This year, we are taking one phrase from our mission statement each month as a kind of “theme” for emphasis and reflection. This month, as we begin the program year of education for children, youth and adults, it is appropriate that we reflect on how the Bible is our source of knowledge, inspiration and hope. When we use the word “inspired,” we mean it in two ways. First, our creeds and confessions say that the Bible is the “inspired” Word of God. This means that the Bible is both the product of human authors, editors, scribes and translators, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Presbyterian Christians argue that the authority of the Bible lies not in the words on the page but with the Holy Spirit who not only inspired the authors but inspires us as readers today.
“We are a community of faith inspired by biblical teachings.”
Second, not only is the text inspired, we are supposed to be inspired by reading and hearing the scriptures. The problem is that many people don’t experience the Bible as inspiring. Some have experienced the Bible as a weapon used against them: “behave this way, or else….” “Believe this, or else….” Obviously, the Bible contains principles, values, and rules for living. But when people use it primarily as a way to condemn others, the Bible itself is being abused, because its purpose is to bring life not death, hope not fear, joy not anxiety.
Other people (including many church folk!) find the Bible intimidating or boring. If you haven’t read the Bible in a long time, the best place to begin is with the gospels. If you begin with the first chapter of Matthew and read one chapter a day, you can complete all four gospels in about three months. If you add the Acts of the Apostles, and start now, that will almost take you to Christmas. Read slowly (most chapters aren’t very long) and try reading out loud (or at least speaking the words quietly to yourself). Much of the Bible was handed down in oral form before it was written, and most of it was written in order to be heard rather than scanned.
Another way to read the Bible is to follow a lectionary or set of readings. There is a daily lectionary which you can follow if you download the Daily Prayer app from the PC(USA) to your phone or iPad. We will list the texts and title of the upcoming Sunday sermon on our website. Reading the texts before worship will enhance your hearing. And the “Feasting on the Word” class that meets each Sunday morning at 9:30 discusses those texts before the 11:00 worship.
Remember, translation matters! Translation always involves interpretation. The translators need to decide what the original texts mean in order to select the appropriate words in the modern language. The New Revised Standard Version (1989) is the text of our pew Bibles. It is a substantial revision of the Revised Standard Version of the 1950’s. In both cases, the work was done by groups of scholars representing both mainline Protestant and Catholic traditions. Many people like the NIV (the New International Version) which came out about twenty years ago. It is readable but definitely shows the evangelical theological bias of the translators. I am currently using the Common English Bible (2011). The work was done by a very diverse group of American biblical scholars and tested widely for readability.
The psalms describe God’s word (by which they specifically meant the Torah or first five books of the Hebrew Bible) as “a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.” Not every passage will be equally illuminating, but sometimes a story or a saying will reach out and grab you in surprising ways. The psalmist also said that God’s word is sweeter than honey from the honeycomb and more valuable than gold. Start reading. I think you will find that it is true.