This winter, Mark Allan Powell, the author of Gather’s four-part Bible study on “Multiple meanings,” is taking your questions.

Reader Yvonne Page asked, “What does it require to be able to discern the multiple meanings of the parables/stories that I read? What do I need to do to be able discern the multiple meanings? I have been so literal I desire to be open to other ways of thinking and reasoning.”

Here’s is Mark Allan Powell’s response:

I will offer three suggestions.

First, you might practice what I described as “casting the Scriptures” in the first of the four studies in this series. Imagine the Bible story is a play, and you are cast to embody one of the characters—to be a good actor, you need to get into the role and take on the perspective of that character: How do you experience the story as that character. Then, to broaden your horizons, imagine you are cast as a different character and repeat the process.

Second, you might continue to do what you are apparently already doing: Study the Bible in groups—not just by yourself. Listen to the “meanings” that others get out of the story. Of course the value of “multiple meanings” is enhanced all the more when there is diversity in the group, so try to make that so. Your Women of the ELCA group should aim to include people of different ages, ethnicity, economic backgrounds and so forth.

Third, be on the lookout for books and Internet resources that offer biblical interpretations from perspectives different than your own. I’ll mention two that I like a lot: 

David Gowler’s The Parables After Jesus (Baker Academic). Gowler tells us how several parables were read and used in different cultures throughout history—e.g., you will learn how Frederik Douglass preached on “The Rich Man and Lazarus” from Luke 16 during the days of the Underground Railroad—the rich man is a Southern slave owner; Lazarus is a runaway slave; and of course “Father Abraham” is Abraham Lincoln. 

Julie Faith Parker’s My So-Called Biblical Life (Wipf & Stock). Full-disclosure: I wrote the foreword for this one. Parker asks people from different walks of life to do what I suggested above: Imagine that they are a Bible character and describe the meaning of a biblical story from that character’s perspective. We hear from truck drivers, doctors, professors, homemakers, even an inmate at Sing Sing (who imagines he is the serpent in the Garden of Eden and tries to defend that unpopular character against “the bum rap” he’s been given).

Be open-minded. Not everything is useful or even interesting. But sometimes you happen upon insights that you never would have come up with on your own!

Do you have a question about the “Multiple meanings: Learning from different interpretations” Bible study? Send your question to [email protected], and you might find your question answered here on our website.