Monday, December 31, 2012

Reading the Bible

I was inspired to write this post based on a Facebook question crowd-sourced by my cousin Kelsey.  She asked, "I would like to read the Bible in one year.  Please friends, give me suggestions on any good resources for this goal, plans that are online or in print.  Have any of you completed this yourself?"

I used to tell everyone that I really disliked reading the Bible.  But that was never actually true.  I hated what people do to each other with the Bible.  How it is used as a wedge and a way to divide us instead of a place for conversation and a way to look at what brings us together.  I actually love the Bible and because of my love for it, I react strongly when people use it as a weapon.  So Kelsey's question got me thinking, why read the Bible?  And how?

I have read pretty much the entire Bible and the apocrypha.  Not in any particular order and not in one sitting or even one year.  But now, halfway through seminary, this is what I have learned about reading the Bible and what I offered to my cousin.

The most important place to start is by asking, what Bible?  There is not one Bible.   There are many, many different translations.  Some are undoubtedly better than others, but we have something to learn from each of them.  Catholics use a different canon than Protestants who use a different canon than Orthodox Christians.  It is really important not to limit yourself to only one translation.  And this might come as a shock, but the Bible is not chronological and not entirely a historical record of human history.  It is human-generated, divinely inspired, record of God's action in the world.  The Word is a gift given by God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to nurture us in faith and in life.

Next, don't forget the apocrypha.  The day that I learned that these books of extra-Protestant-canonical literature existed, my mind was blown.  Reading them might feel frightening to some people, but I can only see their potential for enriching the entire experience.

Throughout the various eras in human history in which the biblical canons were formed, the majority of people of faith were illiterate.  Really, the scriptures were not available for the common people to read until the invention of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into the language of the people at the time of the Protestant Reformation by Martin Luther.  Therefore, "reading" the Bible for one's self is a relatively new phenomenon.  That is why I suggested reading the Bible aloud in community with others.  The real advantage here is that we all hear different things in the texts, and we can hold each other accountable in our study and interpretation.  This is why I also suggested the practice of lectio divina a form of reading and meditating on the scripture.

One of the most fascinating things to me is the history behind the formation of the Biblical canon.  So I suggested to my cousin that she do a little research behind different parts of the Bible.  One of the places where this is most interesting to me is in the formation of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  In literature as ancient and revered and redacted as the Bible, nearly every word is included for a specific reason.

Finally, I suggested to my cousin Kelsey that the most important thing in reading the Bible is that you are actually reading a library, a collection of individual books, and not a singular whole.  The Bible contradicts itself, some parts are downright ugly and awful, but there are really beautiful parts too.  It is far more enjoyable if you let it live for what it is, instead of attempting to make it into a composite idealistic whole that does not actually exist.

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