How to Read the Bible

Harvey Cox

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Renowned religion expert and Harvard Divinity School professor Harvey Cox deepens our experience of the Bible, revealing the three primary ways we read it, why each is important, and how we can integrate these approaches for a richer understanding and appreciation of key texts throughout the Old and New Testaments.

The Bible is the heart of devotional practice, a source of guidance and inspiration rich with insightful life lessons. On the other side of the spectrum, academics have studied the Bible using scientific analysis to examine its historical significance and meaning. The gap between these readings has resulted in a schism with far-reaching implications: Without historical context, ordinary people are left to interpret the Bible literally, while academic readings overlook the deeply personal connections established in church pews, choir benches, and backyard study groups.

In How To Read the Bible, Cox explores three different lenses commonly used to bring the Bible into focus:

  • Literary—as narrative stories of family conflict, stirring heroism, and moral dilemmas;
  • History—as classic texts with academic and theological applications;
  • Activism—as a source of dialogue and engagement to be shared and applied to our lives.

By bringing these together, Cox shows the Bible in all its rich diversity and meaning and offers us a contemporary activist version that wrestles with issues of feminism, war, homosexuality, and race. The result is a living resource that is perpetually evolving as our understanding changes and deepens from generation to generation.


♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥   Read the Bible in New Ways

Cox introduces us on the various methods we should use when studying the Bible. From narrative to historical to language and everything in between, Cox provides the reader with guidance on resources and reasoning behind his recommendations. A must-read for anyone who wishes to read the Bible in new ways.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥   A Balanced and Open-Minded Treatment of the Bible

Cox never comes across as an overbearing biblical know-it-all, nor a soft focus liberal, but treads a middle ground between three overarching approaches, all of which stem from his life’s journey with the texts. The narrative approach reads and focuses on the stories of scripture. The historical approach studies the context and accepts that these are not histories as modern readers know them. The spiritual approach looks to read the Bible as if it is our own story, as we wrestle with God and life the way that the many and varied cast of the Bible did.
For some, Cox’s acceptance of much of the historical criticism that are put forward by modern scholars will be too far from what they can comfortably swallow. But for this recovering literalist who is still looking for a bit of magic in the Good Book, this balanced and open-minded treatment is meeting me right where I’m at.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥  A Valuable Introduction to the Larger World of Biblical Research.

Personally, How to Read the Bible is a very liberating book. In the media, most biblical discussions fit into one of two templates, one believing that every word of The Bible is the inerrant word of God, and those who believe that the whole book is superstition and bad history. Conflict, after all, helps ratings.
I have never held either of these views, and I am certain that I am not alone. Cox presents an argument that neither side is exactly correct. For example, in the chapter on Genesis, Cox makes the argument that the biblical accounts of creation are not really asking a question of how the world came to be. Instead, the authors of Genesis are having a dialog on how evil can exist in a universe created by a perfectly benevolent Being.
How to Read the Bible is not written to change the minds people. However, for people who are genuinely seeking to reconcile the spiritual message of The Bible with a modern viewpoint, How to Read the Bible is a valuable introduction to the larger world of biblical research.