My Response To Matt Whitman's Response

Matt Whitman from the Ten Minute Bible Hour was kind enough to write a response to the post that I wrote about him.  All of the "Interesting Voices" that I've written about thus far have responded positively except for one, who hasn't responded at all <cough>Tim Mackie</cough>. Austin Fischer left a nice comment, but Matt is the only one who has taken the time to write a pretty substantial response and post it on his blog. And he did it in he midst of what seems to be a pretty busy schedule.  As someone who's blog is still pretty new and still trying to find my voice, I really value feedback like Matt's.  So thanks, amigo!

I think Matt and I share a lot of common ground, so I'm just going to respond to a couple of snippets. Be sure to read Matt's entire response over at The Ten Minute Bible Hour.  From his post:

At the end of his post Michael asked what I thought about mirror reading, and I guess I’d say it’s intuitive and I dig it especially where there’s reasonable evidence to support conclusions about the invisible side of the conversation. That said, there lots of great tools for unpacking a biblical text, and I think an over-dependence on mirror reading could lead to some hard-to-defend conclusions that are little more than fun speculation.

I think mirror-reading is intuitive for everyone but only to a certain extent.  I also agree that mirror-reading is just one tool in the Biblical interpretation toolbox.  I consider mirror-reading to be a subcategory of the historical-grammatical method (as I point out here). Also, I consider mirror-reading's "situational context" to be a subcategory of historical context.

As far as an over-dependence on mirror-reading is concerned, I feel that's like saying an over-dependence on Biblical interpretation could lead to bad theology. It's not the method but how well the method is executed.  There has certainly been many bad mirror-readings, but I see it as crappy mirror-reading instead of an over-dependence on it.

John Barclay's article has tempered my zealousness for mirror-reading somewhat, but his methodology is a move in the right direction. I think we can improve upon and expand such methodology to utilize mirror-reading for greater insights and greater detail but without the speculation.  Phase 1 of this blog has focused primarily on raising greater awareness of mirror-reading.  In Phase 2, I'll focus more on formal mirror-reading, developing techniques and methodologies that will hopefully generate mirror-readings that have greater detail and accuracy but can also be substantiated on every point. So, although I understand peoples desire to be cautious when it comes to mirror-reading, I'll be pushing them to not be afraid.

Again, from Matt's post:

But Michael’s critique demonstrates my concern with leaning to heavily on mirror reading. He’s right that the Bible wasn’t written to be just a good story, but it wasn’t all written exclusively as a reaction either. Each genre has its own motivations, and trying to force mirror reading to the front of the interpretive line with all of them won’t always work best.  

It's my position that we must at least attempt to mirror-read every book of the Bible.  Yes, the Pauline letters will yield greater mirror-reading results than perhaps other genres, but mirror-reading is still valuable when approaching all genres and books of the Bible. I've been able to mirror-read every book of the Bible that I've attempted so far. (although, honestly, I have my doubts about Proverbs, but I'll still try if I ever get around to it).

I believe that mirror-reading should be at the front of the line, at least initially.  I say that because the possibility is always there of not being able to understand the "what" without the "why".  If it launches one into speculation, then yes, discard immediately (although, I don't mind speculation as long as it's indicated as such).

Thanks again to Matt for engaging in the mirror-reading discussion with me!

Matt Whitman: Serving Up The Bible In Savory 10 Minute Bites

Matt Whitman

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:

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”?