Reading The Bible With The Poor

Source: “Reading the Bible with the Poor” in Always With Us: What Jesus Really Said About the Poor (Chapter 2)

Author: Liz Theoharis

This approach is about “examining the way the Bible has been used to justify and condemn poverty and the way poor people are simultaneously confronting and using the Bible in their quest to end poverty.” (31)”[The Biblical] text has been stripped of its power, its organizing power, its resistance power. We want to reclaim the text so that people can have another tool to use in their resistance towards social transformation.” (32) – Charlene Sinclair

This chapter outlines an actual Bible study that a group of (30 or so poverty scholars) did together a number of years ago. They basically did a Lectio Divina type reading where the would read it once, have silence, reading it a second time, and reflect on things that came up, etc. Slowly working their way up to a more academic study of the text.

Empire features large in this chapter as well:

  • Saying that _basileia_ in the Greek should be understood as “empire.” And that there is this contrasting empire of God and empire of Ceasar. Jesus speaking about the empire of God could be understood “as a polemic against Ceasar’s Roman Empire” (as Caesar understood himself to be God) (40)
  • Another aspect of this is what Theoharis calls empire-critical Biblical studies. This is a new term to me but it opens up a more critical reading of the text that points to the fact that Christianity was an counter-imperial movement in the first century.

The Methodology of Reading the Bible with the Poor first centers on the poor in the text. It puts “liberation and the agency of the poor at the center of biblical interpretation produc[ing] a cohesive, directed way of doing biblical interpretation. It is connected with Liberation Theology.

Ernesto Cardenal’s _Gospel of Solentiname_ is a clear example of what this looks like in practice.

The method itself draws from Gordon Fee’s work and is outline as such: (54)

  • Survey the historical context
  • Choose a limited passage or pericope

– Become acquainted with the pericope – List exegetical difficulties (topics for special study) – Explore the history of interpretation – Read several translations

  • Analyze the structure and syntax; that is, analyze grammar, significant words
  • Research historical background
  • Look at broader biblical and theological context
  • Explore secondary literature

Theoharis suggests that following this method with the poverty scholars created a new approach, or at least contributed to Fee’s approach.

Method of Reading the Bible with the Poor * Study of the text and context * Interest in the historical context * Study of the poor and poverty in the Bible as well as other intertextual work * A look at the parallels of historical and contemporary context * Interest in the Christ of faith and the Jesus of history * Communal Bible study

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