Worship: From the Ground up (5 of 6)
This post was written by Rev. Lauryn Everic.
What would our lives look like without art? What would the world look like without art? This isn’t something that we can even picture without the use of creativity and our imaginations.
Maybe we don’t need art to physically survive, but human beings, and our cultures are somehow deeply intertwined with art and dependent on creativity. Is this dynamic something that we’ve created or is this how God designed it to be? Is art important to God?
Exodus 31:1-5 says, “The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.”
In this text, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is equated with the skills and knowledge of craftsmanship. In these verses, the presence of the Holy Spirit in an individual person is synonymous with the ability to create. This tells me that possessing these talents come directly from God, and by extension, the way in which our lives are dependent on art is no coincidence.
So, in what ways is art used in our lives? In our cultures? In worship? Art is a response to the things that happen around us: life events, milestones, politics, religion, disaster, inequality, death, life, celebration. We make art because something happens and we need to make sense of it somehow, and so we respond by creating, and it is in this way culture is created. Culture is what we make of the world around us and, and we make sense by making meaning.
The other way in our lives that we use to discover meaning, especially for those of us who are church-goers, is our faith. While family, jobs, and hobbies fill our days and add love and depth to our lives, so many of us turn to faith to answer life’s big questions. It is here, in making and discovering meaning where art and faith intersect. In searching for meaning we discover that there are things that we do not understand, or at the least, do not understand fully. God reveals God’s self to us, but there is always something partially withheld, even if it is because of our limited capacity. We know God, and yet we don’t fully understand God. We know what communion represents, but we don’t fully understand the significance of what happened at the crucifixion. Since the very beginning, the Church has used symbols to represent meaningingful, and often mysterious, truths.
In using art in worship we can find peace with the unknowable and meaning in the unexplainable. It opens countless possibilities for the ways in which we can communicate the message of God’s love to the world and express the devotion that we feel for God. Through engaging in art through worship it’s even possible that art will enable us to more fully experience our relationship with God and deepen our faith.
Worship: From the Ground up (4 of 6)
What is the one thing that God does in Genesis 1:1-27?
If you said, “CREATE!” you’d be right!
But look at what verse 27 has to say about people.
So God created humankind in God’s own image, in the image of God, humans were created; male and female, God created them.”
If humans are created in the image of God and to this point all God has done is create, then doesn’t it stand to reason that we are created to create?
This is the first thing we must accept if we acknowledge that art has a purpose and a place in our worship. We create because God created us in God’s creative image.
Overwhelmingly, the expression of art in worship is through music. I believe this is so because as Harold Best says in Unceasing Worship, our voices are the only instrument that God created, making music universally accessible. Music has the power to unify a group and proclaim a singular message through the lyrics and melodies of a song. Song was incredibly important in pre-literate societies to teach and pass down information.
In our conversation last night, Lauryn Everic helped us build a framework for the purpose of music and other art forms. She led us to discover how art connects to the heart through the expression of emotions, communicates ideas and beliefs from our head, and connects our hands and feet with history and our communities as it documents important moments. The powerful thing about art is that it can function in all three of these capacities at the same time and engage with each individual person in unique ways.
With the widespread use of music and singing in congregational gatherings, a very important question was posed, “Must we sing when we are at church?”
This is such an important question as we consider the tension in engaging our all in worship while still acknowledging different circumstances that may keep one from singing. It is important in wrestling with this question that we keep in mind that music can be engaged with in different ways. Music can be sung, but it can also be listened to. We can read the lyrics aloud, or meditate quietly on a few lines. As we listen we can reflect on what the words being sung mean, and contemplate what they say about what we believe.
What stands out about music and art in worship, is that just as there are many ways to present art and music, there are just as many ways to engage them as a worshipper. And sharing ourselves with God in any number of creative ways fulfills our divine mandate to be creative.
Worship: From the Ground Up (3 of 6)
God is the only worthy recipient of worship. Yet there is this mysterious sensation of receiving something when we participate in worship even though in and of itself, worship is not for us. So what is it that we are receiving when we come to worship offering back to God what was God’s to begin with?
Let’s start with this: Is the triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in need of anything outside of God’s self?
God within God’s own self is complete lacking nothing. Therefore anything we bring to God is a return offering of gratitude and thanksgiving. When offered they are signs of recognizing God’s presence and power in our lives.
But we as humans are not infinite. We can only give a finite amount of what we have to offer. So when we come to worship and give to God what is God’s in the first place, what we receive in return is God’s overflowing love, mercy, and grace. The forms of this love, mercy, and grace can take different forms for people who worship in the same place together, but it’s important to distinguish that what we give in worship is not necessarily returned in the same fashion or form. What God gives us is a faithful gift filling us from the depths of our parched soul.
What can be difficult is when we go to worship and do not feel filled with the water of life. It can be difficult to discern where God is and how God is speaking to us. It is in these moments that we do not feel like worshipping because we do not know what we have to give. It is in these moments of complete emptiness that God is preparing us. So when you feel empty and tired. When you feel absent of God’s gifts of love, mercy, and grace continue to give yourself to God. For that is worship. It may not always be thanksgiving and praise, but the giving of yourself to God for God’s work and kingdom is when God can bestow upon us the greatest gifts of God’s presence among us.
Worship: From the Ground Up (2 of 6)
“You are what you eat, I always say!”
I can hear this quote from the title character in Shrek as he is first getting to know donkey on their quest to rescue Princess Fiona from the fiery clutches of the dragon. This quote comes to mind today because I wonder if its logic can be applied to our identity?
“You are what you do!”
Many people believe and live by this maxim. Who I am, my identity is solely wrapped up what I do- I am a student, I am a parent, I am a doctor, lawyer . . . It goes on and on. And in the church this can become our understanding of our role in the body of Christ. I am a Sunday School teacher or a worship leader and so we take on this identity that restricts us to a very small box of who we actually are.
Just as you do not become a cheese soufflé after a fancy meal, your personhood is not solely determined by what you do. Instead you are who you are and that is what moves you to do. And who you are at your deepest core, that you did not pick nor can you ever change is your status or title as a child of God!
You are a child of God! Say it again to yourself. And when that becomes our central and core identifier, it’s from this place that our worship transforms from something we do, to something that is a part of us. This happens because it’s our identity as children of God that we can be students, parents, doctors, lawyers, athletes, musicians. You name it- the things we do are expressions of our gifts and talents bestowed upon us by our creator and right worship is the offering back of these parts of our lives back to God.
Worship: From the Ground Up (1 of 6)
“Read my Bible”
“Sing Christian songs in my car”
“Helping other people”
“Admiring God’s creation”
Our students shared these responses on sticky notes to the question: What are things you do that you would categorize as worship?
This list is a starting point for our discussion about worship over the next six weeks. We are going to take these responses and continue to dialogue with a definition from Harold M. Best’s book Unceasing Worship. He writes, “Worship is the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do, and all that I can ever become in light of a chosen or choosing god.”
Let’s unpack that. Worship is never ceasing. Worship is like a fountain in the park, it is always flowing. And worship encompasses everything I do, my identity, my actions, and who I am becoming. And this all happens whether I choose it or something else chooses it.
So while worship is in communion and prayer and singing and serving, it is also in the everyday. Worship is in our work, school, our passions and interests. The next six weeks, our discussions will take us into places to broaden our perspective and embrace our innate nature to worship and that our performance in band, theatre, or choir; our play on the field, court, or track; our expression of self through art and dance; the way we share and express our gifts and talents are experiences of worship.
The Sacred Books: The Source of Truth
If you were to catch on fire, wouldn’t you do everything you could to put it out? Whether stop, drop, and roll or dousing yourself at the kitchen sink, you would do what you could, as quick as you could to put that fire out. We would do this because the truth of you being on fire (hypothetically) lead you to act.
That’s the thing about truth, it should lead us into action. And if truth leads us to action, then the voices and sources of truth in our life leave a big impression. But have you ever stopped to think about where truth comes from? Like who or what is the source of truth?
God. That’s the answer. As the creator of everything, God is the source of truth.
God is the primary source, the source itself, but the sharing of truth comes through many mediums or secondary sources. Truth comes through the Bible, but it can also come through literature, science, history, and the creation around us.
The Bible for instance has a core message to share that God loves all of creation and wants to be in relationship with all that has been made. So much so that God has taken the necessary actions through death upon a cross in the life of Jesus Christ to give us a path to reconciliation with God. Wrapped up in relationship with our creator we discover answers to life’s biggest questions like who am I? Why am I here? and How do relate to the people and things around me?
The truth shared with us through scripture is the truth of our relationship with God and what that unveils in our lives. If we find meaning in the answers that Scripture shares to these questions, then it should lead us into action. The action of reflecting upon scripture and allowing it through the power of the Holy Spirit to reshape and mold our perspectives of the world and its people. It drives us to respond to the deep needs of the world as shared with us through God. The entire faith tradition of Christianity is based in the practices of prayer and reflection upon the scriptures. As we do these two things, we are committing ourselves to a relationship with God, and it is only within relationship that we can listen and decide to follow the call of God on our lives.
This post is the ninth and final in a series reflecting on the teaching series “The Sacred Books”. Through this series, we explored what the Bible is- who wrote it, why we have it, and we will discuss how we use it.
The Sacred Books: The Narrative of Scripture
In the beginning God created. That’s how it all starts. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, or a more precise way to hear this- God created everything. Genesis chapter one and two share of creation. By verse 31 of the first chapter God declares creation to be very good!
It doesn’t take long for things to change. By the third chapter, the man and the woman that live in the garden tending it on God’s behalf find themselves before the one tree they were instructed to not eat the fruit from. With one bite, they have taken matters into their own hands, decided they want to control their destiny, and it cost them a high price. It doesn’t just cost them their life, but also their way of life. From comfort and trust they fall onto hardship and labor. One act of disobedience opened up the Pandora’s Box of wickedness that humanity is capable of. From disobedience, to deceit, to lies, to murder. Creation having been ordered and constructed out of the chaos had fallen right back into chaos and disorder.
Though they had disobeyed, God did not stop caring for humanity. It is written at the end of Adam and Eve’s story that while they are banned from the garden, God knits together for them out of animal skins clothes to wear on their backs and they are sent to labor outside the garden.
In this story we read of creation, a fall, and then redemption- a second chance at life. The narrative of the Bible carries this form from beginning to end- creation, fall, redemption. Not only is this pattern seen over and over in specific stories in the Bible, but it is found in the holistic narrative of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Creation, fall, redemption runs through the course of all 66 books weaving them together into one story of God and God’s people.
The story of creation in the beginning and many stories of births and new beginnings, to the great mistakes and fallen-ness that is in our nature, to the redemption brought and offered to all through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is all held within this collection of books in the Bible.
This pattern in the story resonates so strongly with us because it is our pattern too. We have been created and loved, yet we have fallen short, we are sinful, but we can be redeemed by the blood of Christ and live a new life, one that reflects our created nature as very good as versus our fallen nature which leads to death.
This post is the eigth in a series reflecting on the teaching series “The Sacred Books”. Through this series, we are exploring what the Bible is- who wrote it, why we have it, and we will discuss how we use it. For further thoughts on this topic check out the resources below.
The Sacred Books: Interpreting the Bible
If we were in a room together and we were to pass around a newspaper from September 12, 2001 what meaning would that stir up for you? To those of us who were alive at that time, it would stir up some really personal feelings and memories. For the students that I work with though, none of them were alive then, so the meaning it would have to them is different. The meaning of what happened then and there on September 11, 2001 carries meaning here and now as well.
The words and stories in scripture have meaning too. Scripture had meaning to its original audience, then and there, and it has meaning to us here and now. When it comes to discerning the meaning of scripture, or interpreting it, we must bridge what it meant then and there to the here and now.
So if scripture’s meaning is connected to the then and there of its first audience, how do we bridge it to the here and now of our lives?
First we have to listen to the text. Listening is an act of submission, giving someone or somebody else the authority to say something. When we take this posture of humility, we are opening ourselves to understanding that leads to obedience. When reflecting on how we listen to scripture, Eugene Peterson writes in Eat this Book, “Submission and obedience are a large part of it, but first we have to listen. And listening requires listening to the way it is said (form) as well as to what is said (content). . . When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.”
Once we have listened to what the text is saying, we must begin our search for its original meaning. It first meaning is going to be wrapped up in who it was written to, where they were located in time and location. Meaning will also be wrapped in what problems or circumstances surround the passage. Our first goal is as Stuart and Fee put it in Reading the Bible for All it’s Worth, “The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get at the “plain meaning of the text,” the author’s intended meaning.”
It is like receiving a text message from the bank saying we have low funds. The plain meaning is that I am low on money and I can do one of two things, stop spending money or go put more money in the bank.
Once we have asked what this text means, we can ask, “What does this mean to me here and now?”
Bridging the meaning of a text to our lives in the here and now is the trickiest part. But if we keep in mind that God’s work is about transformation and redemption, we will have an easier time discovering how something that had meaning to someone else long ago has meaning for you and I here and now. Beyond keeping this in mind, we also ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit, who will guide us with wisdom and nudge us with the call to obedience.
One caveat as I conclude. Can the meaning of a text change over time? Yes, it can, but it is not because the words or the story changed. It is because we have changed. Our stage of life will always bring a new and different perspective. Our lens of viewing the world and the scriptures will change as we mature and have new experiences. So keep reading the Bible. Re-read the same passages overtime and continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you bridge the words of scripture into your life, here and now.
This post is the seventh in a series reflecting on the teaching series “The Sacred Books”. Through this series, we are exploring what the Bible is- who wrote it, why we have it, and we will discuss how we use it.
The Sacred Books: Reading the Bible
What is the difference between taking in a performance of the hit musical Hamilton and sitting down to read Ron Chernow’s 800+ page biography titled Alexander Hamilton? They both exist to share the story of the first Secretary of the Treasurer of the United States yet they attract two very different audiences. One audience gets swept up in the story of Alexander arriving by boat to New York, finding a band of rag-tag friends, and quickly engaging in revolutionary causes. The other audience is lead linearly by the events of Alex’s life and a slog of research. Each story criticized by different standards yet both capture the life and works of Alexander Hamilton.
The difference in the standard of critique between the show and the biography is brought on by the wide gap of genre. One expected to entertain and the other expected to present unbiased presentation of the research. Each is taken in by the viewer or reader though in its appropriate guise. Each is engaged with through its literary and contextual lens.
The demands we place on popular literature and performance are lens we should also take with us to our reading and engagement with the Bible. Filled with a library of 66 books, the Bible has within it covers all assortments of ancient genres- from epics, to social contracts, poetry, song, genealogies, ancient biography, letters, and apocalypse. Anytime we read from the Bible we should be aware of its literary and contextual setting.
Acknowledging a books literary setting puts us in a mind frame to engage with it in an appropriate fashion that brings about greater understanding of what’s been written. Taking the time to discover the genre of what we are reading sets our relationship with a given text on a sturdy and firm foundation, giving us greater depth of interaction as we interact with it.
Context is asking when, where, and why. I have been thinking about it in the terms of a story being a donut hole and the context is the donut. It is everything surrounding the story and when you place it inside of the proper context, you will be illuminated by what you see. For instance, a plain donut hole you would expect came from a plain donut, but if the donut was covered in icing and sprinkles and the donut hole is plain it would flavor your curiosity as to what happened. The context around the story can flavor our engagement with a text in a similar way.
With the Bible, context is not strictly historical either. There is also a canonical context- where this text is in the Bible itself. What texts surround it? Which book is it in? I love what NT Wright says about how important this task is.
“We must be committed to a totally contextual reading of scripture. Each word must be understood within its own verse, each verse within its own chapter, each chapter within its own book, and each book within its own historical, cultural, and indeed canonical setting.”
Not only is our reading flavored by the genre and context, but it is further enhanced through the questions we ask. I believe that asking questions, whether to a person or of a book, are meant to build greater understanding. So when we read scripture, which questions lead us to a greater understanding of the text? Take a look at the compiled list of questions below, consider writing them down and keeping them in your Bible or with your devotional material. Not only will they help you as you engage scripture, they will make you a better reader in general.
- What is the book about as a whole?
- What is being said in detail and how?
- Is the book true? In whole or part?
- What of it? What is significant?
- What is being said about God, Jesus, or God’s plan?
- What is being said about humans?
- Where does this take place in the story?
- What information am I missing or do not understand?
- Why did people find this important to write down?
- What was going on in their own world that this was important to them?
- Why did they feel the need to put words to this?
- What does this teach us about what it means to be alive, here, in this world now?
- What does [this story] teach us about hope and love and pain and loss and forgiveness and betrayal and compassion?
- How does this text/story help us better understand our own stories?
This post is the sixth in a series reflecting on the teaching series “The Sacred Books”. Through this series, we are exploring what the Bible is- who wrote it, why we have it, and we will discuss how we use it.
The Sacred Books: Why do we have the Bible?
Have you ever stopped to consider why God chose to reveal God’s self through a book? It is no secret that books have power. They can insight change, present new ideas, shape entire generations. Books communicate stories, connect to vast audiences across the globe. Books don’t change, just the perspective we use to the read them. Books can also be converted into new forms of media- television, movies, drama, art. The Bible itself has done all of these things. And in and through all of these things, the Bible is God’s chosen way to connect us to living as people created in God’s image.
The Bible connects us with God and with ourselves. God has connected with humanity by partnering with humanity in bringing the Bible to us. The Holy Spirit is at work in all who engage the text, inspiring both the words written and how the reader receives the text. Through the work of the Holy Spirit we come to grow in our understanding of God’s true nature- a creative and creating God, who loves all, and is in the business of restoring all of creation back to its unbroken status.
If that is who God is, then scripture should be drawing us to a deeper understanding of who we are as people created in God’s image. The Bible as a book reveals to us our own character. People who were created by God, yet broken and effected by sin, separated from God. We desire to be in right relationship with God and have been given such an opportunity through Jesus Christ.
So God’s nature and character is to love, create, and restore. Ours is to be in relationship with God and others, but what does that relationship look like? How does one live reflecting the image of God to others?
Scripture gives us a lot of wisdom and comment on this question. Love God, love others, do justice, show mercy. As our Bible Study leaders like to repeat exhaustively to our students- “Reconciliation!” God creates and cares for all creation and so should we. As you digest this, consider this disclaimer. We do not do this transformational work on our own. We cannot just read and do. We must read and respond through relationship with our Creator. Life must be lived through relationship built on trust. In trusting God, we discover God’s purposes are so much more, so much greater, so much wiser than we could imagine on our own.
So I leave you with this paraphrase out of Eugene Peterson’s book Eat this Book as he shares Karl Barth’s perspective on the Bible. We do not read this book and the subsequent writings that are shaped by it in order to find out how to get God into our lives, neither do we read it to get God to participate in our lives. We open the Bible and find that page after page it takes us off guard, surprises us, and draws us into its reality, pulls us into participation with God on God’s own terms.
This post is the fifth in a series reflecting on the teaching series “The Sacred Books”. Through this series, we are exploring what the Bible is- who wrote it, why we have it, and we will discuss how we use it. If you want to dive deeper into this topic of what the Bible is and is not consider these resources.
The Sacred Books: the Authority of Scripture
The Bible is authoritative. It is reliable in communicating what we need for salvation and a restored relationship with God. The Bible also has authority in the Christian’s life. This authority is accessed through engaging with it.
You see, all authority is God’s. In his final earthly engagement with his disciples in the Matthew 28, Jesus says in verse 18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And Jesus’ acts of authority are always good, right, and just. N.T. Wright describes God’s authority in Scripture and the Authority of God saying, “Authority is the sovereign rule of God sweeping through creation to judge and to heal. It is the powerful love of God in Jesus Christ, putting sin to death and launching new creation.”
God is in the restoration business and we receive restoration when we read and engage with what God is doing, and that restoration is frequently revealed to us in the words of scripture.
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry finds himself before Professor Dumbledore asking large life questions after an encounter with Lord Voldemort. He says things like, “I couldn’t help but notice how much we are alike.” And “Should I really be in Gryffindor and not Slytherin?” Dumbledore responds with grace and understanding to Harry’s questions. He draws Harry’s attention to two things. First, he chose Gryffindor when he was sorted in first year and second he draws Harry’s attention to the sword that was delivered to him in his time of need, the sword of Godric Gryffindor. “Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat,” exclaims Dumbledore.
Scripture is like the sword of Gryffindor is to a true Gryffindor. Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness as is written in 2 Timothy 3:16. But take a close look at verse 17.
“So that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Scripture’s power and authority comes through in the work of the Holy Spirit and serves to prepare Christians for the work of God’s kingdom. Its authority is expressed through our engagement with it.
That is why the Bible is the authoritative foundation for everything the church does. Everything the church does and believes begins with scripture and prayer. It is what we must look at when making sense of our reason, tradition, and experiences. N.T. Wright has another powerful quote when he writes, “To affirm the “Authority of Scripture” is precisely not to say, “We know what scripture means and don’t need to raise any more questions.” It is always a way of saying that the church in each generation must make fresh and rejuvenated efforts to understand scripture more fully and live by it more thoroughly, even if it means cutting across cherished tradition.”
Every generation has the difficult job of discerning where God is at work in the world and it is in our engagement with scripture that we put on the lenses in which we will be empowered to see where God is at work and how we can join in. But we will remain blind to this unless we engage with the authoritative text gifted to us by God and wrestle with what God has revealed about God’s self to us.
This post is the fourth in a series reflecting on the teaching series “The Sacred Books”. Through this series, we are exploring what the Bible is- who wrote it, why we have it, and we will discuss how we use it. If you want to dive deeper into this topic of what the Bible is and is not consider these resources.
The Sacred Books: Inspiration, “the word of God”, and Revelation
Have you ever considered that God breathes? What about the fact that God speaks? And when God speaks, things happen! When God speaks new life if formed, creation is breathed anew.
The word inspire has two definitions- to fill someone with the urge or the ability to do or feel something, usually creative and second, to breathe. In some mysterious way, that is God’s role in the creation of Scripture. It is through this idea of inspiration that God has worked with and through writers, editors, scribes, translators, and printers that God has brought us the words or message we were intended to have of God’s engagement with creation.
“the word of God”
Ever since people have been communicating with each other, they have been sharing stories of where they see God at work in the world around them. Such stories have been recorded and passed down for thousands of years and have become reliably known to us as scripture. Another phrase we use to describe scripture is “the word of God”.
This understanding of the phrase, “the word of God” however is not its exhaustive usage. Rob Bell describes the word of God in What is the Bible as, “The creative action of God speaking in and through the world, bringing new creation and new life into being.” And with regard to this library of books written by people we call the Bible he says calling it the word of God means it has been found to be “a reliable record of what the ongoing, unfolding creative work of God looks like in the world.”
The word of God, is God’s very action of speaking things into being.
Side Road: Another fascinating distinction to discuss when talking about “the word of God” is the difference between this phrase and “the Word of God” with a capital W. Where the first phrase references scripture and God’s creative action, the second phrase is synonymous with Jesus Christ. This distinction is important in that Christ is primary over our experience of what we find to be the word of God. This little caveat leads us to our next section.
A piece of art reveals something about the nature or person of the artist or creator, the word of God reveals to us the nature and person of the God of the universe. The word that we use to describe anything that has been revealed to us about God is revelation. One very specific way to discuss revelation is that it is any way in which God communicates Godself to others for the sake of their redemptive transformation.
So God can reveal God’s self in any number of ways, but there are a three modes of revelation that we should prioritize. The first priority is in the person of Jesus Christ. The words and works of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospels are indeed a special revelation of who God is. Christ is our primary source as to who God is and what God is like for Jesus Christ is God.
The second mode of revelation to consider is the revelation of God in scripture. Scripture tells us of God’s interaction with creation. Everything in scripture tells us something about God and the relationship God has to humankind. And vice versa. God is revealed in scripture just as we as humans are revealed in and through scripture.
Finally, the third mode of revelation to prioritize is that which comes through the spoken word. The word proclaimed or preached about God. We must hold this in priority because the spoken word can do something the static, written word cannot- account for current culture and context.
God is not limited in these forms of revelation, but I do believe these forms are to be prioritized in weighing the revelation we as an individual or as a community might receive from God. Other forms of revelation that we should acknowledge include God being revealed in nature and in history. The truths of God can be found in art, literature, play, and work. It is in the experience of God in the world that these prioritized modes of revelation serve as a lens to judge whether it was truly God being revealed or not.
This post is the third in a series reflecting on the teaching series “The Sacred Books”. Through this series, we are exploring what the Bible is- who wrote it, why we have it, and we will discuss how we use it. If you want to dive deeper into this topic of what the Bible is and is not consider these resources. (The Bible for Normal People is a podcast, I recommend show 24 to explore more on this topic.)
The Sacred Books: Who Wrote the Bible and When?
I remember as a child wondering where the Bible came from. I understood that every book had an author, so who had authored the scriptures? My understanding at that time was that God worked through a select group of men to write the Bible and some how I got into my head that God was sustaining those men to continue to write the Bible that were in my home and at church. I remember riding in the car past non-suspect store fronts and wondering, “Maybe in there one of the apostles is holed up copying away the words of Scripture.”
My perspective of how the Bible came to be and who authored it has evolved over the years. My childish understanding though had some truth to it. God has and does work through people to bring us the Scriptures. People are still hard at work studying the Bible from ancient manuscripts and papri scraps and translating the original Hebrew and Greek into modern languages.
One way of putting the authorship of the Bible that I value is what Rob Bell says in What is the Bible? “[The biblical writers] were real people living in real places at real times.”
The people who wrote the Bible were real. At first their stories were shared orally to the community, repeated often and frequently. These stories were the history of their people and their frequent telling and retelling created an identity and sense of who the community was and whose community they were, as in Yahweh’s people. It was when this identity was brought into question and there was uncertainty during the Babylonian exile and captivity that the Israelites began to write down their stories.
By the time of Jesus in the first century, the Jewish people had the Torah (first five books of the Bible) or the law, the Writings, and the Prophets. These are known today in Christianity as the Old Testament. These books made up the Hebrew Bible and were the books that the Pharisees, teachers of the law, and Jesus knew and would discuss and debate.
The accounts of these discussions and debates, as well as Jesus’ other teachings and works, including the account of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection are recorded in the Gospels. First these stories were shared orally by disciples, apostles, and eye witnesses. As these witnesses aged, their stories were recorded and written down out of necessity for their survival. Around the same time, the apostle Paul and others began writing letters to the communities of believers they had ministered too. In careful study of these letters, you see the gospel accounts becoming acknowledged scripture and that the writers of the epistles didn’t see themselves as Scripture writers. It was over time that their words became so.
Before the end of the 2nd century AD, all of the New Testament books had been written and the canon of Scripture was settled at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.
The stories of Scripture take place in the Mediterranean world. The countries we know on the map today as Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia are where God’s people, the people in Scripture, and Jesus and the disciples lived. The world of the Bible is very accessible today and each of these places is filled with rich history that enliven what we know about the Scriptures.
Scripture was also written in the everyday language of the people- Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek. While these are the languages of Scripture and were common spoken languages at the time of Scripture’s writing, they weren’t the only languages around. Today many people do the hard work of translating the Scripture into the languages of people who are alive today. This is important work for making the Bible accessible to all and in sharing the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Not only was the Bible written by real people, in a real place, at a certain point of time, but it is still today handled, interpreted, and printed by real people to reach people in a specific time and place. And it will always be that way!
In the writing of Scripture, God has worked through many, many hands and minds as versus that of the few to bring us the Scripture as we have it today. The idea of God working through the many as versus the few is an idea reflected in Scripture where God has always chosen to work in and among the people and is still working in and among many people today.
This post is the second in a series reflecting on the teaching series “The Sacred Books”. Through this series, we are exploring what the Bible is- who wrote it, why we have it, and we will discuss how we use it. If you want to dive deeper into this topic of what the Bible is and is not consider these resources. (The Bible for Normal People is a podcast, I recommend show 56 and 46 to explore more on this topic.)
The Sacred Books: What is and isn’t the Bible?
The most printed title in history are the two words Holy Bible. I wonder what image this title conjures in your head? Is it the app icon that resides on your homescreen? Or do you picture a red leather-bound volume with gold lettering? What about a flaking scroll covered in dust or someone reciting it from memory to the entire community?
The title of our sacred book comes from Greek, ton Biblion and Latin, Biblia Sacra, but these titles are slightly misrepresented in English. Both of these ancient titles reference the collection of Christian Scriptures in the plural, rendered “the books” and “Sacred Books”.
These sacred books consist of:
– 66 books of which 39 are in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. (There are 7 other books in a historical collection called the Apocrypha.)
– 1,189 chapters so if you wanted to read the entire Bible in a year you would need to read 23 chapters per week.
– The Scriptures original languages are Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek.
Together as one book, the Bible is a collection or volume of many books. A library of ancient books each with its own genre, purpose, audience, and stories. While each book stands alone, collectively they do tell a comprehensive story of creation and the Creator.
Theologian Roger Olson describes the Bible in The Mosaic of Christian Belief, “In the ‘hands’ of the Spirit of God, the Bible has always, again and again, become the unique instrument that shapes the identity of God’s people and transforms their lives. Because God chose it to be this unique authority to which Christians turn for guidance and correction, and by which they measure all truth claims about God and salvation. The Bible is the book of the church, its constitution both in the sense that it forms its supreme norm for faith and life and in the sense that it constitutes the church’s identity. The church of Jesus Christ lives from and according to the Bible without treating it as a dead rule book or a mere book of information. The Bible is not like a phone book or science textbook. It is a witness to God and channel of God’s transforming presence. It is a living book.”
This living book should be approached with intrigue, curiosity, and humility allowing its words to search within us as much as we are searching within its words.
I like the analogy that is used to compare the Bible to a precious gemstone. As you rotate it and look at it from different perspectives you garner new ways to appreciate its beauty. Backed away, looking at the whole stone, you are in awe of the comprehensive beauty and majesty it commands. But look close, magnify the inside as a jeweler would and you gain insights to what holds it all together.
This post is the first in a series reflecting on the teaching series “The Sacred Books”. Through this series, we will explore what the Bible is- who wrote it, why we have it, and we will discuss how we use it. If you want to dive deeper into this topic of what the Bible is and is not consider these resources. (The Bible for Normal People is a podcast, I recommend starting with episodes 2,3, and 4.)