The Trouble with Familiarity

March 27, 2014

When teaching the “Reading Scripture” course, one of the common challenges that readers face is what we might identify as the “trouble with familiarity.”

Quite often, we come to a passage having heard it or read it at some earlier time. We have a vague sense of what the passage is about and that vague sense tends to override our attentiveness to what the text before us actually says. We end up substituting what we think the passage is about for what it really says.

This doesn’t mean we should (or can) approach Scripture without any pre-understanding —only that we have to learn to read texts with fresh eyes so as to not overlook what the text truly says.

Howard and William Hendricks explain: “It is often said that familiarity breeds contempt. Well, something else it breeds is ignorance. The moment you come to a passage of Scripture and say, ‘Oh, I know this one already,’ you’re in trouble. Instead you need to come to every text as if you’d never seen it before in your life. . . . The point is, do whatever it takes to approach the Word with a fresh perspective. One of the great killers of Bible study is the statement,‘I already know that.’” (Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks, Living by the Book [Chicago: Moody, 1991], 10)

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