Both fun and educational, Matt Whitman creates some super great YouTube videos that everyone should check out.
This is part of a series which I'm calling "Interesting Voices". You can see the whole series here. They run the spectrum from conservative to progressive, little known to well known. They may or may not already be familiar with mirror-reading. I may or may not agree with them theologically, but regardless, I think they are interesting voices speaking to the Christian community today. The purpose of the series is to both raise awareness of mirror-reading and to introduce you to these voices.
Matt Whitman pastors at Lander Evangelical Free Church (who's website could use some freshening up). Beyond his pastoral duties, he develops a number of different videos on the Ten Minute Bible Hour, including 10 minute(ish) videos that tackle chunks of Scripture. He does a great job of keeping them interesting and engaging. He posts his videos and writes over at Theology Mix. Matt also has a great sense of humor and it definitely shows in his creative endeavors. Check out his hilarious Christmas card:
Below is a video of Matt explaining what exactly the Ten Minute Bible Hour is and what he hopes to achieve:
I'm really glad that Matt has decided to focus on "what the text says, what the author whas going for and how the original audience would have received it." I think mirror-reading would greatly assist Matt in achieving that desire (more on that later).
I caught a glimpse of Matt's character on twitter a while back when he tweeted this:
I built a Twitter following the wrong way (tons of follow exchanges) and it got overwhelming to keep up with, so I followed my initial…— Matt Whitman (@TenMinBibleHour) July 6, 2015
...mistake with a second mistake and just mass-unfollowed to simplify things. I didn’t expect that to be hurtful to people to the degree…— Matt Whitman (@TenMinBibleHour) July 6, 2015
… that it was or to come off the way it did. I’m sorry, and I wish I could have a do over on that. Chump move on my part. Sincere apologies.— Matt Whitman (@TenMinBibleHour) July 6, 2015
That, my friends, is a classy move. Unless it was his plan all along, in which case, it would be devilishly clever, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope that perhaps, one day, he'll follow me back on twitter again.
Who's the Main Character of the Bible?
Although I completely agree that the Bible is not a story where I am (or you are) the main character, I think it may be misleading to call the Bible a story. I may be nitpicking here, but the Bible is a library of different genres. Some of them aren’t stories at all. Some of them are narratives, but the purpose of the narratives is not to tell a good story. If you read a narrative in the Bible and expect it to be like a story in a movie, you’ll be disappointed, and it will likely inhibit your understanding. Have you ever watched a movie that uses the Bible as a script? They’re incredibly boring. Robert McKee's "Story" explains many of the different aspects of a story: a protagonist that has an object of desire, forces of antagonism, character development, climax, resolution. Many of these aspects are lacking in the Biblical narratives. That’s because they weren’t written to be good stories. They were written as a response to a specific situation, and their main purpose was to correct false teachings. We are missing half of the “real story” that’s behind the books of the Bible, but we can reconstruct the other half through mirror-reading the narratives.
I’m not saying that Matt necessarily disagrees with all of that, but I just wanted to clarify. I should also mention that I agree that all of the books of the Bible are part of an overarching narrative throughout history, it’s just that all the books themselves should not be considered "stories", because they just don't live up to our modern concept of what a story is.
Mirror-Reading And Matt Whitman
Matt is working his way through the Book of Acts. Below is a playlist of his videos on Acts:
Matt does a great job on trying to focus on what the text would have meant to the original reader. He uses historical context to bring insight to the text. However, with mirror-reading, one can gain the “situational context” needed to bring even further understanding. Matt gets into that a little bit by explaining the author’s motivation: Some amazing things happened before and after Christ, and people wanted to know if it was true. What were the circumstances? Who were the witnesses? The original reader wanted the whole story. However, the original reader already had half of the story, leaving us with only half of the story. Again, mirror-reading attempts to reconstruct the other half.
Matt calls the Book of Acts a “theology book” at one point. That’s dangerously close to calling it a theological dissertation, and calling it that assumes that we have all the data. For reasons already explained, we do not have all the data. It does, of course, have theological themes within it, but I think calling it a theology book can skew one's approach to the Bible.
I like Matt’s approach when the Bible talks about Jesus eating and that he was actually resurrected in bodily form. I usually hear something like, “Hey, Jesus is my kind of guy! He’s always eating!”. Although amusing, that explanation misses the point of the text and Matt does a good job of bringing that to light.
Other places are lacking though. As much as I appreciate his libertarian views when it comes to explaining why early Church members sold all their possessions, there was no exploration as to why that was an issue to the original readers. Luke is not just being descriptive in his writing, but corrective. What was happening in the church of the original reader that needed to be corrected by Luke’s story about selling all possessions?
Another place that could have explored mirror-reading more is the story of the death of Ananias and his wife. Again, Luke is corrective, not just descriptive. What was Luke trying to correct by telling the story of Ananias?
Unfortunately, I haven’t mirror-read Acts, so I don’t have all the answers. However, Matt my find this post of some interest.
I also want to mention that Matt does a good job of finding parallels between Luke and Acts. So much so that it got me thinking if they were part of a chiasmus. This one may be of interest:
A Galilee, Luke 4:14-9:50
B Journey to Jerusalem (through Samaria and Judea), Luke 9:51-19:40
C Jerusalem, Luke 19:41-24:49
D Ascension, Luke 24:50-51
D' Ascension, Acts 1:1-11
C' Jerusalem, Acts 1:12-8:1a
B' Judea and Samaria, Acts 8:1b-11:18
A' To the end of the earth, Acts 11:19-28:31
There are others that are also proposed in this Word Doc.
Questions For Matt Whitman
I’ve listed a couple of open questions to Matt below. I welcome a response from Matt, whether as a guest post, a response on his own blog or simply in the comments below.
1. What are your thoughts on mirror-reading?
2. Did you want to respond to anything that I've written above?
Questions For My Readers
What do you think of Matt? Do you agree with his take on things? Who else do you think is an “interesting voice”?