Attempts to read Jesus’ teachings with an open mind can be hampered by years of being told the ‘right’ interpretation in church. Christians familiar with the texts can gain fresh insights by listening to people coming to it for the first time, who may find the traditional readings far from obvious.
Symon Hill has led many Bible study groups with largely non-Christian groups and has discovered surprising and helpful insights that are less likely to be found among Christians used to reading the Bible. For example, these readers will often relate to different characters and find meanings that may surprise us.
In The Upside-down Bible, Hill presents alternative readings of some of Jesus’ best-known parables – focusing on topical themes of money, power, sex and violence – which will help us to consider the teaching of the Bible with a fresh perspective and gain a deeper spiritual and cultural understanding of the Bible texts. Each chapter includes questions, prompts and reflection points making it useful for group and individual Bible study.
“Jesus’ teachings are challenging, provocative and awkward. They don’t fit into neat categories and well-structured theories, whether liberal or conservative, Catholic or Protestant.”
This is such an interesting premise for a New Testament study. The Up-Side Down Bible examines the teachings and life of Jesus through several lenses at once, and aims to present different perspectives rather than draw conclusions from them. It invites people of any (or no) faith to come to the Bible fresh, and to make up their own minds.
In every chapter, the book focuses on one particular passage from the Gospels, referencing where else the story is told and offering definitions for words which may be unfamiliar. Hill discusses the historical context, the academic debate, and then invites his focus group to share their interpretations, in an attempt to drive his readers towards questions of their own.
The Up-Side Down Bible is good for those who are already familiar with the Bible, to see well-known passages with fresh eyes. But it’s also an easy and inviting access point for those unfamiliar with the life of Jesus, as it assumes no prior knowledge. It encourages us to remember that there is very rarely one single, simple answer when it comes to God’s word, and rather than building towards an argument, each chapter ends with a series of questions to encourage a continuation of the discussion. Hill reminds us that Jesus encouraged his disciples to question, and encourages us in turn to engage in debate rather than settle on one interpretation. You cannot ‘solve’ the Bible. But Hill’s book demonstrates that the issues Jesus discussed are just as relevant today.