Guidelines for Scriptural Reasoning
Read each text carefully. As you study, take note of as many details in the passage as you can—grammatical constructions, changes in tone or emphasis, surprising bits of dialogue, gaps in the narrative, repetitions, images, etc. Take note of details that are puzzling or confusing. Be ready to share your observations and questions with the group.
Use what you know about languages and contexts to strengthen conversation about the text, not undermine it. No translation is perfect, and no text can be sufficiently understood apart from its various contexts—similar passages elsewhere in scripture, historical background, traditional commentaries about the passage, liturgical practices, etc. However, groups that drift into talking mainly about translation and context often do so as a way of avoiding the difficult or too familiar texts in front of them. Moreover, talking mainly about translation and context excludes people at the table who know less about such things. So try to use what you know about original languages and contexts to supplement the interpretations of others and to keep conversation returning to the texts at the table, which everyone has access to.
Try not to defer to others about "their" texts or "their" traditions. Give your own reading of a text before asking others how they read it. Even if a passage is unfamiliar to you, offer your own interpretation before asking others for whom the passage might be more familiar. While you should certainly be respectful toward every text and faith tradition, you shouldn't ask another person to simply tell you “what the passage means.” Give your own interpretation and let that open or shift the conversation.
Don't be afraid to include your faith commitments in your interpretations. If you are comfortable doing so, you are welcome to begin a sentence by saying, for instance, “as a Christian . . . .” Our faith commitments and religious practices form a crucial part of our “internal libraries"—all the stories, ideas, and life experiences that we rely on as interpretive guides. When your interpretation requires that internal library, let others know what you are drawing from and how it connects to the passage.
Listen carefully and charitably to others' comments. If other people offer interpretations which differ from yours, don't immediately negate their interpretation. Instead, ask them how they arrived at that reading. In addition, if you don't understand someone's comment, ask for clarification before responding.
Remember that Scriptural Reasoning is an experiment in interfaith dialogue. Scriptural Reasoning is an exercise designed to foster conversation between members of different faith traditions. Nothing that's said is "set in stone." The goal of Scriptural Reasoning is not the development of doctrine, legal or moral judgments, or any other rules or objects of interpretation, not even a shared group interpretation. If you have concerns about an interpretation or a process, be sure to bring them up honestly and respectfully. Often the best conversations are inspired by these challenges.