How to Read the Bible

By Cornwall, Robert D. | The Christian Century, September 30, 2015 | Go to article overview

How to Read the Bible


Cornwall, Robert D., The Christian Century


How to Read the Bible

By Harvey Cox

HarperOne, 272 pp., $26.99

Harvey Cox, professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School and a well-traveled interpreter of things secular and spiritual, provides a word of guidance to those who wish to find in the Bible spiritual meaning for today. Cox made his name in the 1960s with his book The Secular City, but in a more recent book, The Future of Faith, he suggests that we have entered the "age of the Spirit," and he considers the Bible to be an important resource for this age. However, for the Bible to belong not only to the church or the academy but also to the growing number of people who consider themselves spiritual but not religious, a guidebook is needed. This he provides in How to Read the Bible.

Though Cox recognizes the need to take into consideration what biblical writings meant to the authors and the original audience, what is most important to him is what the text means today. So, for example, it doesn't matter that Paul didn't intend for 1 Corinthians 13 to be read at weddings. What matters is that it is deemed a valuable word to celebrate the practice of love.

How to Read the Bible is rooted in Cox's own journey from reading the Bible in a flat, literalistic manner to his engagement in seminary with the historical-critical method. He appreciates the importance of this method, but it still left him back in the ancient world. It was the civil rights movement that helped him discover the importance of what he calls a "spiritual reading" of the Bible. He learned that the Bible is "a living record of an open-ended history of which we can have a part. It is still an unfinished story."

Cox sees himself as a bridge between secular and religious worlds, so it is not surprising that he finds liberation theology attractive. And although he values the insights of biblical studies professionals, he's more interested in how laypeople engage the Bible. Thus he offers suggestions for how the Bible might be read today while introducing readers to scholarly tools, resources, and theories that can help them understand what biblical writings meant to their original audience. Writing as a knowledgeable generalist rather than an expert in biblical studies, Cox offers tips on how to engage in the study of the Bible, giving sidebar attention to such issues as choosing a translation of the Bible and using biblical commentaries. …

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