Further Reflections on Reading Scripture

This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues.  It began with the 1st blog:  Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury.  The immediately preceding blog is Reading the Scriptures: Practical Ideas.

“….Soren Kierkegaard suggested that the Bible be read like love letters.  People read them over and over  and read between the lines.  Love letters, he said, are really understood only by the recipient of the letters, who stands in a loving relationship with the writer.”   (David Ewert, HOW TO UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE, p 30)

The Scriptures bear witness to Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who also reveals the God who is love as Trinity.    As St. Paul writes, “God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).     Thus the Bible is indeed a treasury, containing the written record of God’s revelation to the world and pointing to Jesus Christ.  Because of the depth of the riches of the Scripture, it is necessary for us develop a broad approach to them in order to allow them to speak to us in all their depth and diversity.  We are encountering the living God through them, and so should not limit our approach to them to our preferred method for reading them.  God choose diverse people to record the Scriptures, and inspired a multitude of literary styles to convey His revelation to the world.  The Scriptures are meant to instruct us, inspire us, challenge us, comfort us, correct us, train us in righteousness, and equip us for every good work (1 Timothy 3:16-17).  They are meant to reveal “the fullness of God” (Colossians 1:19), not the limits of human reason and logic.

“There is tremendous interpretive pressure to raise the valleys and lower the hills, to make the way straight and level before the reader.  But a reading faithful to this book, at least, should try to describe the territory with all its bumps and clefts, for they are not merely flaws, but the essence of the landscape.” (Charles Melchert, WISE TEACHING, p 15)

If we always endeavor to make the Scriptures an easy read by constantly endeavoring to smooth over difficult passages or contradictions found in the Bible, we risk changing God’s Word to conform to our ideas of logic rather than wrestling with the text to discover the messages that God has placed there, sometimes hidden for us to seek and discover.   “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).  To eliminate the inner conflicts and contradictions of Scriptures is to try to force them to conform to human logic, rather than allowing God’s wisdom which surpasses all understanding to speak to us.   

If we find that God always agrees with the way we think, we may in fact be worshipping a false god who we have created to agree with us!   God’s Word challenges human logic and wisdom, and judges us when we fail to submit to God’s ideas, especially when they challenge or confront our own.

“There is a certain inevitable inconstancy and lack of precision inherent in human language, which persists even in Holy Scripture, so that the expression of Divine truth in words is only possible within set limits.  The Staretz believed that the way to apprehend the Word of God lay in the fulfillment of Christ’s commandments.  This was the Lord’s own teaching (John 7:15-17).”  (ST. SILOUAN THE ATHONITE, p 92)

 If we read only those passages of Scripture with which we agree or like, then we end up listening not to God but to ourselves.   Scriptures, if they are truly God’s Word, should not only comfort us, but at times surprise us, startle us, confront us, challenge us, fashion us, and form us by the power of God.

“How then shall we know if Christ is in us, and how should we examine ourselves?  By recounting the oracles of the divine Scriptures and placing them before our souls like mirrors, by these we shall judge our whole selves.”  (St. Symeon the New Theologian, ON THE MYSTICAL LIFE  Vol 1, p 153-154)

We are to measure ourselves against the teachings of the Scriptures, not judge the Scriptures by how well they conform to or confirm our own ideas!

“…just as those under the impulse of hunger hurry to food with unheard of enthusiasm, and those burning with great thirst come to drink with alacrity, in just the same way ought we, like people starving and thirsting, come to spiritual instruction.”  (St. John Chrysostom, HOMILIES ON GENESIS 18-45, p 105)

We are to thirst for truth, and hunger for righteousness, as the very cause and basis for our reading the Bible in the first place.

“…if we turn to the constant meditation on Scripture, if we lift up our memory to the things of the spirit, to the longing for perfection and to the hope of future blessedness, then the thoughts deriving from all this will of necessity be spiritual and they will hold the mind where the thoughts have been.” (St. John Cassian, CONFERENCES, p 52)

“’The sacred writers of the Old and New Testaments, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, authored books,‘ said a certain elder.  “The Fathers took care to apply the writings in their lives.  The next generation knew them by heart.  But those of modern times have copied them and shut them away in libraries.’”   (THE ANCIENT FATHERS OF THE DESERT, p 33)

We are to let the Scriptures be written on our hearts, to be formed by them, rather than to treat them as a book which must never be opened because it is too sacred and we are too unworthy.

Next:   Scriptures and Tradition

2 thoughts on “Further Reflections on Reading Scripture

  1. Pingback: Reading the Scriptures: Practical Ideas | Fr. Ted’s Blog

  2. Pingback: Scriptures and Tradition | Fr. Ted’s Blog

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