Every story is told from a vantage point; it has a bias. I’m trying to read the stories of the Bible for all they’re worth, but I’ve got a problem.

My vantage point is not as a Hebrew slave suffering in Egypt or a conquered Judean deported to Babylon. I’m certainly not a first century Jew living under Roman occupation.

I’m a citizen of a G8 nation, born among the conquerors, and living in the empire. But I want to read the Bible and think it’s talking to me.

This is a problem.

Perspective

One of the most remarkable things about the Bible is that in it we find the narrative told from the perspective of the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved, the conquered, the occupied, and the defeated. This is what makes it prophetic. We know that the winners write history. This is true – except in the case of the Bible – it’s the opposite.

This is the subversive genius of the Hebrew prophets.

Imagine a history of pre-Confederation Canada written by Cree Indians and Metis. That’s a different way of telling Canada’s story. And that’s what the Bible does. It’s the story of Egypt told by the slaves. The story of Babylon told by the exiles. The story of Rome told by the occupied.

The Bias of the Bible

What about those brief moments when Israel appeared to be on top? In those cases the prophets told Israel’s story from the perspective of the peasant poor as a critique of the royal elite. Like when Amos denounced the wives of the Israelite aristocracy as “the fat cows of Bashan.”

The bias of the Bible is from the vantage point of the underclass.

But what happens if we lose sight of the prophetically subversive vantage point of the Bible? What happens if those on top read themselves into the story, not as imperial Egyptians, Babylonians, and Romans, but as the Israelites? That’s when you get the bizarre phenomenon of the elite and entitled using the Bible to endorse their dominance as God’s will.

This is Roman Christianity after Constantine or Christendom on crusade. This is the French and English seeing Canada as their promised land and the native inhabitants as Canaanites to be conquered. The whole history of European colonialism and justification of the slave trade is here.

This is the domestication of Scripture.

Beattiutudes

Now think about Jesus announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom with the proclamation of his counter-intuitive “Beatitudes.” When Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” how was that received? Well, it depends on who is hearing it. The poor Galilean peasant would hear it as good news, while the Roman in his villa would hear it with deep suspicion.

And that’s the challenge I face in reading the Bible. I’m not the Galilean peasant. I’m the Roman in his villa and I need to be honest about it. I too can hear the gospel of the kingdom as good news but first I need to admit its radical nature and not try to tame it to endorse my inherited entitlement.

I am a suburban, white Canadian male. Which is fine, but it means I have to work hard at reading the Bible right.

I have to see myself basically as aligned with Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Caesar. In that case, what does the Bible ask of me? Voluntary poverty? Not necessarily. But certainly the Bible calls me to deep humility — humility demonstrated in hospitality, vulnerability, and generosity. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being a relatively well-off, white Canadian male, but I better be humble, hospitable, and generous.

Humility

If I read the Bible with the appropriate perspective and humility I don’t use Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus as a proof-text to condemn others to hell. I use it as a reminder that I’m a rich man and Lazarus lies at my door.

Reading the Bible from this perspective prohibits me from using the conquest narratives of Joshua to justify Manifest Destiny. Instead, I see myself as a Rahab who needs to welcome newcomers.

I don’t imagine myself as Elijah calling down fire from heaven. I’m more like Nebuchadnezzar who needs to humble himself lest he go insane.

My problem with the Bible is me. And you?

There is hope. What if you read the Bible standing on your head?

(with gratitude to Brian Zahnd)

APPLICATION: Please enter the conversation and leave a comment below. Thank you.


  • Hope grows here.  We share stories that inspire people, build faith, and offer lasting purpose.
  • We’d love to have you Subscribe to REVwords. We’ll put helpful content into your inbox early Mondays to get your week off to a good start.
Bob Jones

Bob Jones

Happily married to Jocelyn for 40 years. We have two adult sons, Cory and his wife Lynsey and their son Vinnie and daughter Jayda; Jean Marc and his wife Angie and their three daughters, Quinn, Lena and Annora. I love being a pastor and inspiring others through communicating, blogging, and coaching. I enjoy writing, running, reading, and ball hockey. I'm a fan of the Esks, Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and Pats. Follow me on Twitter @bobjones49ers

3 Comments

  • Carole Holmes Schlachta says:

    I understand your approach.
    The bias, humility,etc., very interesting.
    I also know in Deut., it says we are not to add to or take away from God’s word.
    So tell me why I have heard, when people want to put forth their perspective, they do just that. Blaming actions on genes, (BIG MAYBE, liking everyone ((that I understand, because the bible says love even our enemies)) but where does it tell us we should throw part of a scripture out and add our own perspective?)
    Understanding and realizing time and things change as we grow in Him.
    No, Deut. Says no adding, no updating, no taking other scriptures and stretching it to fit in your perspective.
    I shall say what I see, read, understand and guided by the Holy Spirit.

  • Calay Mayo says:

    I appreciate your post very much! I see the irony of reading the Bible from our luxurious entitled position in this world. We are honestly the most in need of scripture in the way Christ lived it and intended it to be spread. Not once in the Bible is there the luxury of believing we are superior or have reason to behave with a superior attitude toward anyone else – least of all those who are genuinely living the faith in service, strain and persecution!

    Your voice is often misunderstood but if we take the time to understand the irony and the tone of genuine love you write from, then I can say I have been able to see the true message in each post. For the moments I may disagree, I don’t feel the need to correct you as a teacher but to explore it more for myself and educate myself through the Word, through expert commentary, and most obviously through the Holy Spirit. I can legitimately say that the Spirit has led me to see your writing with the spirit it was written in and, as such, see beyond the misunderstanding into your heart. The Spirit is there and He is guiding you in and through your knowledge.

    Always reading, even if I’m not always commenting! 🙂

  • Bob Jones says:

    Thank you for commenting…and reading, Calay. Always good to hear from you. I appreciate your objective view of my writings. That’s healthy. Looking forward to your next comments.

Leave a Reply