On Wednesday evenings during Lent, one hundred parishioners gathered for a five-part series on “The Authority of the Bible.” We started by asking, “What does it mean for the Bible to have authority in our lives?” More about this question in a moment.
In later sessions, we discussed the various ways faithful people have approached the Bible through the centuries. We recognized that the contemporary obsession with whether or not everything in the Bible is “literally” true is a relatively new phenomenon. Until the modern era, Christians and Jews were far more interested in the allegorical meaning, the moral messages, and the mythic and timeless truths of Holy Scripture than whether every jot and tittle on the page “actually happened.” To ancient Christians and Jews, the truth of the Bible was more important than the bare facts.
In our final session we discussed whether there are some things in the Bible that are more essential to our faith than others. We allowed ourselves to be guided by the thought of renowned biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, who says we should always read Holy Scripture through the lens of the Bible’s “main theme.” Brueggemann says this theme is “the conviction that the God who creates the world in love redeems the world in suffering and will consummate the world in joyous well-being.”
This idea embodies what God is doing in the world. If any interpretation of a passage from scripture fails to fit with this pervasive theme, then we need to rethink that interpretation carefully. If we find ourselves emphasizing portions of the Bible that have little to do with this theme, then we should consider stressing other portions that do.
All of this is important for us to remember as Episcopal Christians. But none of it bears any real weight in our lives apart from the question we asked in our first Lenten session: “What does it mean for the Bible to have authority in our lives?”
In the midst of that initial discussion, we realized that the Bible can have no real authority for us—it cannot affect how we make decisions about how we will live—if we don’t actually read the Bible!
Are you reading your Bible? Do you make time each day to engage Holy Scripture? Do you participate in a small group Bible study? The Bible is a miraculous and life-giving book, but unless we give the Bible precedence in our schedules, its authority will be no more than an illusion.
If reading the Bible is new for you, it may be difficult to know where to begin. Consider these options:
- Read the Gospel of Mark in one sitting. It will scarcely take one hour, and reading the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in one sitting is an enlightening encounter.
- Read Genesis. From the creation of the world to the movement of Israel into Egypt, Genesis is essential reading in order to understand God’s project of salvation.
- Read the Psalms. These poems carry the reader to heights of joy and through depths of sorrow. Their truth is universal.