The Bible is a sprawling text which makes a committed, penetrating study of it a challenge. The very question of where to begin can be daunting enough. Even though it is not usually thought of in that way, I consider such questions to be hermeneutical issues because how we decide to approach the text has direct impact how we interpret it. For me as a Christian these things matter to me greatly because I consider the Bible to be our God’s authoritative message to us. Because of that it is important for me not to only get exegetical details correct but have a macro view of how how the text actually functions.
All these things fall under Bibliology, that is, theology of the Bible. I prefer to think of Bibliology as theory and not theology because even though theology is central to what scripture is, it is not all it is. Philosophy, culture, history, literature and other things all define scripture as well. I know theory does not sound very sacred but I do think we to work our way up from it to a theology of scripture. The reason why I even look it at that way, as something we should want to earn for ourselves instead of just taking it for granted, is because of what I think the Bible is. It all circles back to what you think of it. These hidden beliefs we have about the Bible in my experience are unexamined presumptions. Just because they have not been carefully thought through does not make them false but given how important the Bible is to the believer, I think it is well worth giving it a thought.
About four years ago I started having such thoughts. I asked myself what is the Bible, why the canon, what is the word of God, what is a word, what does the Bible is the word of God even mean etc? I call them fundamental questions because they concern the very basics of the Bible and because they are so foundational they are often missed. Getting the answers to these questions was demanding but I enjoyed the drawn out process.
The on going journey of mapping out the answers made me recognise who we are as individuals and where we are in life influences our view of scripture. I had not asked those questions before. When I did it was in reaction to particular circumstances combined with my personal make up that pushed me in those directions. A good theory of scripture requires that you recognise that you are not a neutral analyst. Both personal and textual matters shape how we view the scriptures. To have a proper view of scripture we need to have a certain self awareness. The way I began this, it seemed I was going to make the Bible simpler but I ended up demonstrating how even more complicated it is. If we are going to make sense of it, we need to be honest about what it is and all that it entails.
As much as I have tried to present that a sprawling text has sprawling concerns, scripture is ultimately not meant to be theorised but used. The use of scripture like the text itself is a sophisticated enterprise. Even if you are not aware of it, when you use it you are automatically doing many things at once. The most fundamental thing you can do with it is read it.
There are many Bibliological hurdles to clear but the track we must run on is knowledge of the text. The simple reading of scripture to know what it says, without looking for an application or attempting to theologise, is criminally underrated. It seems so obvious but in my experience I have found most Christians simply do not have a competent general knowledge of the text. Even before I knew how it all fit together I had the advantage of a comprehensive knowledge of it. The Bible is voluminous so to get a true handle on it you first have to read it, all of it, and do it over and over again. This is a lifelong project.