“Plain Reading” = Misleading
There’s a tendency in theological debate for people to appeal to the ‘plain reading’ of Scripture as some sort of trump card.
“This is the plain reading…”
“Oh if that’s the case, then it’s settled then.”
Appealing to the plain reading very rarely settles anything. You end up having a debate about what exactly this ‘plain reading’ might be, as both sides want to claim that honour for their own point-of-view.
My suggestion: let’s abandon this whole method of argumentation altogether. Why should the ‘plain reading’ be the right reading or even the better reading?
In fact, what does the ‘plain reading’ refer to anyway?
Is the ‘plain reading’ the reading that deals only with the surface meaning of the text, without taking into account genre or literary devices or historical, cultural, linguistic factors or authorial intent? If that’s the case, then almost no Christian I know would argue that the plain reading is the best reading.
But if the ‘plain reading’ of Scripture is the reading that accounts for the complexity of genre, translation, background etc., then what purpose does it serve when we label it as the plain reading? Why use the term at all? Why not argue for the ‘best reading’, or the reading that makes most historical, linguistic and contextual sense?
Indeed, to use the ‘plain reading’ argument is, in my mind, just a way bullying the other person to accept your position without actually having to defend your case. In other words, it’s an exercise of power. “This is the plain reading…” is not a neutral statement. It carries with it the assumption that the ‘less-plain’ reading is automatically the wrong reading, and that somehow simplicity is self-authenticating. Where does this assumption come from? Is it actually true? Has the assumption itself been tested? (And if it has been tested and found to be true, I doubt that the test itself would be very simple.)
So I reckon let’s quit appealing to ‘plain readings’. It’s lazy argumentation and is a roundabout way of exercising power. By all means put your reading out there as the better reading but be prepared to defend it. Whether it’s the ‘plain reading’ or not shouldn’t matter.