Obviously! (Five assumptions we bring to any text)

Page one of the KJV version of the book of Revelation. Before we read the first word, we bring assumptions to the text. 
Image by James Nichols from Pixabay.

Before we even open a text, what assumptions do we bring to it?

Last Sunday, my pastor and I began co-teaching a seven-week (of course) course on Revelation. I’ve been reading several commentaries and watching several videos to prepare. I’ve learned a lot that I am eager to share. I also always enjoy some interactive learning.

I kicked the course off with some basic assumptions about a person’s approach to any scripture text. I began from the human dimension. Were I to start with the divine dimension, I would begin, “There is a God; God is love”; etc. But since this was leading into a chart of four ways Revelation has been interpreted, I wanted to begin with why there are so many varied interpretations, so I started with people.

Here is what I said.

An angel shows John a city. Etching by Gustave Dore. What assumptions does an artist make about the text?  Image by JoB from Pixabay.
  • We tend to think that we are the smartest generation.
  • At the same time, we tend to think that what we are believing now is what has always been believed by good Christians.
  • We base many of our decisions on emotion, not rationality.
  • We tend to think that the Christians before our generation were better at being followers of Jesus than we are in our generation.
  • We make cultural assumptions that shape our view of almost everything – what is good to eat, how to dress, gender roles, leadership roles, political choices, even religious choices.

So, we approach a scripture believing that we are smarter, but less moral or less convicted, than Christian interpreters before us. And, there is a “give me that old-time religion” emotional tug that makes us feel challenged and guilty. And, depending on when and where we live, depending on whether we are in the majority or minority, depending on the political system in power at the time – all that shapes what we believe and how we behave. All these things affect how we interpret any passage from the Bible, including Revelation.

What would you add, delete, or edit?

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