“Reading the Bible in Spanish”

In his book Mañana Latino theologian and historian Justo Gonzalez suggest that the Hispanic community can offer a significant contribution to American religiosity by “reading the bible in Spanish.” In using this phrase he does not literally suggest that we can contribute by literally reading the sacred text in the Spanish language. What Justo is suggesting is we need to consider the message of the Gospel and the story of Israel from our own social perspective as Hispanic Americans.

MananaTo “read the Bible in Spanish” suggest that we apply a new lens for interpreting scripture. Justo would call this a non-innocent reading of scripture. Instead of applying an idealized, pure and heroic image (an innocent reading) of scripture a non-innocent reading would allow us to recognize the social complexities and struggles depicted throughout scripture. An innocent reading will suggest that the crucifixion was a sacrifice that was divinely ordained and focuses its attention on the image of a Resurrection Christ who grants victory and prosperity to his followers. A non-innocent reading will see the social struggle between Jesus and political and religious authority of his day. It will recognize the struggles of the disciples who betrayed, denied and abandoned Jesus and who experience a transcendental moment that allows them to take on the mission of the Gospel.

An innocent reading has the effect of revising the stories within scripture with an idealized social agenda that can be used to defend programs of social dominance (ie. Manifest Destiny). A minority community that struggles with a variety of social issues may not be able to relate with the innocent reading offered by the dominant community. Instead they will find a non-innocent reading more appealing because it allows us to recognize the personal and social struggles (good and bad) within the sacred text and it forces us to be attentive to the complexities of our own social reality.

Therefore part of our responsibility as Hispanics… is constantly to remind that group of their immigrant beginnings, of the Indian massacres, of the rape of the land, of the war with Mexico, of riches drawn from slave labor, of neocolonial exploitation, and of any other guilty items that one may be inclined to forget in an innocent reading of history.[1]

In another book Justo uses the metaphor of mountains and valleys to describe this lens. If we read history from the dominant text we are narrowly only looking at the mountaintop of history. From that perspective all that you can see are other peaks.[2] Instead Justo suggest that we need to approach history through the broader perspective that would include voices in the valleys, voices that have been marginalized and oppressed, voices that can offer a different insight from the voices on the peaks. I apply this approach in my own Church History course. Instead of simply attributing the shift in relationship between Christianity and the Roman Empire to a supernatural event that Constantine experienced (the traditional historical account) we must also consider the socio-political conditions that contributed to this major shift?

To “read the Bible in Spanish” is to recognize a socio-political struggle within the Biblical stories. In this way struggling ethnic communities can identify their struggle within the liberative process of the Biblical narrative. The purpose of reading scripture in this way “is not to understand the Bible better. It is rather to understand ourselves better.”[3]


[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, Manana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990)  pp.79-80

[2] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Changing Shape of Church History (St. Louis, Chalice Press, 2002) pp. 21

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez, Manana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990)  pp.86

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About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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