Monday, 23 February 2009

The Bible in it's Context

For many centuries, Christians have struggled with a problem at the core of their faith -- the meaning of the Bible. The biggest problem has arisen from taking the Bible out of its original context. I hope this shed some light on the context, and how to build a faith within that context.

1. The Bible is Story First and foremost, we need to remember that much of the Bible circulated as unwritten stories for ages. That's true of key portions of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Eventually the stories were written down, and edited, and re-edited, and translated, re-edited, and copied, and re-edited some more.

The Bible is the story of how God and God's people learned to understand each other, and how they got along (as in how the people got along with God, and how they got along with each other). And sometimes the people and God didn't get along very well, from the human perspective.

Sometimes the people misunderstood God; sometimes God got annoyed with the people (at least, from their perspective). And sometimes the people didn't get along with each other. Sometimes people experimented with wild, weird, and wonderful ideas -- some of which were helpful, and some of which weren't. You'll see it all. But don't get too worried about that. Most of it is useful in helping us sort out our faith, our understanding of God -- both in terms of what is helpful, and what is not helpful.

2. Respect the Details, but Don't Get Hung Up in Them Given that the Bible is story, there are a variety of literary styles and authors. The literary styles include allegory, legend, myth (which brings us to the myth-truth paradox), poetry, personal and not-so-personal letters, personal and group history, etc. Like any story, the details lead to the "punch line" -- which is the whole point of the story. Read the story from the beginning to the "punch line"; interpret the story backwards from the "punch line" to the beginning, in order to understand the story's details, and see how they fit into the stories.

And if the whole thing confuses you, just relax, set it aside, and come back at another time. Or, if you know someone who might have some ideas to share, someone you trust, go ask. If that person is a good teacher, the first question will be, "What do you think it means"? The Bible is a community book; it takes a whole village to raise a child, and to understand the Bible.

3. The Bible Helps Us Understand God, but Understanding the Bible Isn't the Same as Experiencing God That's a reality that a lot of people miss. And it messes up their potential for a fuller relationship with God and each other. Remember, it's a story about a developing relationship, just the the one we have with God,individually and together.

Happy reading! And happy discoveries/epiphanies along the way!

About the icon of St. Anthony . . .
The icon comes from Eastern Christian Supply Company. With thanks!