As You Read: Week One

Week 1 begins our year of reading the Bible by looking at the big picture: considering the nature of Scripture. Charlotte’s Musings ask: “what kind of book is the Bible?” You are invited to ponder that important question as you read this week. What is your basic understanding of where the Bible comes from and how it functions? How were you taught or what did you absorb as you were growing up? How have you changed your views over the years? What questions have shifted your thinking?

Anaïs Nin has said: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” This is important. We all interpret. We all interpret everything. There is no such thing as uninterpreted awareness. 944651_10156355608040640_6293637601693068244_nWe all have a lens through which we see the world. We all have a framework with which we make meaning.

This is as true of the biblical writers as it is true of us readers. The authors of these ancient texts began with faith. They started with a confidence that God was somehow in their story and as they collected and recollected the stories of their life together as God’s people, they sought to understand its meaning. The biblical writers are not, for the most part, apologists – arguing for their faith in a way that was designed to convince nonbelievers. Rather their writings were intended to confess their faith within a community of faith.

As You Read Deuteronomy 6-8

This week’s readings from Deuteronomy are key for the self-understanding of God’s ancient people, Israel. Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Torah, traditionally and poetically called “the books of Moses.” The stage is set at the River Jordan as the descendants of Jacob recall their recent liberation from bondage in Egypt and their forty years in the wilderness. Moses is the revered leader, calling them to remember God’s past faithfulness and urging them to entrust themselves to God’s ongoing fidelity.

But consider that the setting of the story of Deuteronomy is actually juxtaposed within the setting of Israel’s current dilemma centuries later in 597 BC. The nation is once more in exile, this time in Babylon. God’s people are seeing their past history through the lens of their current captivity and recognizing they are standing on a precipice. Either they will learn from this experience. Or they will be lost.

So Moses’ challenge to their ancestors to “hear” – to remember, recall, take heed, obey – is a current word for Israel. Love God, the One God, God Alone – this is everything. All the rules of the Law – all the codes and commandments and ethics and devotion – everything that is written designed to shape them for love.

As You Read Psalm 119

As you are reading this week’s Psalm, consider its form as well as its message. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and it is written in a familiar Hebrew poetic acrostic. 3659817_f520This long hymn is shaped according to the Hebrew alphabet: the first stanza begins with aleph, the second stanza begins with bet and so on. The singer/ psalmist waxes eloquent about God’s Law in an alphabetical cadence.

Notice all the different words used by the psalmist to describe God’s way. I would add one more: the Tao.

Other ancient wisdom from numerous wisdom traditions speaks of A Way that is The Way of the cosmos. A Way that flows from the unity of all things, that lives in harmony with all creation, that coincides with the core Truth that binds the universe together.

The Psalmist is steeped in the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law handed down from Mount Sinai and revered as God’s definitive word for God’s chosen people. Much of this Law was shaped by the culture of the people, the times in which they lived and their own unique circumstances. But the Psalmist also seems to sing in celebration of the Way, the Tao, the Word that spoke the world into existence and continues to sustain the world by its power. A Law, a Truth, a Way that binds all things together. The Psalmist seems to begin with faith that this kind of Truth is the foundation upon which all other just laws are founded.

As You Read the John 5

As we read chapter five of the Gospel of John, we see John’s Jesus countering religious leaders who have lost the sense of this overarching way and have confined themselves to the smaller ways of codes and rituals. It appears as if they are faithful followers of the Law of Moses, toeing lines, dotting i’s, crossing t’s, scoring points. Jesus, however, challenges this lesser way of reading Scripture.

“Moses wrote about me,” John’s Jesus claims. Writing at the close of the 1st century, maybe 70 years after Jesus, John offers an intriguing interpretation of God made known in Jesus Christ. For John, Jesus is “the Word made flesh” (1:14). For John, Jesus is the holy Temple where God’s glory resides (2:18-22). For John, Jesus is God’s Way/Truth/Life embodied (14:6). John and the other New Testament theologians make an astounding claim: it is not a book, a Bible, a Scripture – no matter how holy – that is God’s eternal Truth. It is a person. One particular person in one unique way in history shows us God’s Way.

As You Read Second Timothy 3

We know Timothy was a student of the Apostle Paul and probably these letters of Timothy were written in Paul’s name by second generation disciples. It was nearly 100 years post-Jesus and the Church was mushrooming all across the Roman Empire. The original Christians were all Jews, but as the movement spread, many Gentiles, non-Jews, came to claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

There was no New Testament during this time. There was only the Hebrew Scripture and other writings, numerous letters and various gospels. 2639302-Torah-Scroll-Stock-Photo-ancientSo the exhortation of Timothy to continue in “the sacred writings” was a call to honor the tradition of these texts. “All scripture is inspired by God…” has to mean the ancient Scriptures of the Hebrew people. “All scripture is inspired by God…” has to mean that God’s Breath, Life, Presence, Word – somehow, in some mystery – can be encountered within these very human words.

Within the Christian tradition that has followed from Paul and John and Timothy, we continue to acknowledge the wisdom of Scripture that can and does “instruct, teach, reprove, correct, train, equip…” But even as Christians revere and respect the Holy Scriptures, Christians will only worship and follow the One to Whom our Bible gives witness: Jesus, the Word made flesh who continues to dwell among us.


Charlotte Vaughan Coyle 2016

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Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a graduate of Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth.

3 thoughts on “As You Read: Week One”

  1. I understand what you’re saying here, Charlotte (at least, I’m pretty sure!). Sounds like a Barthian approach, and there’s much to be said for it. Certainly we apprehend scripture subjectively, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no objective meaning.
    I recall someone telling me that the Bible is not propositional, but personal. In a way that’s true. But what do we do with the many, many propositional statements (the Ten Commandments, for example)? Here’s how I might amend that idea: the Bible IS personal, and in its pages a very definite Person emerges: God himself. He is the main character in his story, and in his gracious condescension he invites us to take part in it. We encounter him subjectively, but as we grapple with the word he shapes us through it, conforming us to the image of Christ.
    I agree with much of what you say here, and you say it beautifully, but I would disagree on points that turn out not to be minor. How do we “know” that the words in Deuteronomy were not spoken by Moses? How can determine that the letters to Timothy were “probably” not written by Paul? (A fragment of the gospel of Mark recently discovered has been dated all the way back to the first century.) It seems to me that those are assumptions that look for evidence, and tend to undermine the traditional understanding of “authority.”
    Maybe we can talk about this sometime . . .

    1. Thank you for reading and for commenting, Janie. I love our conversations and am a smaller person since I dropped the ball on keeping them going. Yes, let’s begin again talking about things that matter.

      Biblical authority is indeed one of those things that matter deeply. You know I have made a journey that has changed my own understanding of what authority looks like. The Bible continues to be authoritative to me and within my circle of progressive Christians, but the “how” is different from what it was when I was a fundamentalist Christian. You and I could have much to talk about within this conversation. Let’s find a way to do that.

      In the meantime, here is a quote from William Willimon and his wonderful book: Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (2002)

      We call the Bible “inspired” because the Bible keeps reaching out to us, keeps striking us with it’s strange truth, keeps truthfully depicting God…We trust the Bible because on enough Sundays we discover that God’s Word has the power to produce the readers that it requires.

      In the reading of Scripture, the Creator is at work, something is made out of nothing, the church takes form around the words of the Word. (page 128)

      Peace, my friend.

  2. Beautiful quote from Willimon, and I’m up for that discussion if we can find a suitable format. Here’s a proposal: Several years ago I co-wrote a series of Bible studies on the scope of scripture–the redemption story taken as a whole, with pivotal characters and overarching themes. The rationale, which you may identify with, is here:
    If I read your weekly posts, would you read mine? They’re very different in focus; mine are more educational and yours are meditative, but a couple months of reading each other’s–perhaps without responding–might give us a better platform to address each other.

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