Among the slogans that set the agenda for much modem study of the Bible, the prescription that it should be read “like any other book” seems to me singularly unhelpful. We do not read Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves or Have it Your Way, Charlie Brown the same way we read Hamlet or King Lear. Critique of Pure Reason and The House at Pooh Corner are both, I believe, eminently worth reading (though, in the one instance, I am relying on others’ assurances), but they call for rather different approaches. Textbook of Medical Oncology requires yet another. To cut short a game becoming more fun by the minute, we may well ask: Like which other book are we supposed to read the Bible?
To be sure, these and other books can all be read the same way if we approach each with a particular question in mind: How frequently does the author split inﬁnitives, dangle participles, or quote Russian proverbs? Or, what do Romeo and Juliet, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and Pippi Longstocking tell us about eating habits at the time of their composition? (This game, too, could be fun.) These are, I suppose, legitimate questions — doctoral dissertations have certainly been written on stranger topics — but they seem somewhat limiting. Classic literature — William Shakespeare, Søren Kierkegaard, Astrid Lindgren — has more to offer its readers; those open to experiencing the “more” soon learn that different books make different demands on their readers.
Unless, then, we are reading the Bible merely to carry out our own limiting agendas, the notion that it should be read “like any other book” will be true only in the sense that the Bible, like any other book, calls for a particular kind of reading. Sensitive readers of the Bible, like sensitive readers of any text, will be alert to what is being asked of them, given the nature of the text before them; it is then, of course, up to their discretion whether they will attempt to measure up to those demands.
Stephen Westerholm & Martin Westerholm, Reading Sacred Scripture: Voices from the History of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans , 2016), 1-2