****This short but powerful article was taken from the spiritual writings of the famous Danish philosopher, who is considered the “grandfather of existentialism”, Soren Kierkegaard. The book that we got it from is a great compilation of his most readable essays called “Provocations”, and you can download the rest of it (highly recommended!) for free.****
Today’s mass of Bible interpreters have damaged,
more than they have helped, our understanding of the Bible. In
reading the scholars it has become necessary to do as one does at
a play where a profusion of spectators and spotlights prevent, as
it were, our enjoyment of the play itself and instead we are treated
to little incidents. To see the play, one has to overlook them, if
possible, or enter by a way that has not yet been blocked. The
commentator has indeed become a most hazardous meddler.
If you wish to understand the Bible, then be sure to read it
without a commentary.
Think of two lovers. The lover writes a
letter to the beloved. Is the beloved concerned about what others
think of it? Will he not read it all alone? In other words,
would it ever occur to him to read this letter with a commentary?!
If the letter from the lover were in a language he did not
understand – well, then he would learn the language – but he
would certainly not read the letter with the aid of commentaries.
They are of no use. The love for his beloved and his readiness
to comply with her desires, makes him more than able to
understand her letter. It is the same with the Scriptures. With
God’s help we can understand the Bible all right. Every commentary
detracts, and he who sits with ten open commentaries
and reads the Scriptures – well he is probably writing the eleventh.
He is certainly not dealing with the Scriptures.
Suppose now that this letter from the lover has the unique
attribute that every human being is the beloved – what then?
Should we now sit and confer with one another? No, each of us
should read this letter solely as an individual, as a single individual
who has received this letter from God. In reading it, we
will be concerned foremost with ourselves and with our relationship
to him. We will not focus on the beloved’s letter, that this
passage, for example, may be interpreted in this way, and that
passage in that way – oh, no, the important thing to us will be
to act as soon as possible.
Isn’t it something to be the beloved, and doesn’t this give us
something that no commentator has? Think about it. Aren’t we
each the best interpreter of our own words? And then next the
lover, and in relation to God, the true believer? Lest we forget,
the Scriptures are but highway signs: Christ, the beloved, is the
way. Kill the commentators!
Of course, the commentators are not the only ones at fault.
God wants to force each one of us out again into the essential,
back to a childlike beginning. But being naked before God in
this way, this we do not want at all. We all prefer the commentaries.
So with each passing generation we grow more and more
What we really need, then, is a reformation that sets even the
Bible aside. Yes, this has just as much validity now as did
Luther’s breaking with the Pope. The current emphasis on getting
back to the Bible has, sadly, created religiosity out of learning
and literalistic chicanery – a sheer diversion. Tragically this
kind of knowledge has gradually trickled down to the masses so
that no one can read the Bible simply any more. All our Bible
learning has become nothing but a fortress of excuses and escapes.
When it comes to existence, to obedience there is always
something else we have to first take care of. We live under the
illusion that we must first have the interpretation right or the
belief in perfect form before we can begin to live – that is, we
never get around to doing what the Word says.
The Church has long needed a prophet who in fear and
trembling had the courage to forbid people to read the Bible. I
am tempted, therefore, to make the following proposal. Let us
collect all the Bibles and bring them out to an open place or up
on a mountain and then, while we all kneel, let someone talk to
God in this manner: Take this book back again. We Christians,
such as we are, are not fit to involve ourselves with such a thing;
it only makes us proud and unhappy. We are not ready for it. In
other words, I suggest that we, like those inhabitants whose
herd of pigs plunged into the water and died, beg Christ “to
leave the neighborhood” (Mt. 8:34). This would at least be honest
talk – something very different from the nauseating, hypocritical,
scholarship that is so prevalent today.
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand.
But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We
pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well
that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly.
Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything
except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you
will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I
ever get on in the world?
Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian
scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself
against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good
Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless
scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to
fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be
alone with the New Testament.
I open the New Testament and read: “If you want to be perfect,
then sell all your goods and give to the poor and come follow
me.” Good God, if we were to actually do this, all the capitalists,
the officeholders, and the entrepreneurs, the whole society in
fact, would be almost beggars! We would be sunk if it were not
for Christian scholarship! Praise be to everyone who works to
consolidate the reputation of Christian scholarship, which
helps to restrain the New Testament, this confounded book
which would one, two, three, run us all down if it got loose (that
is, if Christian scholarship did not restrain it).
In vain does the Bible command with authority. In vain does
it admonish and implore. We do not hear it – that is, we hear its
voice only through the interference of Christian scholarship,
the experts who have been properly trained. Just as a foreigner
protests his rights in a foreign language and passionately dares
to say bold words when facing state authorities – but see, the
interpreter who is to translate it to the authorities does not dare
do so but substitutes something else – just so the Bible sounds
forth through Christian scholarship.
We declare that Christian scholarship exists specifically to
help us understand the New Testament, in order that we may
better hear its voice. No insane man, no prisoner of the state,
was ever so confined. As far as they are concerned, no one denies
that they are locked up, but the precautions regarding the
New Testament are even greater. We lock it up but argue that we
are doing the opposite, that we are busily engaged in helping it
gain clarity and control. But then, of course, no insane person,
no prisoner of the state, would ever be as dangerous to us as the
New Testament would be if it were set free.
It is true that we Protestants go to great efforts so that every
person can have the Bible – even in their own tongue. Ah, but
what efforts we take to impress upon everyone that it can be
understood only through Christian scholarship! This is our
current situation. What I have tried to show here is easily stated:
I have wanted to make people aware and to admit that I find the
New Testament very easy to understand, but thus far I have
found it tremendously difficult to act literally upon what it so
plainly says. I perhaps could take another direction and invent a
new kind of scholarship, bringing forth yet one more commentary,
but I am much more satisfied with what I have done –
made a confession about myself.