8 Words to #ReimagineSCRIPTURE...
I have been teaching Bible for forty years. I love to read the Bible, study the Bible, teach the Bible, and write about the Bible.
My favorite chapter in the Bible, at least when it comes to what the Bible says about the Bible, is Psalm 119. In almost every “letter” or paragraph in Psalm 119 – the longest chapter in the Bible – eight different words are used for what we would call the Bible. For the author of that psalm the words pointed to God’s revelation or communication to God’s people, Israel and Judah.
These are the eight words, but the eight words in Psalm 119 are not the most popular words used for the Bible in most discussions today. Instead of these eight words we hear more often of words like revelation, inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility. Such words attempt to tell us what the Bible is.
But the psalmist experiences God’s revelation not so much for what it is but for what it does to the one who listens to it, who trusts it, and who does it. These eight experiencing words are that God’s communication:
Instructs us (torah) (25x)
Decides and rules for us (mishpat)(23x)
Declares to us (edot)(23x)
Determines for us (pequdim)(21x)
Prescribes for us (chuqqim)(21x)
Orders for us (mitzvot)(21x)
Promises to us (imrah)(18x)
Speaks to us (debar)(6x)
And an extra: It shows the way for us (derek)(2x)
These are the words of someone who has spent hours and hours pondering God’s communication, but not just pondering — also attempting to do and then learning to do what God says. These are words of wisdom by one who knows what happens to the person who reads the Bible over and over.
Because God speaks to us through the Bible we can see the Bible as an agent God uses to communicate with us. In these scriptures God instructs and rules and determines and prescribes and orders and promises and shows the way for us. The Bible is a gift to us and is for us.
Pick up and read is our encouraging word today.
This is why I am engaged in a four year project called the Everyday Bible Study, four of which are available. James & Galatians, Acts of the Apostles, Philippians with 1 & 2 Thessalonians, and just this week, the Gospel of John. Luke is at the publisher and I’m within a few days of sending off Romans to Becky Castle Miller, who writes the questions for the series (and adds commas and edits and makes suggestions). Her questions help the study guides immensely.
The EBS study guides set each passage in a New Testament book into the book’s theme. Galatians is liberation, Luke is holistic redemption. A theme directing the study guide keeps us alert to the NT book’s central message. Each study guide reflects on each passage in a NT book, it sets the daily readings in the context of the 1st Century world, and presents questions that probe the value of the passage for how to live today.
The EBS study guides will help ordinary Bible readers as well as Sunday School teachers, youth pastors, home Bible study leaders, and preachers to catch the sweep of each passage in the New Testament.
We need more Bible readers, more Bible teachers, and more Bible preachers. And more small groups accepting the challenge of working through books in the Bible.
Allow me a sketch of a rather negative situation, part of which has people like me to blame.
Bible study has become so specialized, so knowledgeable, and so intricate that many are afraid to read the Bible themselves. I want to make the Bible more readable by offering short daily reflections. These are not sermons so much as Bible study guides.
The impact of megachurches, designed as they were and are to attract as many people as possible to church services each weekend, diluted Bible knowledge and Bible study because they focused on seeker-sensitive topics. I want to help resurrect Bible studies as central to what churches provide for the people of the church and for those outside the church. The Bible does, and it can do what it does for any who will listen.
The quest for topics resonating with human concerns has at times taken over our churches. In sermons, in adult and youth Sunday School classes, and in home Bible studies. If we begin with the Bible, so I believe, we will arrive also at human concerns. If we focus too much on human concerns, we may never get to the Bible. Amiright?
What got lost in the shuffle over the last generation has been observed by many. The Bible is not being read by individuals and by pastors. And sermons today have strayed from the older form of book studies, and Sunday School classes, youth gatherings, and home Bible studies have followed in the wake. It’s time to get back to the Bible because the Bible can do what it does.
So, give one of these Everyday Bible Studies a try. Read one passage – five days a week – and enjoy what the Bible does to us as we listen to it, trust it, and do it.