This is what we talked about this week...
Dive Deeper allows us to spend more time studying scripture and wrestling with big questions. For the next six weeks we will be looking at where the Bible came from and learning some critical reading skills.
Why study the Bible?
There are dozens of reasons to study the Bible. From an academic perspective it is one of the best selling pieces of literature of all time, it has inspired beautiful works of art and terrible acts of destruction, and one of the most significant archeological discoveries of the 20th century was the Dead Sea Scrolls (an ancient collection of manuscripts that contain some of our oldest biblical manuscripts).
From a theological perspective the Bible is extremely important. Three of the world's major religions use parts of its text as authoritative scripture. It is a revelation of God, God's word for God's people. Studying the Bible is a spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God. Another great reason to study the Bible is that it is timeless, we find meaning each time we read it, across centuries the Bible continues to speak to God's people.
So let's start at the beginning
If we are going to study the Bible we need to understand why it was written, something written without purpose is not worth studying. The Bible was written to tell the story of God's revelation through his people, Israel and then the Church, and to tell us of what's to come. It's important to keep this purpose in mind because it will impact how we interpret the text. A history book or science book are interested in relaying specific types of facts, the Bible is interested in telling godly truths, not necessarily specifically historical dates, figures, scientific methods. The whole "why" of the Bible centers around God.
The oral tradition of scripture
Once we knew the why we could focus on how the Bible came to be. Initially biblical stories would have been passed down orally. The thing about oral accounts is that they are more frequently subject to change. Depending on the storyteller certain details may be added, omitted, emphasized, or given in a different order. The story begins to take on the agenda of the storyteller, which (for the Bible) is to point the listener to God. We showed how oral stories change by playing a game of telephone.
Scripture is written down
Eventually scripture is written down and distributed through scrolls or codex. Often times it would be copied by monks either copying from another manuscript or listening to the abbot read aloud and writing down what is said. Early manuscripts are written in uncials, which are capitalized letters with no spaces or punctuation. Anytime you have to copy something by hand there is the chance for mistakes. To illustrate this we had our own scribal exercise. The first student was given the uncial phrase:
What we ended up with was:
Once there was a man who had many things of color. He had a brown dog, a white house, and a rusty sword. He said to his neighbor God is nowhere.
As the phrase was passed from person to person, each scribe made their own tweaks, changes, and mistakes. Spelling was changed, grammar was corrected, punctuation was added, and a big theological claim was made. The last sentence could also have read "He said to his neighbor 'God is now here." We talked about some of the unintentional and intentional changes that happened to manuscripts as they were passed down. This is all to say that the Bible is not the work of a few devoted authors, but the work of the church. Throughout history people have been copying it, editing it, and sharing it. Even the list of books that make up our biblical canon are the result of the community of Christian believers deciding which ones were authoritative.
Even today, biblical scholars interpret thousands of manuscripts, and theological tradition before the produce a Bible translation. Do they go for a word for word translation, or do they try to translate it thought for thought so that it is easier to understand? When we study the Bible we need to be mindful of this history so that we can do our best to faithfully interpret what God may be trying to say to us through scripture. One easy suggestion is to read a couple different translations of a passage when studying it, that way you may have a better understanding at what is being said.
Read about critical approaches to reading the Bible at www.theopedia.com/biblical-criticism
Read Genesis 1 through Genesis 2:3 in at least two different translations, slowly, two times. What is there that you didn't expect? What isn't there that you expected?