Optional page text here. The Beast's Lair: Horizontal and Vertical Reading of Scripture

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Horizontal and Vertical Reading of Scripture

Horizontal and vertical readings are terms used to represent the approach we take when reading Scripture. Horizontal reading takes the entire canon, or more specifically books that comprise similar themes or authors (such as the 4 Gospels or letters from Paul), and harmonizes those teachings and sayings. Vertical reading exegetes the single book that is being read based on it's particular text and not that of other books and authors. There is great value in horizontal reading, and surely the entire canon of Scripture should be kept in mind during study or lesson/sermon preparation. But the implicit danger of horizontal reading is that we can kick into "robot mode" and formulate the intended meaning from the author of one particular book by what we know from other books. All of us who read Scripture do this at one level or another.

A simple example of horizontal reading is the story of the "Rich Young Ruler." Most of us know the story well, and we all refer to it, whether from the pulpit or the Sunday School room, as the "rich young ruler." But did you know that the man who talks to Jesus is never called "rich", "young", and "ruler" in the same Gospel? Mark calls him rich, Luke calls him a ruler, and Matthew calls him young. But, since we have read the story in all Gospels and know we are referring to the same account, this conversation has become known by all as the "rich young ruler." Again, that is fine. Certainly we are to view the canon as a whole and ultimately see how Jesus is portrayed from Genesis to Revelation and the process of Redemptive History. However, we do want to avoid the trap of neglecting to focus on the singular story at hand and the specific author's intent with their particular letter or book. This "vertical" reading will yield those juicy, glorious details that might otherwise be missed by too quickly harmonizing the text and failing to properly see the power of the author's own work.


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