"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Scripture

Monday, January 28, 2008


It's been great to see all the new comments from folks who are questioning Laestadianism, reading the Bible and forming their own conclusions. You are not alone. This blog is for you.

One theme that I hear time and again from people who are leaving, have left, or are considering leaving is this: "I started reading the Bible for myself, and it calls what I've been taught into question."

I think this is one of the great strengths of the Bible, no matter what branch of Christianity you come from. At least since the protestant reformation (and I suspect long before it as well) all kinds of people with widely varying beliefs have used the Bible to call the powers that be and the prevailing wisdom into question.

I can't help but chuckle a little bit inside when some established faith communities try to take the Bible and use it to support a rigid system of rules and power relationships. (Laestadianism being a major offender, but I can think of some others as well.) The Bible, with all its stories of the lowly being raised up, and the rich and powerful being brought down. It's a little bit like trying to build a jail out of bricks using plastic explosives as mortar. Sooner or later that ediface is going to blow sky high!

On a slightly different tangent, when I left Laestadianism I had to take a "break" from the Bible for awhile. Whenever I would read scripture, I would hear the preachers voices in my head. I was so familiar with how the preachers interpreted the Bible that it was hard for me to see anything there other than what the preachers had to say.

One of the great benefits of reading theological books and course materials in addition to just the Bible is that you'll get exposed to ways of thinking about the text that you could never imagine on your own. It has taken a long time, but I'm starting to be able to look at scripture and see a "surplus of meaning" instead of the limited meanings assigned by the preachers.

While I believe that we're each called to be our own theologian and "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" there are also great benefits to taking advantage of the wealth of theological reflection that has been done over the last 20 centuries. We can "stand on the shoulders of giants" and see much farther than we would alone.

I'll conclude this post with some discussion questions from a Bible study I recently ran across on my own denominations web site. I thought the questions were good ones for ex-Laestadians as well:

  • What were your early experiences with and understandings of the Bible? How has your understanding of the Bible changed over time?
  • What is your understanding of the authority of Scripture and the role of tradition and reason in your decision making? Do you see the Bible as containing the specific answers to all our questions and issues, or is it more than "just a simplistic rule book"?
  • What is your experience of the difference between reading and interpreting the Bible alone versus in a group? What is the role of the Christian community (past and present) in interpreting or communicating God's Word to us?



  1. I am still struggling with whether or not to trust my interpretation of what I read after being told all my life (and now too) that only some are blessed with the gift of interpretation. That, compounded with being told that I should only read the KJV of the bible (the hardest one to read), basically until recently, killed my desire to read the bible. If you are told that you can only read the KJV, and when you do read it have a very hard time comprehending the old english used, it is easy then to believe that only some "have the gift of interpretation." I have come to wonder if that is one of the reasons so many in the church feel that we should only read the KJV. They may feel that if we start reading other versions of the bible, that other people (the translators...not Laestadians) are the ones doing the interpreting. They may think this (that someone else is interpreting) because in those versions it is easier, in the newer english, to comprehend what is being read, therefore easier to interpret what is being read for yourself. Then, when it is easier to understand the bible, it is easier to end up with answers to questions that conflict with Laestadianism. It is no longer as easy with the newer versions just to say, "Oh well! I don't understand the bible, so I am not going to question anything. I am sure it (inject subject here) is in there."

    Anyway, it is late. I havn't proofread my comment (nor am I going to), so I hope there is some cohesion to my thoughts. Maybe they are just ramblings. I don't know. Goodnight all.

  2. My early experiences with the Bible were through the filter of other people's interpretations, and I believed that God was harsh and judging. But when I began to read it for myself I saw that it was a book of love! Recently I bought a copy of the Inductive Study Bible, which encourages reading the Bible for yourself and not through someone else's interpretation.

    The second question - is the Bible the answer to all of life's questions? Probably, although I think you do need to spend time in it to find out for sure. There seem to be universal truths which can be found in other world religions as well, even though they are distinctly different from Christianity.

    Third question - alone or in a group. You can benefit from both. Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian executed by the Nazis, believed that God was found in the community of believers, but when he saw the church embrace and even idolize Hitler it called this belief into question, and led him on a different path.

  3. I guess reading and interpretation on one's own would probably have the effect of shaping your religion or beliefs around the way you want to live your life resulting in a changing faith and understanding...kind of a lost and alone feeling. Every person would have their own little understanding that satisfied them. Interpretation by others who have considered the matter of interpretation along with the knowledge and understanding of those that have left us with much understanding is a better way to go in my mind. The shape of the person is defined around the religious belief system established over many years of consideration and discussion. Not ten minutes of reading and going hmmmm I wonder how I want this to apply to my way of thinking. Maybe I don't make any sense here, but just my thoughts on the matter. The main thing is that we simply believe that Jesus died for my sins and the sins of the whole world. Everything else stems from this simple belief. It's really not a complex matter.

  4. Anon 11:26, I hope you didn't get the impression that I read and study on my own in order to shape my religion or beliefs around the way I want to live my life. Rather, I want to understand better what it is that I hear in church, and Bible reading is a very good thing way to do that. Maybe that's not what you meant but I just wanted to clear that up... Yes, it really is very simple and not complex, and 'much study' almost always brings home that very point! Well said!

  5. I was never able to understand the KJV. I think "Questioning" is right - perhaps thats why only a select few have the "gift of interpretation" - because it's not written in our language. Even interpreters (a.k.a. preachers) have to translate their interpretations into modern English for their listeners. I mean, is it that much to ask to have a translation in my own language? Are the Finnish and Swedish versions of the Bible used in the OALC better suited to their current languages? If versions of the KJV have been translated into different languages then why would it be sinful to translate it into modern English so that readers can actually understand it? I remember an OALC preacher making a big deal about how a modern Bible had twisted the words of Jesus based on what He "really" said per the KJV. Wish I recalled the passage. Years later it dawned on me - Jesus didn't even SPEAK English. He didn't even speak that old version of English. And the original books of the Bible were written in Greek and Hebrew. Everything in the Bible has had to be translated into some other language for all to hear.

    I read the New American Bible which was translated from the original Greek and Hebrew texts and contains lots of commentary explaining the translation challenges and also historical information about the authors and intended audience.

    I recommend starting with a Gospel - Matthew for example. When the footnotes refer to an Old Testament/prophetic passage, go back and read that so you understand the connection. Take your time. Then read Acts of the apostles (my personal favorite), then read the New Testament letters in the order they are written. Most current Bibles have a timeline in their table of contents so you can follow the historical context while you read.

  6. That "gift of interpretation" thing simply infuriates me. That is someone trying to keep others from reading the Bible so they can maintain their own sense of superiority, and that's all. Think about it. How or why would a loving God inspire the writing of a document that only some elect few could "intepret"? Bullfeathers and bohunky! The LLL churches certainly aren't the only ones to try that tack to keep the masses uniformed and in control. The Catholics, while they probably didn't prohibit the reading of the Bible, certainly didn't encourage it either, at one time. Fortunately that's changed, with virtually every parish sponsoring Bible study classes and groups of one kind or another.

    Now should one just read their Bible quietly to themselves and rely on God to lead them to understanding? Sure, that's one way, and I'd not doubt the faith of person who wanted to do that. However, I think God also allows us to have discussions with others so that we can live and learn and grow as a family. We can discuss ideas and help each other think of ways to consider our faith, recognizing that we do have different opinions about the details. We can listen to sermons and talks, read other books, and consider them as an opinion, whihc we may or may not find our own hearts open to, or which our own heart and intellect clearly guide us as being wrong. As has been pointed out, the important thing is our belief in Jesus, the Christ and Saviour.


  7. I don't remember ever being told that I couldn't understand the bible growing up in a laestadian church, but I didn't understand that old english very well so didn't bother reading the bible at all. I didn't read the bible at all after I left the church, but if I had, I would've probably just seen what I'd heard for the first 18 years of my life. I still don't read the bible much, but have a "modern english" bible thats been translated from the old english (I'm not sure what version..) and during our marriage prep course, we had a pastor (not a laestadian one) teaching us, and the way he explained things made way more sense than what I'd heard from the LLC all my life. It was really neat to hear how he interpreted things because it actually made sense!

    Bunless, I totally agree with what you said about the bible being traslated. How can the laestadians say that the KJV is the "true" version (or whatever...) when Jesus didn't even speak english....they should be reading the very first bible in order to claim that its the true version...and I don't think they'd get very far with that!lol
    I never understood why they were so against the modern english traslations of the old bibles, but I guess it's because they don't want the members to start seeing what the bible is really saying...
    (sry if i didn't make sense in my rambling..)

  8. You know, if you can't decide about the KJV being the only inspired version and if you are worried that other versions might be "counterfeit" Bibles, then why not do your Bible study as a side-by-side comparison and read a "modern" Bible alongside the KJV. That might be a good way to go for folks like "Questioning" who are still on the fence.

  9. I grew up in the OALC and woke up in adulthood realizing I knew almost nothing about the Bible. Today I enjoy reading various translations of the Bible. For those who believe that the KJV is the only viable translation, realize that even that one was at one time translated!

  10. Of course all English language Bibles are translations. I remember the OALC preachers saying the niv and other modern translations had changed the wording so much as to "take the sin out of the Bible"! Balderdash!!

    The church I now attend uses the NIV, but our Pastor is equally at home with the kjv that he grew up with. I read the NIV mostly now, but I still enjoy reading the old english kjv too. Passages like the 23rd Psalm are beautifully written in the old english format, but the niv meaning is the same.
    I like Bunless's idea of using both versions in a bible study environment. In our bible Study Group, our Pastor will often give the Hebrew or Greek translation of a word to help us to understand the English meaning, and that is very helpful.
    Just my .02 worth. 4eyes

  11. What were your early experiences with and understandings of the Bible? How has your understanding of the Bible changed over time?

    The most significant change I've had in my understanding of the Bible over time is that I used to think that the Bible was largely self-interpreting. Now I think that everyone who reads the Bible reads it through their own lens. Even the so-called "literal interpretation" of scripture involves making assumptions about what you're reading that are not contained in the text itself.

    What is your understanding of the authority of Scripture and the role of tradition and reason in your decision making? Do you see the Bible as containing the specific answers to all our questions and issues, or is it more than "just a simplistic rule book"?

    As I alluded to in my original post, I think the Bible can be (among other things) a de-stabilizing influence. As such it doesn't contain the answers to all our questions. Instead, it calls into question all our answers! :-)

    I see Scripture as authoritative in the sense that Christianity would be pretty unrecognizable if you tried to remove all the elements that are either directly or indirectly influenced by the Bible. Just try talking about Jesus sometime without using any material from the New Testament. As Christians I believe we're called to read the Bible, wrestle with it, and try to make sense out of it. Throughout history and today faithful people can and will come to differing conclusions on almost every aspect of Scripture and how to apply it meaningfully to their lives. I have faith that the Spirit will bless our attempts to interact with the Bible; I am therefore much less concerned about the specific beliefs that people hold about the Bible so long as they are engaging with it.

    While this approach allows for a "surplus of meaning" and multiple interpretations, it does not mean that I believe every interpretation is correct. Interpretations that hurt oneself or others are clearly wrong, in my view. Much of my gripe with Laestadianism and other religions like it lies in the way they use the Bible to oppress others.

    I don't believe the Bible contains specific answers to all our questions and issues, nor is it a simplistic rule book. Instead, part of Christian formation is interacting with "the good book." That interaction, along with reason and tradition, forms and informs our decision making.

    What is your experience of the difference between reading and interpreting the Bible alone versus in a group? What is the role of the Christian community (past and present) in interpreting or communicating God's Word to us?

    I think the Chritian community (past and present) is indespensable in helping us interpret the Bible in a useful way. Community is also challenging, however. After a lifetime of self-censoring and hiding dissenting views while a Laestadian, I find it difficult to openly disagree with others in church today. It's much easier to write about it on a blog than do it face to face! :-)

  12. I remember years ago attending Catholic Mass and the Gospel Reading was from Matthew 22 where the Pharisees were asking Jesus about paying taxes. Jesus held up a coin and asked, "Whose face is on this coin? They answered, "Caesar's." And He said "Well then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God." I just thought jeez what a brilliant answer, perhaps this Jesus guy is more interesting than I previously thought. I did not recall ever hearing that gospel passage in the OALC, and if I did, it was from the KJV which is totally cryptic and the passage would have never struck me the same way having to hear it the archaic English translation.

    So like the experience of "th" - it was hearing this Biblical stuff told to me in plain English that finally sparked my interest.

  13. If KJV was good enough for Jesus, then it's gotta be good enough for us! ;)

    The Bible should of course be in an understandable language, but there's one thing that sometimes escapes the attention of those advocating the use of modern Bible translations, the fact that the whole translation approach is typically different in the modern translations compared to the older ones. The modern translations typically are based on the idea of giving the translators free hands to interpret what the author had in mind and then write this interpretation in their own words in the language into which they are translating. In older translations the goal was to translate words and sentences. The difference in approach makes the older translations more accurate but more difficult to understand, while the newer translation are easier to understand but risk to provide a totally distorted message in case the translator's interpretation of the message is incorrect.

    In my opinion, the best way is to learn Greek and Hebrew and read the Bible in original language. The next best thing is to read and compare different translations. As a specialist in the field of translation (one of my university degrees is from translation), I would never ever recommend using just one translation, whether new or old.


    The European OALC communities in general use pretty old Bible translations, but not as old as the KJV.

    The Finnish version used by the OALC in Europe is from 1776, but it is based on older translations and the orthography has been modernized (they used to spell words differently, and in fact they also used a totally different set of fonts, the old German kind). This is the version read at public meetings, but many people use newer translations in their private study.

    In Swedish a 19th century translation is used, while in Norway they normally use one from 1930 at meetings but encourage people to read also newer translations at home.

  14. I think it's worth adding that there are different kinds of Bible translations that have different goals and methods. Back in the '70s there was a version called "the Good News Version" if I recall correctly. It was very readable, but it was a paraphrase; meaning (like hibernatus said) that the translators took the idea of the original and put it into their own words. A more recent modern paraphrase called "The Message" does the same thing. They are both very readable, but you run the risk of losing the sense of the original.

    Other modern translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV, my favorite) and the New International Version (NIV) purport to be line by line translations of the original Greek and Hebrew. I would consider these to be generally more accurate than a paraphrase, but possibly harder to read.

    In church last Sunday we read Psalm 146 in both "The Message" and the NRSV. The line that reads "put not your trust in princes" in the NRSV read "don't trust the experts" in "The Message."

    I understand what the translator was tryig to do, but that's quite a difference!