I know, I know. You read the Bible, or have read good portions of it. You hear it in church every week. You may even read it every day. But bear with me.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims are referred to as people of The Book. For all three faiths, the written word, the recorded accounts of the stories and events of the faith are central. They are, quite literally, the place we begin. And we might think that once we have read it a few times, once we know what’s there, that would be enough.
Yet for some reason, we keep telling the stories and reading the words, year after year, century after century. And, somehow these words still resonate and have meaning for us in the 21st century as much as they did in the 10th.
Reading the Bible isn’t simply opening the book and reading. Well, yes, it is that in part, and there are words that are quite straightforward. But reading without context is like being in a room with the curtains drawn and light shining through a crack. You can see that one thing the light shines on quite clearly, but other aspects are shadowed. When you throw open the curtains, there is so much more to be seen.
Scripture is foundational for Christian disciples. We need to know the stories, we need to know the wisdom, the teaching. We also need to understand what we read and be intentional in our reading. What was the historical situation when a certain book or letter was written? What was the culture like? Who were the central characters and how did they relate to each other? What was the specific purpose of the writer–for example, biblical scholars understand Mark to have been written for those unfamiliar with Judaism, while Matthew wrote primarily for Jews who were familiar with Hebrew scripture references.
Here is your challenge: choose a part of the Bible to read intentionally and to learn more about. An excellent site to guide you and provide context is https://www.enterthebible.org. You will find a summary of each book, background, theological issues, and even some maps and videos. Or check out your church or public library for commentaries, biblical atlases, or Bible guides.
Some suggestions to begin with: Philippians–four chapters full of things about living in Christian community, personal references about Paul and other early church members and pithy sayings. Or the gospel of Mark–the shortest gospel, believed to be the first one to have been written down; it has a powerful sense of urgency and immediacy. Or go through some of the sagas of Hebrew scripture like Joseph (Genesis 37-50), full of drama, adventure, family intrigue and political scheming.
As you go along, think about how having context has informed your understanding of scripture. Are there new things that speak to you? New insights? Things that deepen your spiritual life? You might be surprised.
Featured Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash