This morning our lectionary study group talked about a literal reading of scripture as opposed to a poetic reading, recognizing, of course, that there are other ways as well. A few hours later I was reading an essay by Hauerwas in which he cited a passage from Yoder’s Royal Priesthood. I think it is important enough to share.
If we understand deeply enough the way in which the promise of the Holy Spirit is linked to the church’s gathering to bind and loose (Matt. 18:19-20), this may provide us well with a more wholesome understanding of the use and authority of Scripture. One of the most enduring subjects of unfruitful controversy over the centuries has been whether the words of Scripture, when looked at purely as words, isolated from the context in which certain people read them at a certain time and place, have both clear meaning and the absolute authority of revelation.
To speak of the Bible apart from people reading it and apart from the specific questions that those people reading need to answer is to do violence to the very purpose for which we have been given the Holy Scriptures. There is no such thing as an isolated word of the Bible carrying meaning in itself. It has meaning only when it is read by someone and then only when the reader and society in which he or she lives can understand the issue to which it speaks. (Yoder, 535)