive minds accepting their authority for our lives and expecting that we will be transformed and renewed by the continuing work of the Holy Spirit.
Cited from Deep Engagement, Fresh Discovery: Report of the Anglican Communion “Bible in the Life of the Church” Project (2012), 41-42. See also Clare Amos (ed.), The Bible in the Life of the Church (2013).
The Rev. Dr. Robert MacSwain is Associate Professor of Theology at University of the South, and a Steering Committee Member and Coordinator of the North American Regional Group of the “Bible in the Life of the Church” Project.
The featured image is “Latin Bible” (2015) by Robert Cheaib. It is licensed under Creative Commons.