HOW TO READ THE BIBLE – I
There are different ways to read the Bible. I can think of the following five that we do.
- COLD TURKEY: Read it straight, chapter by chapter, from Genesis to Revelation, book by book: that is the simplest way and the most painful way to read the whole Bible. It takes patience and tenacity. The beginning of our Bible Study group was an attempt to read the whole Bible cover to cover with a group of friends. It began around 2007, I think, by Corrine Steel and Tad Mitsui encouraged by Rev. Frank Lewis, to read the whole Bible cover to cover.
Frank was looking for someone who would take an initiative to follow the United Church program called “Read a Chapter a Day,” to read the whole of the Bible in a year. We met one Sunday at the Labyrinth Room with a few interested people who showed up after hearing the announcement at the Sunday worship. We talked about possibility of meeting on Saturdays once a months to talk about the chapters we read in one month. We agreed to meet for breakfast at the small dining room of Ramada Inn on Mayor Magrath. We read the Bible a chapter a day at home, and met once a month. About a dozen people endured till the end including a 14 year old Sarah Dalby.
I think it is worthwhile program to try again. Otherwise, reading the Bible “Cold Turkey” is not easy. I think we should do it at least once in a life time; reading the Bible Cold Turkey. When you do it that way, one thing we must be aware of. It is the fact that all the Bibles that we can buy are translations. It means there is no Bible available without prejudices and opinions of translators. Unless you read it in Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek; that is. We should read the Bible in different translations and compare them sometime.
- LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS: Another way to read it is to rely on “experts.” We sit and listen to them basically. This is the most traditional way. That was the only way until a few centuries ago, because majority of people could not read. In the beginning the Bible was written for the educated elite. It was a job of those people to read it aloud and explain what it meant to the illiterate masses. “Experts,” or “learned people” were ministers, pastors, preachers, priests, and scholars, who were often the only persons who could read in a community. So Christians for most of their history were dependent on those people to acquire any knowledge of the Bible. Many people still do. That all changed with the Reformation of the 16th Century.
- EVERYBODY COULD READ NOW: Reformation in the 16th Century (1517) changed everything. More and more people could now read as Enlightenment made more people literate. Also the Bible became more easily available with the invention of printing press. Many people started to read on their own. Initially clergy and professional scholars were upset. They lost power and authority they used to have with an exclusive possession of knowledge. The Church therefore, for a while anyway, made it illegal to read the Bible on their own. But that did not stop people, even though printing the Bible without authorization was a capital offense. People like Tindal and Wickliffe dared to tell people the importance of reading it on their own. They paid the ultimate price: they were executed, burned at the stake.
But that didn’t stop people reading the Bible. There were not many books to read those days. So people were eager, just like people jump on to new media today.
- DIFFICULTY OF FINDING TRUE MESSAGE: The Bible is the collection of many books containing many different ideas of those who were seeking God. So it is natural that they contain different opinions, even contradicting each other. As someone said, “You can justify anything quoting the Bible verses. The devil can quote the Bible better than anyone.” It is dangerous to pick and choose chapters and verses you like to prove your point. This is where the authority to interpret the Bible has become an important question. But in democracy, nobody can stop anyone to read anything as he/she likes and interpret it anyway. Nobody will punish you. This is the reason why in the Protestant churches it is important for everybody to know the basics of the nature and the origin of the book, hence the importance of Christian education in the church.
- LECTIONARY: Since many people who attend the church depend on the worship service to know what’s in the Bible, many mainline churches around the world participate in what is known as “Common Lectionary.” It is the three year program (called Year A, B, C) to cover the whole Bible in the weekly lessons read in the Worship Service. Each Sunday, the churches read one common passage from the Old Testament, the Gospel, and the Letters of the New Testament. In three years, all the churches would have read all passages of the Bible. So if you attend all services for three years, you will have read and heard the exposition of the whole Bible.
Let us see how we can read the Bible differently through the very beginning of the Bible, Genesis “CREATION STORIES” from GENESIS CHAPTER 1:1 – 2:25
You may be shocked to find that you find two different gods in the Book of Genesis. It is because the creation story of the Hebrew Bible is a compellation of texts from a few different sources. Scholars who studied the original Hebrew texts found in Genesis texts from at least 3 different sources. One is named “Priestly” writing, another one “Elohim” writing, and the third “Yahweh.” Elohim is a generic word for god in Hebrew, and Yahweh is the name of the Jewish God referring to the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. For convenience’s sake, they are identified as P, E, and J. (In Hebrew alphabet J and Y and the same.)
When you read the chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of Genesis, you will notice that they contain two different stories. Even God is referred to in two different ways. It is because the creation story of Genesis is made up of materials coming from at least two documental sources. The easiest way to distinguish them is to see the different ways God is referred to in English translation. Chapter one refers to god as just “God” while Chapter 2 uses the expression “Lord God.” God in the First chapter is the title, not a name, which can be applied to any god, like Hindhu God or Shinto God. In Hebrew the word is ‘elohim” simply “God” in English. In other words, it is a generic word. This is why it says God created humans “Like US (in plural).” (Verse 1:26)
In chapter 2, “Lord God” is the translation of the Hebrew word written as YHWH, which Jews have always pronounced as “adonai.” The word means “king” or “lord.” It was because the Jews were not allowed to say the name of their God, according to the Ten Commandments. “YHWH” is only consonants without vowels. In stead of pronouncing those consonants with proper vowels, they said, “Lord – Adonai.” Now we know YHWH should be Yahweh after an extensive research into ancient texts. So the translators into English respected the Hebrew tradition, and decided to write “Lord God.” Not only are the words for God is different between Genesis 1 and 2. The story lines are different between them. It can not be history.