PDF: Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury (1,2 & 3)

Links to my blog series on reading Scripture as a PDF document are listed below.  There are three PDFs which together have all the text of the blogs in the series.

Christ is the key to Open the Scriptural Treasure

This series of mediations began with the blog,  Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury.    That the Scriptures are a Treasury to which we go to discover the depth and riches of theology, is a theme sounded by the Patristic writers, and is the very attitude we should have today when we read the Bible.  The Bible is the text to which we turn to encounter Christ, but it exists in a bigger context of Tradition which gives it meaning that helps us to fathom these depths of theology.   The Scriptures are the Scriptures of a people, a community, and the Bible was written in, by and for that community, the one, holy and apostolic Church.   The community proclaims those Scriptures and interprets them within the assembly of believers at the Liturgy.   The immediately preceding blog  Scriptures and Liturgy addressed the relationship between community, Eucharist, Scriptures and Christ.  In this concluding blog we look one more time at the themes this series has addressed.  

 “As Christ is the treasure hidden in the scriptures, the scriptures will themselves yield abundant riches as disciples continue to contemplate the precious pearl that is Christ.  As St Ephrem of Syria, in the fourth century, put it:  ‘If there were only one meaning for the words [of scripture], the first interpreter would find it, and all other listeners would have neither the toil of seeking nor the pleasure of finding.  But every word of our Lord has its own image, and each image has its own members, and each member possesses its own species and form.  Each person hears in accordance with his capacity, and it is interpreted in accordance with what has been given to him.’  This is a creative task, to be engaged in by each generation as it appropriates the apostolic deposit and proclaims it anew under the inspiration of the same Spirit, so preserving the youthfulness of the Church.”  (John Behr, THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST, p 69)

If there were but one meaning for all the words of the Bible, we would no longer need to seek truth, wrestle with the meaning of the text, strive to understand the Scriptures.   For long ago there one meaning would have been stated, and there would be nothing left to do but to mindlessly obey them.  Israel had shown  – as recorded in the Sricptures! – that absolute obedience to the written word was not possible due to sin lurking in our hearts.   If obedience had been possible and sufficient for salvation, then Christ was unnecessary for the incarnate God would have not changed anything.  God had shown that He didn’t want mere obedient automatons for He created us as free willed humans not as robots.  God wished that humans would freely choose to love Him, and one another.  Obedience alone was not going to bring about the salvation of the world, and so a deeper reading of the Scriptures was neccessary to understand the will of God.

“Our exegesis [of the Psalms] will be historical and strictly literal.  We shall not rule out a higher meaning or theoria, for history is not opposed to theoria; on the contrary, it is the basis and substructure of higher insights.  But one must beware lest theoria appear to do away with the subject: this would not longer be theoria but allegory, for where it is necessary to search out another sense alongside the text, there is no longer theoria but allegory.  In fact the Apostle by no means did away with history by introducing theoria and calling this theoria allegory.  He was not ignorant of the terminology, but he wished to teach us that it is necessary to understand even the term ‘allegory’ if it is determined by the context, according to the rules of theoria, without doing any damage to history.”   (Diodore of Tarsus – d. 390ad – in THE WAY OF THE FATHERS  by John Chryssavgis, p 67)

As we have seen, even those Patristic writers of the Antiochian School of biblical understanding – who emphasized reading the scriptures literally – recognized the Scriptures are revealing God to us, and so their meaning is deep, leading us to true theology not just to history: to an encounter with Divinity.  So while we must be careful not to allow our imagination to run wild with the Scriptures and to destroy history, neither are we to limit the Triune God by human logic and rationality.  God is not circumscribed by what we can make ourselves believe about Him, nor is He limited by how we think He should be or act. The very revelation of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ is the key to unlocking the treasure found in and hidden in the Old Testament.  The method by which the New Testament interprets the Old Testament is based Christ not in a literal reading of the Old Testament.

 “The significant difference between Paul and his contemporaries… is seen in his underlying assumption that Christ himself is the key to the meaning of scripture.  It is not that Christ expounds the scriptures… as was perhaps expected of the Messiah—but that he is himself the one about whom all scripture spoke.  He is himself the mysterion, hidden by God through all ages and now revealed to men, he is the ‘Amen’ to all God’s promises.  In 2 Cor 3, Paul has moved beyond the idea of Christ as the passive content of scripture, to seeing him as the active agent; he is the Lord, whose glory is reflected in scripture; he is to pneuma, the life-giving spirit, the one who writes in men’s hearts the truth to which scripture bears witness. … For (Paul), God’s word is living, not static, and scripture is the witness to that word, not its embodiment.”  (Morna Hooker, FROM ADAM TO CHRIST: ESSAYS ON PAUL,  pp 152-154)

Christians read the Scriptures, not so much literally, as Christologically.  The Scriptures bear witness to Him, and it is to Him, not to the Bible, that we must come in order to find eternal life (John 5:39-40).