The Five “Scopes” of Scripture

How do we approach Scripture as written documents?  How does reading Scripture influence our living and working?

Scripture reading (and interpreting & applying), is an important Christian spiritual discipline. But I find that many people struggle to know how to approach scripture, or worse, that they approach it poorly, making it say what they want or hope, (consciously or unconsciously).

Here is a helpful framework that I learned from a seminary professor.  He taught us to read and study Scripture through 5 “scopes.”  I have found it very practical and memorable.

  1. The Telescope – Seeing from far away (far in time, language, and culture)
  2. The Periscope – Looking around the text at it’s surrounding texts
  3. The Microscope – Examining the details
  4. The Stethoscope – Listening to the heart, the emotional and spiritual heartbeat of a passage
  5. The Kaleidoscope – Looking at the text through various lenses (e.g. reading from different cultural view points)

It is not unspiritual to be a critical reader of Scripture as human documents as well as inspired sacred texts.  For example, the Gospels are highly edited and crafted written texts. They were written a generation or two after the events and in the Lingua franca of the day (Greek).

The events passed from reality, to memory, to written text carefully, purposefully, and artfully.  For example, Some passages show chiasm, a literary structure that follows pattern.  These structures at times were helpful in memory aide and retranslation. Here’s an example from Matt 6:24:

A No one can serve two masters;
  B for either he will hate the one
    C and love the other,
    C or he will be devoted to one
  B and despise the other.
A You cannot serve God and wealth.

Author and teacher Kenneth Bailey says that the Gospels are essentially about authoritative insider interpretation.  The authors of the Gospels were those who worked to remember, sort out, interpret, and pass on the significant events and teaching of Jesus.  We do well to pay attention to their work as well as the inspired quality of what they pass on to us.

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