The Bible is not Open to Narcigesis: Thinking the Bible is Written to You

The Bible is a massive collection of writings, and we must investigate and interpret each passage to understand what it says. There are two primary ways of doing this.

Exegesis

All genuine scholars know that study of biblical passages begins with exegesis, which is determining what the passage actually says. We do this by careful analysis of the passage’s original language using tools by language experts. Context is also involved.

Unfortunately, most of us are unable to do this. But we can access the works of exegetical scholars (I recommend Anchor Bible Commentaries). Keep in mind that most commentaries are NOT exegetical, so choose appropriately.

Eisegesis

Eisegesis is reading our presuppositions and our theological perspectives INTO a passage. A lot of believers read the Bible this way without realizing it. Eisegesis is not a satisfactory way of understanding the biblical text.

The Bible – Pixabay

Narcigesis

I don’t remember where I encountered the term ‘narcigesis’ but I resonated with it as soon as I saw it. Upon further reading I discovered that it’s actually used several ways, but my use here is a simple one: Narcigesis is the belief that the Bible is written for YOU.

As we ignore the original audience and the author’s intent, we think each passage is God’s message to us personally. But this is not the case; the Bible was not written for us. Remember those devotionals that ask us to find a personal application from every passage? This is misguided; most passages don’t apply to us at all.

But wait! If the Bible is not written for us, then for whom was it written? Here are some examples.

The Old Testament

Each biblical author wrote to a particular audience. Most Old Testament books were addressed to the Israelites. Some tried to explain Israelite history, often to glorify their history over neighboring nations.

Other authors wrote to tell the Israelites, or their kings, how displeased they thought God was with their actions. In addition, there are philosophical books, inspiring stories, and other genres, but all books of the Old Testament were written or collected for the Israelites.

None was written or collected for US.

Paul

The very creative and prolific Paul influenced the church tremendously. He wrote letters to specific congregations he founded during his missionary journeys, such as Thessalonica, Corinth, and Philippi. He also wrote to the church at Rome.

Wow! Some of the things Paul wrote are absolutely powerful even today! He had tremendous insights. But some things he wrote are of value only to the congregations whom he addressed and are of little value to us today in a different time and culture.

Sometimes we look over Paul’s shoulder as he writes to his audiences and can benefit from his thinking. But he did NOT write his letters to us, and they are NOT divine truths for us to follow.

The Book of Revelation

The mysterious book of Revelation is very exciting; there is lots of action, drama, and strange stuff happening. It’s like an early science-fiction movie, but it is a story with a purpose.

Revelation was written to believers being persecuted by the Roman Empire. A clue is found in the letters to the seven churches of chapters 1-3. These churches are all near Ephesus in Asia Minor, so perhaps the occasion was a local persecution in that area.

It seems that the persecution was so intense that believers thought the church might be totally destroyed; but the author of Revelation wrote his story of fire and thunder to encourage them that the church would survive and be victorious.

This book does not reveal information about the end-times but concerns persecution in the early years of Christianity. It was NOT written to us and has little to do with us today, though any time believers are in despair from persecution it reminds us that Jesus and the kingdom of God will ultimately prevail.

The Gospels

The most important part of the Bible for us is the Gospels, which is the story of Jesus written from the memories of his earliest followers. But each author wrote to a different audience. Mark is a general introduction to the actions of Jesus, perhaps written from the preaching of Peter for the churches he influenced.

Matthew appears directed to Jewish believers of the first century and Luke-Acts to gentile believers. John seems written from the preaching of John for the churches under his influence to confirm what he believed and preached.

The Gospels were NOT written to us.

Even Jesus, himself, addressed specific audiences in the limited areas where he traveled. Some of what he said was limited to the audience and occasion in which he said it.

However, one of his audiences was his followers; some of what he told them was limited and personal, but some things he said were general in nature and, by extension, applicable to his followers in all times. But we still must consider the culture and context in which he spoke.

The Bible was NOT Written to Us

We are very fortunate to have the writings of the Bible, but we must remember that the authors wrote to other audiences—and not to us. This does not mean we cannot benefit from what the authors say to other audiences, but we cannot assume that everything in the Bible applies to us. This is why the Bible cannot be a book of rules, promises, or life lessons for us to follow today.

So try to read the Bible better and avoid narcigesis!

The Bible is Not a Magical Book

The Bible is very important to us who are believers. But attributing supernatural powers to the Bible is superstition based on unreasonable expectations. The power of the Bible is in the life and teaching of Jesus–and this power is real. Superstitious uses of the Bible emphasize the book over its message.

Other articles in this series: What the Bible is Not
What the Bible Is–And Is Not
The Bible is not Magically Inerrant: Exposing Inerrancy Proof-Texts
The Bible is not a Rule Book: Overcoming Legalism
The Bible is not a Promise Book: Exploring a Misguided Approach to the Bible
The Bible is not an Encyclopedia of Life: Demise of a Bible Answer Man
The Bible is not a Magic Talisman: Biblical Power, Incantations, and Bibliomancy
The Bible is not Open to Narcigesis: Thinking the Bible is Written to You

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36 Responses to The Bible is not Open to Narcigesis: Thinking the Bible is Written to You

  1. KIA says:

    Great article. Nacigesis… great term. Also I appreciate your take on the book of revelation. It’s one that I hold as well, and held as a Christian for the last few years of my faith. Picked it up from a Church of Christ Sunday morning teacher. Love the blog

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hello KIA, I am glad that you like the blog!

      I grew up a fundamentalist and then became an evangelical. People in both groups emphasize the rapture, tribulation, and end-times scenarios thinking they are going to happen really soon, ‘as the Bible says’. The biggest contributor to this misguided view is thinking that the book of Revelation is written to us.

      I wish more people understood this. It would prevent a lot of fear and silliness.

      Liked by 2 people

      • tonycutty says:

        Revelation is something I’m looking at at the moment with regard to which bits are ‘for now’ and which are not. Particularly the bits about hades and death going in the fire, and the ‘second death’ and what have you. Most confusing! But still fasinating. But there is no doubt that Revelation is the single most misused book in the entire canon of Scripture. I suspect that it only just scraped in to the canon, because of this very thing – the chance that so many would form erroneous doctrines from it. It’s proper weird!

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Tony, can you share some of your conclusions from your consideration of the parts of Revelation that are for now?

          Like

          • tonycutty says:

            Hehe thanks for the invite; it’s going to be a bit subjective I reckon, but I will let you know what I think about a couple of things. Basically I think that those things that can be filtered through a ‘Jesus lens’ are ‘good’, the other bits I will have to reconsider. They may become clearer at a later date; the whole thing is a learning curve.

            For example, I see no reason why the heavenly worship scenes should not be descriptions that are as accurate as possible, given that the writer is just a mortal trying to describe incredible and incomprehensible things. The stuff about beasts with lots of horns and stuff is clearly apocalyptic language. That said, understanding apocalyptic language – like for example horns representing power, powers or kings – is useful in interpreting modern-day prophetic dreams, like one I had a couple of months ago. My knowledge of prophetic language was essential in helping me interpret that dream, which I was absolutely certain was from God. Sorry I can’t share the detail publicly but it was a very personal dream. But Revelation did help, I have to say, along with Daniel and Ezekiel too. But I would not dream (sorry) of taking these passages literally. It’s supposed to be figurative in some way!

            Also, I’m absolutely certain that ‘the dwelling of God is now with men…’ (Rev 21:3) – and why should we not have a heavenly City where the streets are paved with gold? This is God we’re talking about…and if there is no such City, we can no doubt each of us build our own when we get to Heaven.

            I also comment on a Revelation passage in this blog post:
            http://www.flyinginthespirit.cuttys.net/2015/02/22/leaning-and-laughing/ and I am pretty sure that this is real. Because, that is just the sort of thing that our brilliant Jesus would do and set up, so this passes the ‘Jesus lens’ test.

            Granted, this lens is just one way of helping to interpret or otherwise use difficult Bible passages, but I find it useful, especially with passages like these we are talking about.

            And the 144,000? I have *absolutely* no idea….. 😀

            Does this answer your question, even a little? 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Tony, I like the description in your article of how it might be to live in ‘heaven’. I agree that the author of Revelation had some good ideas in representing what the final kingdom of God might be like, even though I do not think he described those things through prophetic revelation. We can all speculate and imagine.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Chas says:

            Tony, there is a good reason why streets would not be paved with gold. It is the same as that for why you would not want to have pure gold as fillings for your teeth: it is too soft. About 18 years ago there was a fad for people to claim that their teeth had been healed miraculously by God and that they had received pure gold as fillings, and this was being remarked upon by one of the pastors in our church. This somehow did not seem right to me, so I asked God if this was true. Almost immediately, I recalled from the Western films that a test for pure gold is to bite it. If it is indented by your teeth, you could assume that it was pure gold. I told this to a friend there, who was an engineer. He saw it immediately and remarked that, as a choice of tooth filling, pure gold was inappropriate.

            Liked by 2 people

  2. newtonfinn says:

    “…One of (Jesus’) audiences was his followers; some of what he told them was limited and personal, but some things he said were general in nature and, by extension, applicable to his followers in all times. But we still must consider the culture and context in which he spoke.” So true, yet massive denial of this fact remains in so much of Christianity.

    One of the reasons that I wrote a new (but still very synoptic) version of the gospel, based upon both biblical scholarship and personal religious experience, was to have a somewhat historical account of Jesus (in the sense that all of the gospels are somewhat historical) that spoke to me and my time. In the process of tearing the gospels apart saying by saying, parable by parable, event by event; attempting to minimize the editorial surplusage and theological overly which “higher” criticism had identified; and then using fresh context and chronology (rooted in what we now know about the Judaism of Jesus’ day) to “restring the pearls” into a free-flowing narrative, I was amazed at how many of the personal, social, and economic issues that bedevil our deeply troubled world were directly addressed in Jesus’ teachings.

    It seems that many of the tensions and collisions of empire with the Kingdom of God, and the impacts of these tensions and collisions on personal and social life, have changed little over 2000 years, that Jesus’ perspectives apply with equal force to the American Empire as well as the Roman. As you indicate, however, these universal lessons cannot be learned unless we dispense with a magical view of scripture and carry on a genuine conversation with it, informed not only by our individual needs and desires but also by history as best we can reconstruct it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      The revised gospel you have written, and your approach, sound very interesting, Newton. Can you say more about it?

      Like

      • newtonfinn says:

        After I had literally cut apart the gospels into individual verses or small clusters of verses, used Gospel Parallels to correlate them, compared a variety of translations of them, and then applied form and redaction criticism to eliminate some pieces and to polish others (stripping away apparent editorial gloss), I was left with an interlocking series of stunningly consistent sayings and parables, along with the contours of a life that fully embodied them. I was reminded of what C.H. Dodd had said about the gospels, something to the effect that they provided strong evidence of the thinking of one unmistakable mind.

        Taking the same liberties with this source material that I believed were taken by the writers of the canonical gospels–no more, no less–I then rewove my reworked teachings of Jesus (and many others that needed little or no reworking) into the context of his public ministry, being as historically and geographically accurate (and as creative) as Biblical scholarship allowed me to be. In all humility (and despite fear and trembling), I felt that what came out of my long-term basement project was something strangely old and new, new wine in old skins or new cloth on an old garment.

        I had my new Jesus story professionally printed and distributed it to friends, fellow clergy, and a few New Testament professors. To my surprise, what was then called “The Gospel according to Thaddaeus” was well-received by both liberal and conservative Christians. I attribute this not to me but to Him, to whom I at all times tried to be faithful. Did not Jesus find favor and followers among the most diverse people of his day?

        Long story short, when e-publishing became popular and affordable more than a decade later, I resurrected my gospel, added new material, had it electronically formatted, and put in on The Kindle and on the Amazon Bookstore (so it could also be read on the computer, although the formatting isn’t as pretty). The book description and sample are free, and the gospel itself–renamed “Life of Truth: a synoptic gospel,” written under the pen name Theophilus–is available for 99 cents (which goes to charity).

        Thank you for your interest in my unusual and unorthodox endeavor. I hope I have provided enough background to convey at least the essentials of how I undertook it. And thanks, also, very much, for creating the kind of blog where controversial subjects like revised versions of the gospel can be freely discussed.

        Liked by 2 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Newton, thank you for elaborating. I did some searching for ‘The Gospel according to Thaddaeus’ and found mention of a 25-page book by Anonymous. Is this your book? Are there any still available? Unfortunately I do not read eBooks.

          Like

          • newtonfinn says:

            The booklet you found may or may not be mine. One of the reasons I changed the title for the e-published edition was that I came across other gospels attributed to Thaddaeus. I have a number of the old printed copies in my basement and would be glad to send one to you if you wish. Also, I could try to figure out a way to turn the newer version (which is substantially improved) into an email attachment and forward it to you so that you could print it out. It’s certainly short enough to facilitate this. Whatever is best for you.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Newton, I would be happy to receive the book either way you prefer (or both). You can email it to tchastain@cfl.rr.com, or you can contact me at that email and I will give you my home address for shipping.

            What is the price of each version (plus shipping for the older one)?

            Like

  3. Chas says:

    Tim, I very much agree that the books of the Bible were written by men trying to achieve different goals at different times, and that to understand what they were trying to say it is necessary to use exegesis. Nevertheless, what we have is a collection of these writings that God has caused to be brought together and we have many different translations of those writings into English. Because of the unlimited abilities of God, we can receive understanding to help us to resolve our personal situation(s) when we read a particular part of it. If our desire is to be close to God, He will enable us to gain what He wants us to gain from it, so that we can come closer to Him and be more like Him. The power is not in the book, it is in the reader and his/her ability to surrender to God.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      “What we have is a collection of these writings that God has caused to be brought together.”

      Chas, can you share why you believe God caused the Bible to be brought together and how God did that. It seems to me that this would require his/her direction in the writing of the various books and also in the stages of developing the canon.

      Like

      • Chas says:

        Tim, it is possible that some of your readers might be dependent on the Bible to receive helpful information in seeking God, so the above was written to encourage them in that, and to dissuade them from thinking that they should not read the Bible at all. As you are aware, I believe that none of the Bible was inspired by God. He/She nevertheless let it be written by its writers for their own particular reasons at that particular time. If that was not so then we would have some writings by God and some by men. The fact that they were written by men can be seen in the Gospels themselves. They differ in details of the story in many places. The church authorities try to persuade us that this is consistent with the variations in accounts by different witnesses, but that really admits that they were written by men as their personal words. Where I believe that God intervened was in letting some parts of one person’s writings be modified (i.e. added to, or subtracted from for their own purposes) by others, maybe probably several time over, and also in preserving the ones that He/She wanted us to have and letting them be selected by the church authorities of the time to be part of the official canon of the Bible. Note that this involves free choice by men, other than that of God preserving from destruction the writings that He/She wanted us to have. So all of the writing and the selection for the canon would have been actions of men.

        Liked by 2 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Thanks for the clarification, Chas. I appreciate your encouragement for those who are dependent on the Bible in this way. I certainly don’t want people to stop reading the Bible at all, yet I hope to help some to discover better, more legitimate, ways to read it.

          Certainly there are many parts of the Bible that can inspire us as individuals and trigger significant thoughts in our minds–as is true of any literature. I hate to take away a person’s comfort, but if it is not legitimate I am not sure it is not more harmful than helpful in the long run.

          Again, I applaud your concern for those who are dependent on narcigesis. It show empathy, compassion, and care.

          Like

  4. tonycutty says:

    When the Spirit of God lights up a Scriptural passage like it’s floodlit, and drives it home like a lance (or usually more gently!) then there’s little doubt that God is speaking, yes, *to me*.

    Sure, the Bible is made up of many individuals’ perspectives on God and their dealings with Him, and it is certainly a mistake to think that every part of Scripture is aimed directly at *me* right now.

    But, you know, God has a way with this sort of thing. He does indeed speak through Scripture, at least in my experience. Yes, the actions of men have set up this ‘canon’ of Scripture, but God definitely uses the actions and/or inventions of men for His purposes. He uses aeroplanes to get medical aid to people in the wild. He uses CB radio to bring together people who would never have met. He speaks to me through your blog – which is an action of men – or, at least, *a* man – and he speaks to you through my blog. Or at least I hope so!

    The picture is, as always, a much bigger one, and with many more interwoven threads, than we can possibly imagine. Do you remember the bit from the end of ‘Perelandra’, by CS Lewis, where the plans of God are depicted as thousands of infinitely complex interactions between coloured ribbons, each one representing a timeline of sorts? It’s like that, only much more complex of course.

    And so it is with the Bible. On the surface, you are right: it is not a book of promises; it is neither inerrant nor infallible, it is not a book of magical formulae, and it’s certainly not an ‘encyclopedia of life’!. And God speaks to us through many other media too. But, of the whole lot, no book speaks to me like the Bible. No other written work engenders in me that same feeling, the ‘burning in the bosom’, as some people put it. Sure, this is subjective, but it is shared by many people allaround the world, probably including yourself. It is of course up to the individual as to what level he/she puts the ‘lessons’ of the Bible into practice, and bearing in mind the original intent of the literature is esential in doing this.

    But still, the mssage of the Bible is one of hope, life, love and ultimate victory over evil, because, put simply, evil is inferior. Although I do not literally call the Bible the ‘Word of God’ – no, that would be Jesus – I do call much of it God’s words, especially when they are brought to life by Holy Spirit’s illumination. You asked above ‘how’ God put it all together? Who knows! But somehow, even now, thousands of years after it was written, it continues to be God’s most consistent written means of getting things through to us.

    Now that’s pretty impressive!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, you make a good point. I agree that sometimes I really resonate with certain passages in the Bible; the prophets care for the marginalized is a good example. The book of Jonah is another. But some believers assume that everything in the Bible is for them, personally, and accept them as God speaking directly to them–with rules, promises, and guidance. I think this is ultimately harmful.

      Though I loved Perelandra, I do not recall that passage; but I am glad you brought it up. I have received tremendous insight and illumination from some of Lewis’ works–just as I have from Paul and parts of the OT. Sometimes it’s like a passage from Lewis is floodlit and drives home like a lance. I agree: if God can use the Bible, then he can use Lewis. But an overall assumption that the Bible is written to me seems problematic.

      We seem to agree overall on this. I wonder if we are thinking different things when we hear that the Bible is not written for us. By the way, I benefit from your blog as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. David says:

    Great article again. I was also very taken with the narcigesis word and implication.

    I helped create a 10 part DVD teaching on the ‘end times’ a few years ago and the interpretation overall was guided heavily by the context and in fact there are so many references in Revelation that make much more sense when you see the implication for the church of the day – and perhaps even more interesting, the fate of Jerusalem in AD70 – also predicted by Jesus in Matthew 25 where he talks about no stone being left on another — literally what happened when the Romans ransacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple.

    It is so important to enjoy the inspiration without getting carried away through literal assumption. I find it so fascinating when people use the phrase ‘the word of God says…’ but they conveniently don’t say that when it applies to a verse they obviously don’t agree with – such as women wearing head covering in church or even not speaking in church! Thanks again. I need to get some of my thinking in writing again, have been having a bit of a hiatus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks, David.

      I agree with you that those who believe the Bible is inerrant do balk at certain passages they disagree with even though they are just as ‘plain’. And I also agree that Jesus’ statements about the fall of Jerusalem had to do with the Roman destruction in 70 AD and that many references in Revelation much more sense for the church of the author’s day than ours or in the future.

      When you come back from hiatus I will check out your new posts.

      Like

      • Chas says:

        Tim, I’ve tended to read Revelation more as an attempt by someone to ravel together all of the ‘prophecies’ from the OT that he felt relevant, to concoct a scenario in which Jesus could return to fulfill the characteristics of the Jewish Messiah: something which he failed spectacularly to do in the NT Gospel stories (because what seems to me was the original writer did not believe that he was the Jewish Messiah, but another type of Anointed one).

        Liked by 1 person

  6. mjlarsen says:

    Following your blog and looking forward to reading through the posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      mjlarsen, I am glad to have you with us! I hope you continue to enjoy the blog and feel free to share your thoughts as you feel inclined.

      Like

  7. Jim says:

    Reblogged this on Zwinglius Redivivus and commented:
    Oh I like this word very much. Thanks Jeff Carter!

    Like

  8. Pingback: The Bible is not Open to Narcigesis: Thinking the Bible is Written to You-HT Dr. Jim West  | Talmidimblogging

  9. michaeleeast says:

    Nice work!
    All very true. Especially Revelation – its about Rome!
    Paul should be put in perspective.
    The teachings and parables of Jesus still resonate today.

    Liked by 1 person

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