Thursday, 6 June 2013

Reading the Bible

As a part of celebrating 100 years as a diocese Bishop Jane Alexander has challenged us-“Let us commit as individuals and as members of the diocese, to read successfully through the entire Bible by the end of our centennial year at Pentecost 2014.” You may have picked up the challenge and have been working your way through the reading list since Pentecost. Well done! Keep going! If you have not picked up the challenge. I encourage you to start. Even if you don’t start from the beginning- just start and commit to reading each day. Pick a time- in the morning during breakfast, or during lunch, or just before you turn the lights out at bedtime. Pick a consistent time and do your best to stick to it. If you don’t have a reading schedule ask and we will get you one.  

                This is a significant undertaking, but it is also an exciting one. It is all the more exciting to undertake this challenge as a community where we can encourage each other and also share our difficulties in reading what can be at times a perplexing book. We will be challenged by Jesus’ words to love even our enemies. We will also be challenged as we encounter deceit and murder in this book we call the “word of God”. We are reading thousands of years into human history and across vast gaps in culture. And yet… in these pages we meet people like us and the God we worship.

We live in a world that has been called “Biblically Illiterate”. Most in our culture are no longer aware of many of the stories in the Bible, or of many of the profound truths that have transformed western culture over the last 2000 years.  I do hope that most of us at St. Timothy’s have read through the Bible. Our Sunday lectionary readings bring us through a good portion of the Bible over 3 years. Most of us don’t, however, undertake a daily systematic reading of the Bible. In a culture that is suspicious of “organized” religion and of the Bible. We should at least be aware of the contents of the Bible if our culture is to take us seriously. In 1 Peter 3 we read, “…in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”.

I would like to pass on a few helps as we enter into this challenge. First, pick a translation that will make reading the Bible more accessible. You may not want to read the King James Version (KJV) since you might get stumble through “Thy-thou” language. For example, Matthew 1:18 in the King James reads- “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.”  A more accessible translation would be the New International Version (NIV) which reads- “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” I would also recommend the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The NIV and NRSV are, in general, word for word translations. There are many other good translations that are easy to read, but NIV and NRSV are among the most available. “The Message” is a translation that is idea-by-idea based, rather than word-for-word and many have found it extremely helpful. The Message version of the above passage reads, “The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.)”   

It may also be helpful to use a Study Bible when reading. These come in many versions. There are study Bibles for women, men, firefighters, college students, mothers, couples, etc. The goal of a Study Bible is to explain difficult passages in footnotes at the bottom of the page, but also to help us see how the Bible applies to our lives. I am particularly fond of the “Spiritual Formation Study Bible” and the “Oxford Annotated Bible”, but there are plenty of excellent study Bibles available in a variety of versions.

There are also books about reading the Bible which can be helpful if you would like to dig deeper and understand better what you are reading. These books guide us by giving us a sense of the theme and flow of the biblical book we are presently reading and also give us a sense of when it was written and what the culture was like at that time and place. A Bible dictionary is also helpful to have in order to understand unknown words or names. Here are a few recommended books of this type-  

The Story We Find Ourselves In by Brian McLaren

The New Joy of Discovery In Bible Study by Oletta Wald

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee

How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon Fee

You can Understand the Bible by Peter Kreeft

The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

Old Testament Survey by Lasor, Hubbard, and Bush

Reading the Old Testament by Lawrence Boadt

The Writings of the New Testament by Luke Timothy Johnson

Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson

Harpercollins Bible Dictionary by Paul Archtemeier

Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible by Freedman


God Bless your adventure!

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” 

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