Reading the Bible

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Six weeks ago, I decided to join a women’s Bible study on Saint Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews. I’ll be honest. My primary motivation in doing this was to get to know some people at my church. Being an introvert, I’m not very good about hanging around during coffee hour and making small talk, so I hadn’t learned the names of too many of my fellow worshipers. The women’s Bible study seemed like a non-threatening way of meeting new people and, incidentally, learning something of interest to me.
I have met some women—Barb and Jo and Margie and Nancy—and it’s nice to recognize familiar faces when I see them again on Sunday morning. I can’t say any of them are friends yet, but I see the potential for friendships. So, I’ve accomplished what I thought was my primary goal in joining this group.
But, much to my surprise, the real value has been the Bible study itself. Now, I’ve been a Christian for most of my life. I’ve belonged to Bible study groups before and read some books on my own. But this is the first one I’ve belonged to that leans heavily on the concept of scripture interprets scripture.
Each week focuses on the next section, often a chapter, sometimes more or less depending on length, of the book of Hebrews. There are five lessons to work on during the week that further break down the week’s assignments by verse. This is where things get interesting. Most of the time, the words from the verse or verses of Hebrews refer you to other passages in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.

Now, some of these are obvious. The Gospels often quote from Old Testament prophecies to show how Jesus fulfilled them. Or the apostles in their epistles will quote from the Old Testament to illustrate a point because, especially with the book of Hebrews, which was addressed to the Jewish people, the recipients are familiar with those teachings. But going back and reading those in the original books of the Bible not only gives them context, it also reenforces the lesson. The writers of the books of the New Testament weren’t just making this stuff up; they were leaning on the ancient teachings of the religion they were a part of before Jesus came.
And then there are references to other books in the New Testament where again the same message may be stated in different words or the teaching may reference what is to come by having you read something from the book of Revelation. This study has changed my perspective on the Bible.
To understand this, you have to realize that for ten years I attended a church where the pastor seemed to pick and choose what parts of the Bible to consider correct. In fact, that turned out to be the reason I left that church. He didn’t like apocalyptic writing or Satan or the notion that there was good and evil in the world. In fact, to him the evil was within each individual, a matter of ego more than anything. He cringed any time the lectionary Bible readings for a week included references to Judgment Day or punishment because our God was a god of love and He loved everyone. Over time, I started to see the Bible as a collection of books where some books were more Biblical than others. But it struck me as wrong to see it that way. That viewpoint didn’t sit right with what I had been taught for most of my life.
Through the current Bible study I’m doing with the women of my new church, the books of the Bible are being knit back together into one whole, with one message and focus. And that feels right to me.

Photo Credit: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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