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.
To Mark Allan Powell
Thanks for your response, I am reading the books you have suggested and many others. Your studies have been positive gift to us. God continue to bless you!
Your Bible studies in the Gather magazine in the past few months have been real eye-openers and the study on the Prodigal Son really surprised our group. How protected from the reality of famine we are in America. How surprising that inheriting from parents is an “American” viewpoint. You have opened my mind, and those of my prayer partners!
Mark, all good things must come to an end but I am so sorry to have to bid adios to you. However, you did not let us down. The last study was as full of surprises (the o’l P/Son parable) as the first and when you introduced the Tanzanian Perspective.. Well, the socks blew off again! I cannot tell you what a pleasure it has been for my Circle to have been able to go thru your Multiple Meanings series of studies. Diversity is indeed the spice of life and Diversity is what Gather Magazine has offered us. We certaintly look forward to crossing your path again in the future and once again preparing to be surprised because with you, one thing is certain..expect the unexpected & be amazed.