Santa Biblia: Is there only one way to read the Bible?

I used to be a much more ardent “objectivist” in regard to truth and was hostile to any notion of “subjectivism” in truth.  To me it didn’t matter if you had white, old, blue, black, female, Hispanic, poor, or educated eyes when reading the Bible.  The Bible said what it said, and it did not matter who was reading it because it said the same thing to everyone.  I have learned to soften myself on this though because of writers Justo Gonzàlez and books like Santa Biblia.  This book did a terrific job of explaining the importance of recognizing one’s position and how it relates to interpreting the Bible, for the error doesn’t lie in the text itself but in the interpreter.[1]   Gonzàlez is clear that his book is a Hispanic perspective and not the Hispanic perspective.  He gives us five main categories to consider for a Hispanic reading of the Bible: marginality, poverty, mestizaje and mulatez, exiles and aliens, and lastly solidarity.  He then uses these categories to show it would influence the way we interpret scripture.

            In the introduction, Gonzàlez gives his argument for why we should see the Hispanic perspective as a legitimate hermeneutic.  Gonzàlez is very upfront with his philosophical rejection of any notion of objective truth as he contends that all knowledge is perspectival.[2]  A couple pages later, Gonzàlez explains further and writes, “each particular group does not end up having their own truth.” Instead he urges us to consider his position as there being multiple people looking at a landscape but from different perspectives.[3]  People will describe it differently, but correctly and truthfully from their perspective.

I can’t help but ask, “If no one has an objective view of the landscape to ensure we are describing the same landscape, how can I be sure that myself and another are even looking at the same landscape?  Especially because this emphasis on perspective suggests that we can’t escape our perspective and leave our skin to take on the perspective of another.[4] Regardless, I do think that Gonzàlez makes a forceful argument about the need to recognize how our perspectives play a role into what we interpret as truth.  Therefore, I think he gives good reason to think that a Hispanic perspective is not only valid, but valuable when trying to understand the bible.  For, we may all count the same number of trees in a given area, but the significance given to those trees will depend on who is doing the counting.[5]

            The next fundamental piece to Gonzàlez’s understanding of interpreting is the idea that reading is dialogue between the text and the reader.[6]  Gonzàlez is with Green in denying the existence of the chasm between the biblical world and the modern interpreter[7] and rebelling against how the historical-critical method alone made the Bible more distant to people, rather than making it more accessible.[8]  Dialogue with the Bible means that it is not only the Bible that speaks to us, but us who speak back to the Bible and demand that it responds to our questions and concerns for our contemporary time.  The biblical writers need to be able to speak to us who are beyond their socio-historical context.[9]  For reading scripture needs to be more than just gaining knowledge, but an activity that alters our entire being and influences how we live our lives.[10]  The perspective of dialogue will help us see how the Bible talks to us right now in or current context.  In doing so, it speaks uniquely to unique contexts and thus has a special message to those within the Hispanic context.

            Marginalization is being excluded from the center[11] and may be the most central experience for Hispanics.  When applying this perspective as a hermeneutic for interpretation, Gonzàlez chooses to look at Acts 13.  In taking the perspective of the marginalized, we see how the majority are willing to accept the marginal, until the marginal begins to threaten the privileges of the majority (Pg. 42, Santa Biblia). The Jews would welcome those Gentile God-fearers in small proportions.  However, it was when “almost the whole city gathered” that the Jews “were filled with jealousy”.  God stands against this fear of integration as Gonzalez notes on page 49 with Acts 10:34, since God shows no partiality.  This means Hispanics and others on the margins are to be welcomed into churches to the same level the majority is welcomed into churches.  This is more than just saying they are allowed to come to our services and small groups, but it includes integration of their perspectives and worship styles into our own.

When it comes to poverty, we shouldn’t be asking what can the church say to the poor, but what can the poor say to the church?[12]  Given the ubiquitous poverty amongst Hispanics, Hispanics have much wisdom and truth about being poor that the church needs to hear.  When we listen to the poor, we start to see that justice and mercy aren’t opposites, but rather companions.[13]  Gonzàlez highlights with Matthew 20:1-16 that many times it is not that those who are poor are unwilling to work, but that they cannot find work.  This means that we should not treat their needs as though they are lesser but should give them the necessary resources to meet their needs.  For even when trying as hard as possible, many in poverty aren’t able to provide for their needs.

How then, should we respond to those in poverty who aren’t looking to work and are poor “because of their own choices”?  My only response is do we not see in Romans 5:8 that while we were sinners Christ still died for us?  The fact that we actively played a role in severing our relationship with Christ didn’t stop Christ from dying to reconcile us to himself.  Indeed, when we start to take the perspective of the poor and begin to appreciate the way it disposes one of their humanity[14], we may stop being so concerned with the “why” of why someone has a need and just be more concerned with meeting that need.

The inherent cross-cultural nature of being Hispanic, being mestizaje or “mixed-breed”, allows one to see the way Christian growth has operated as a conquest instead of mutual enrichment.[15]  So often when two different cultures come into contact, it results in one taking over or pushing out the other one.  Mestizaje ends up being a tragedy because by belonging to two different worlds, one ends up belonging to none.[16]  Myself being white and black, and influence by each culture, I have ended up too white for the black people but too black for the white people.  God gives us hope though that this is not the way it should be.  We see in Acts the story of Christianity growing geographically, but also culturally.[17]  Jesus does not see cultures as mutually exclusive competitors, but as cooperative teammates.  It is through the Hispanic experience of mestizaje that we can look to for guidance on how to bring that to fruition.

Gonzàlez next tackles the constant feeling of being an alien and exile.  He points out the common perception that most Hispanics are immigrants.  Even if they were born here, they feel like newcomers.[18]  This concept of being an alien is a major interpretive hermeneutic for the Israelites themselves.[19]  Being in the same position of the Israelites themselves, Hispanics share a critical perspective with the Old Testament writers and readers.  They would understand quicker than most that aliens are not always there to take from the land, but to add to and improve it as well.[20]  Gonzàlez uses this hermeneutic in a well-known biblical story to show the way it brings new understanding to light.  Instead of always identifying with Joseph, when in power like Pharaoh, Christians need to seek out the exile in our land and see what wisdom and gifts they have to offer.[21]  By doing this we honor the dignity and humanity of all aliens and show that they don’t have to be strangers in this new strange land.  As exiles in this land, Hispanics can see what only “outsiders” can see and what “insiders” are blind too.

Lastly, we get to solidarity, and how Hispanic understandings of family are closely related to the concept of Christian community.  The concept of family in Hispanic culture begins to include so many people that the lines between family and community began to be blurred.[22]  In the Bible we see a deep commitment and expectation of community.  We see it in the way Israelites found their identity first in family and tribe before any individual consideration.  We also see it in the New Testament with the frequent familial language when talking about union with God and God’s people. In contrast to much of western individualist culture, Hispanics don’t need to learn this radical sense of community we see in scripture.  It is natural for them to see church as an extended family, as good news that we are family with God, even in the misery of their barrios.[23] 

 Justo Gonzàlez gives intelligent and forceful arguments on why we need to respect the Hispanic perspective as a legitimate hermeneutic.  He then goes on to explain the significance of each dimension of this hermeneutic and shows how it brings new understanding to scripture.  It is almost impossible to give a faithful interpretation of scripture without recognizing one’s own perspective.  Keeping this in mind with the vastness and mysteriousness of God, it would be ignorant to think one person, or one culture could have all the tools necessary to exhaustively interpret God’s word.  We need the Hispanic perspective for a fuller understanding of God.


[1] González, Justo L. Santa Biblia the Bible through Hispanic Eyes. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2010. Pg. 12.

[2] González, Santa Biblia. Pg. 15.

[3] Ibid. Pg. 17.

[4] Green, Joel B. Seized by Truth: Reading the Bible as Scripture. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007. Pg. 25.

[5] Achtemeier, Paul J., Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye. Thompson. Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006. Pg. 17

[6] González, Santa Biblia. Pg. 14.

[7] Green, Seized by Truth.  Pg. 18.

[8] González, Santa Biblia. Pg. 23.

[9] Achtemeier, Introducing the New Testament. Pg. 17.

[10] Green, Seized by Truth.  Pg. 25.

[11] González, Santa Biblia. Pg. 33.

[12] Ibid. 58.

[13] Ibid. 65.

[14] Ibid. 75.

[15] Ibid. 86.

[16] Ibid. 83

[17] Ibid. 87

[18] Ibid. 93.

[19] Ibid. 95.

[20] Ibid. 95

[21] Ibid. 96

[22] Ibid. 106

[23] Ibid. 109.

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