Continuing our Bible study –

Yikes! Nearly 3 months since I last posted!  My most sincere apologies.  No real excuse for my negligence, only procrastination (time is passing so much more quickly now that I’m really middle-aged) and chronic lack of energy.

Now that three months have passed, I’m going to work on the assumption that you’ve been browsing through and are beginning to get a sense of the arrangement of the Bible.  Chances are also good that you might have begun reading at Genesis 1:1 and just kept on reading until…. WHAM!!!  Where’d the story go?

Remember — the Bible is not just one Book, it is a library, a compilation of shorter works, or Books.  These are arranged as follows:

The first five Books are called the Pentateuch (penta=”five”  You’ll remember from high school prefixes and suffixes, right?).  Genesis and Exodus are narratives of God’s creation of the world and the beginnings of His working to redeem mankind from their sins.  These two books make for some pretty exciting reading, but…

When you hit the third Book, Leviticus, you are suddenly in new territory.  In Exodus, Moses went up on the Mountain to receive the Law of God.  Leviticus is that law, detailed in the extreme.  And there’s a lot of repetition. Leviticus (and Deuteronomy, the 5th Book of the Pentateuch) are well worth delving into — but for the time being, you might want to wait until you’ve read more of the narrative, gotten more under your belt.

After the Pentateuch come the History Books, outlining the history of the development of the Nation of Israel, from the earliest battles to secure the Promised Land, the cycles of faithfulness, followed by compromise followed by deterioration into abandonment of God…   followed by punishment, followed by repentence, followed by renewed faithfulness….   The writers of these books are tough and gritty and although some of our modern translations want to make some of the grit a bit more polite, the stories in these Books are the sort that grab the imagination and pull you forward.

The Book of Job sits with the Poetry and Wisdom Books.  It’s not really a history, per se, or a prophecy… although it contains both.

After the Wisdom literature (which probably should be read a bit at a time, interspersed with the other readings — I’ll outline that soon) come the Prophets.  A “Major'” prophet is not more important than a “minor” one — he’s just had a lot more to say!  The Prophetic books fit in with the narratives of the Histories, but they also stand alone.  (Note: in reading the Book of Isaiah, if you’re a musician, you’ll recognize many of the texts from Handel’s Messiah.)

The New Testament is divided:

Four Gospels
History (The Book of Acts)
Pauline Epistles
General Epistles
Prophecy (Revelation)

Having a sense of the genre of a particular book will help you have an greater ease in its writing and style.

Next up: reading for meaning.  Inductive Bible Study.

From Elisabeth LeSeur –

September 25, 1899 — No one knows what passes in the profound depths of our soul.  To feel God near, to meditate, to pray, to gather all our deepest thoughts so as to reflect on them more deeply: that is to live the inner life, and this inner life is the supreme joy of life.  But so many moving thoughts and ardent desires and generous resolutions should be translated into deeds, for we are in the midst of human life and a great task lies before us.

It is time for painful effort: one must tear oneself asunder, forsake the realm of thought for that of reality, face action, know that one will either not be understood or be understood wrongly; and that one will perhaps suffer at the hands of humanity for having willed the good of humanity.  We must already have drawn from God an incomparable strength and armed our hearts with patience and love, in order to undertake day by day and hour by hour the work that should belong to every Christian:  the moral and material salvation of his brothers.

(Leseur, Elisabeth. My Spirit Rejoices. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 1996.)

Prayer before reading

There are lots of prayers before reading the Scriptures.  I just did a quick Google search, and I found dozens, probably hundreds.  Pick the one you like best.

I talk to God rather plainly, and I say something like, “Father, come to me in the Scriptures, and help me to know You better. Make me tender-hearted to what I learn here, so I might be more fully converted. Amen.”   It varies from day to day.

Point is, do ask God to “open the eyes of your heart” and increase your receptivity to the Message.  The fancy words don’t matter. The intention of the heart does.

Lectio Divina – baby steps

Please, please read through to the end of this post, because I’m about to open with a very controversial statement, here:

I am not a biblical literalist.

The reason for this is simple:  I’m an American, steeped in a culture that still clings to vestiges of Puritan legalism and narrowness of perspective. Puritans left the Church of England because they thought all the splendor retained after the break from Rome was an insult to God — never mind that the Bible is chock full of descriptions of the extravagant beauty associated with worshipping Him. Ignore the beauty and splendor associated with worship of God from time immemorial. We have a purer way … 

The writers of the Bible, however (and remember, the Bible is a collection of Books, not just one Book), were not Puritans. They were Middle Easterners, a people whose culture and manner of speaking and writing are colorful and poetic and… probably quite antithetical in many particulars from our Puritan forebears.

An example of that poetry that no one, not even the most rabid fundamentalist, takes literally is found in the Psalms — 17 and 91, to name two — where God’s love and provision for His people is described through a hen covering her chicks. No one thinks God is a chicken or any other type of bird.  But the first thing a fundamentalist will ask you is whether you take the Bible literally.  He forgets that powerful truths are conveyed through the poetic devices which are never to be taken literally.

Even the anthropomorphic representations of God as a man with hands, feet, eyes, and so on, are metaphor.  But the metaphor gets the point across. That’s what metaphor does.

Much of the biblical narrative is metaphorical.  There are bigger truths to be gained behind the word pictures we read.  So when we read the Bible, we’re going to look at a literal context, yes – but we’re also going to look for a spiritual meaning.  When Israel battles a particular enemy, we may be reading an account of a war that might have actually occurred…  but there’s a spiritual significance to this story, it’s included in the text for our benefit — and our benefit goes far beyond an isolated literal event.  So we’re going to be conscious of that, and we’re going to look for that deeper meaning.

In other words — I may not take the Bible literally, but you can bet your bottom dollar I take it seriously.  Very seriously.

 

Next up: some tips to get more mileage out of your reading.

Meet Your Bible

You’ve got your new Bible, you’re in your favorite chair and you’re ready to get started. Now, I’m going to go on the assumption you’re completely, totally new to this whole business — so many people are wholly unfamiliar with the Bible, these days. If you know more, count your blessings and get to reading. Otherwise..

The Christian Bible is divided into two sections: The Old Testament and the New. The Old Testament tells the history of Creation, the workings of God through His Chosen People, the Hebrews, through their earliest days as a small family, through the various stages of their history, up to about 300 years before the birth of Christ.  The New Testament contains the biographies of Jesus (the Gospels), a history of the very early Church (The Acts of the Apostles), and various letters (Epistles) written to encourage the Church in the various cities where it took a toehold in those earliest days.

The Old Testament contains 46 Books, or 39 if you bought a Protestant Bible.  The difference is a set of works called the “deuterocanon” or the “apocrypha.”  These works were written in a language other than Hebrew, and were eventually ejected from the Hebrew canon for that reason — but they were part of the canon at the time of Jesus’s life, and they are quoted, paraphrased, or alluded to more than 100 times in the New Testament.  In fact, the earliest editions of the King James Bible were required by law to contain these books!  And all Protestant translations contained these books (and sections of a couple of prophetic books still in the Protestant Bibles) until the 1880s!

(A word of warning: the second source, above, is Protestant, and isn’t exactly honest about what motivates or inspires the Catholic Church. But I figure an admission about their own history has to be taken seriously, so I’ve included it.)

Each Testament is divided into Books. You see, the Bible isn’t one Book, it’s a small compact library: history, law, poetry, prophecy, biography, letters…   Each Book has its own author (or authors), and its own purpose.  But there is an overlying theme to the whole: God’s revealing Himself to humankind, and calling them to sanctify themselves to Him.

Take a little while to thumb through your Bible. Begin to get a sense of where things are.  The Book of the Psalms are about as close to the center of the Bible as it’s possible to get.  The histories and Law come before; the prophetic works follow, and the New Testament.  Let your eyes wander through the pages. Read a few verses here and there.  You’ll notice that different books have a different tone or voice.

By the way – those chapter and verse divisions are a relatively new invention. They aren’t perfect markers for divisions of thought and topic in the text, but they do help us keep our place. Just be aware you don’t have to be slavishly confined to them when you read, okay?

So for a couple of days, just relax and browse, and develop a sense of how your Bible is arranged, and what it “sounds” like as you read.

Remember: lectio is not a competitive sport.

 

 

Beginning a Bible Study – Part Two

Part Two: Other Considerations

In Part One, I gave you my ideas about choosing a translation for your personal Bible reading.  But translation is just the first step in the decision-making process. When you get to the bookstore, you’re going to find a vast array of publishing differences within each translation:  print size, cover type, paper thickness…  cost.

You can actually buy a paperback NAB for less than $7.00.  Sounds like quite a deal, doesn’t it? It is… until you discover that the fine newsprint pages tear easily when you turn the pages, and the spine of the book is glued and the whole thing comes apart easily.  Then you’re going to set the thing back on the shelf and what good will that do anyone?

By the same token, unless you’re Daddy Warbucks, you don’t want to run out and spend a couple hundred dollars on your first Bible, either. Even if you were Daddy Warbucks, I wouldn’t recommend throwing money away like that; it’s bad stewardship.

You can get a decently-bound vinyl (imitation leather) cover NAB, or a quality paperback RSV, new, for less than $20.00.  That’s probably a reasonable place to start.

You see, there’s an aesthetic consideration to this business.  You want the Bible to feel good in your hand while you’re holding it. You want it to feel balanced.  You want the cover, whichever you choose, to feel pleasing to your fingertips.  A cheaply-bound Bible will have you clutching at it, trying to prevent it falling to the floor in a scattering of loose pages. A cheap cover feels tacky to the hand. You’ll find yourself fidgeting with it, and that will distract you from reading.  It will create in your subconscious mind an aversion to reading, which defeats the purpose (but the Enemy would delight in).  A quality paper cover or a well-made “imitation leather” cover will feel secure and comfortable as you hold it; you almost won’t notice it at all. And that’s good.

And since no one has money to waste in this day and age, I do recommend going with one of those options while you get started. Once you know you want to stick with a particular translation, you can invest in a quality leather-bound Bible for … a bonded leather Bible RSV, Compact Edition (be warned: SMALL PRINT) can be bought new for less than $30.00. The prices go up from there.  Ignatius Press has a leather-bound RSV that feels like butter, it’s so soft and pliable, and it just drapes in your hand in the most luxurious manner…  Sigh.  I don’t have that one.  I have a mid-sized, standard-print bonded leather RSV and a heavy, real-leather Douay.  They’re not luxurious, but they are very comfortable, and they are standing up well to the hard use I give them.

I also have a leather-bound Compact Douay that I tuck into my suitcase when I travel.  But compact Bibles have small print, and I’m almost at the age of having to abandon that one, even with bifocals (I’m too impatient to hold a magnifying glass).

So – those are the things I think about when recommending a Bible to someone.  Take your time. You don’t have to sneak in and sneak out (one hopes) as if buying a Bible had become an illicit activity. Stand there a minute – or sit, if the store is courteous enough to have chairs – and handle the Bibles.  Read from them – a Psalm, a portion of a Gospel. If you find yourself reluctant to stop once you’ve started, that’s a very good sign you’ve found a good Bible for you, but the whole point here is to feel comfortable, not intimidated by reading.  Okay?

 

Next up: How to read this new Bible.