Picture, Window, Mirror: 3 Ways to Read the Bible

Recently I read an article by Richard Pratt, called Pictures, Windows, and Mirrors (WTJ 45, 1983) and it has given me a lot to mull over. In the article he lays out three ways of reading the Bible.

  1. As a PICTURE
  2. As a WINDOW
  3. Or as a MIRROR

We tend to read the Bible in the second and third way most often. But what about the first way? Let me explain.

Windows.

 window

Reading the text of Scripture like a window is to focus on its history. We read the Bible to find out what happened – to have a window into the past. Reading the Bible this way is to be concerned with the event behind the text.

Mirrors. 

mirror

Reading the text of Scripture like a mirror is to focus on our self. We read the Bible to see what it might have to say in regard to us. We read with our issues or troubles in view. And much of the time the text will confirm what we already believe.

Each of these two ways have their own merit. But, what about this third way?

Pictures. 

 picture

Reading the text of Scripture like a picture is to focus on the author. What’s he trying to depict?  He’s not simply trying to tell us what happened; he’s also trying to color our view of what happened. We can’t just peer through his presentation; we must look directly at it. We’re forced to stand where he stands, see from his vantage point, and accept (or reject) his representation. What he does with his paintbrush matters. Why did he say this? Why did he omit that? Why did Luke arrange his format differently than, say, Matthew or Mark? It all matters because he’s trying to accomplish something unique in the telling of his narrative.

Pictures, Windows, and Mirrors.

  • One reading looks through the text
  • whereas the other looks in the text
  • and the other looks directly at it.

Three legitimate ways to balance our reading of the Bible. Two of the ways we evangelicals employ well. For one, we deeply care that the events of Scripture actually happened. And, two, we want to know they have some bearing on our life. So we tend to read the Bible as both windows and mirrors. But, this inclination can cause us to simply use the text, rather than to receive it.

We hunt for information and content. We search for answers and comfort. We look through it to get to the past and we look in it to reflect ourselves. But, notice, both of these readings merely use the text. Interesting!

C.S. Lewis once said,

“When we ‘use’ (the Bible) we treat it as assistance for our own activities.”

So we’re good at using it, but how do we receive it? We receive it by reading the text as a picture.

Most of us have windows, and mirrors, and pictures all around our house. Two of them serve a more utilitarian role though, whereas the other serves a more aesthetic one. The value of windows and mirrors are neutral. They only acquire worth when they’re put to use because essentially they’re blank screens. Pictures, on the other hand, have more of an inherent sense of value. You hang a picture on your wall because of what it represents. You hang a Monet because it’s a Monet. You hang a landscape shot because it’s Ansel Adams. You read Luke because you love, not only what Luke says, but, how he says it. You receive the piece on its author’s terms. You’re not trying to get to the past through a Monet and you’re not trying to reflect yourself through an Ansel Adams. You’re simply taking it as it is and enjoying all that’s there. That’s what it looks like to receive a text as a picture. We enter the world of the author and take it like he gives it.

Pictures, windows, and mirrors – each of these ways have a place in our reading experience. But, don’t forget the picture, don’t forget the role of the author.

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