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. We 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. This 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. So 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