Sunday, December 10, 2006

Why Read the Bible

More reflection after having just read the entire Christian Bible.

For most of my life i've gone to church on Sunday. So i've heard the entire lectionary series several times. I've also read certain whole Bible books before, like Luke, and the first five books - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. So, much of the reading was review. Certainly, i'd had exposure to most of the good bits. By "good", i mean meaningful and relevant. But reading the Bible from end to end provides context. This context was often startling. Even whole chapters used in the Lectionary seemed to have new direction in context. Certainly, just about any quoted verse you may have heard has new meaning in context. More than half of the time, when someone quotes a Bible verse at you, it doesn't mean anything like what it sounds. It's almost as if someone who took the time to read the whole Bible purposely found verses that, when taken out of context, seemed to mean whatever they wanted to say. That then gives an authority to whatever they wanted to say that simply isn't justified. It is dishonest. And, that's despite repeated admonitions in the Bible against hypocrisy.

Take, for example, John 3:16. This is the canonical Christian statement of faith. It is generally taken to mean what it says. But the book of John does not read anything like the other synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. And it is worth knowing what John's view is. Without that context, any interpretation of basic Christian faith may be wrong.

I doubt that more than a percent or two of Christians have read the Bible from end to end. Without this background, one is essentially biblically illiterate. And, while John 3:16 says that faith is all you need, consider that "faith without works is dead" (which also requires context to understand), and "the road to salvation is narrow, like the razor's edge", and "many are called, but few are chosen". These references lead one to the idea that salvation, if that's your goal, requires more work than going to church once a week. In particular, going to church once a week does not make you Christian. It isn't enough.

And how could it be? In a typical Christian sermon, the pastor must assume a fairly introductory level of knowledge. There might be new people in the church. Hopefully there are. After all, the primary goal of the church is outreach. But that means that real depth is essentially impossible. On top of that, the typical sermon has just three points. That's 150 points a year, and less if you look for duplicates. Even education programs outside of the Church service have to start somewhere. I've not seen a church anywhere that supports a ten year study, for example.

Now, i'm not going to say that you are Damned to Hell if you don't follow my lead here. Only God judges. I'm not even allowed to judge myself. Perhaps i'm being to hard on myself. Or not hard enough. Yet i don't worry, in fear that i don't measure up. I'm just attempting to do the best i can. No one can ask for more. And as near as i can tell, not even God asks more.

Oddly, if you're not Christian, but just want to understand Christians, reading the Bible won't do it for you. That's because most Christians haven't read it, or at least don't act as if they've read it.


Greg said...

I absolutely agree that few have read the Bible. I wonder how one could determine how many? I think you are right about it being less than 3 percent. I would bet less than one percent.

I know I have and it was (IS) extremely helpful.

I especially like the Chronological Bible NIV.

Stephen said...

Alot of this is that the Bible has a high barrier to entry. Some claim that Hawking's A Brief History of Time is one of those books that's purchased but not read. I've read it two or three times. By comparison to the Bible, it's easy and accessible. It isn't yet completely out of date, so go ahead and read it.

So, my favorite translation of the Bible used to be the Good News or Today's English Version - which was aimed at an 8th grade reading level. However, there's a newer version aimed at a 4th grade level that i like even more (but it's at home, and i can't think what the name is). Yet, what i actually read was bits of the Douay-Rheims, the King James and the World English Bible. These translations are available for free in text download. The actual Bible is too big and heavy to carry around. But it fits on a Palm Pilot that you might carry around anyway for other reasons. There are programs that will keep track of where you left off, so when you start it again, you're there. So, despite having a dozen translations around the house, including a KJV, none of these have been read for much more than reference.

Of the free versions, the WEB is the newest and easiest to read. The KJV is oldest and hardest. The DR has the extra Catholic books.