How to Read the Holy Bible team | 13 January 2019

“All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16)

“If an earthly king, our emperor,” says Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk (+1724-83), “wrote you a letter, would you not read it with joy? Certainly, with great rejoicing and careful attention.” But what, he asks, is our attitude towards the letter that has been addressed to us by no one less than God Himself? “You have been sent a letter, not by any earthly emperor, but by the King of Heaven. And yet you almost despise such a gift, so priceless a treasure.” To open and read this letter, Saint Tikhon adds, is to enter into a personal conversation face to face with the living God.  “Whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read, you are praying and talking to Him.”

Such exactly is our Orthodox Christian attitude to the reading of Holy Scripture. I am to see the Holy Bible as God’s personal letter sent specifically to myself. The words are not intended merely for others, far away and long ago, but they are written particularly and directly to me, here and now. Whenever we open our Holy Bible, we are engaging in a creative dialogue with the Savior. In listening, we also respond, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears,” we reply to God as we read (1 Kings 3:10); “Here am I” (Isaiah 6:8).

Two centuries after Saint Tikhon, at the Moscow Conference held in 1976 between the Orthodox and the Anglicans, the true attitude towards Holy Scripture was expressed in different but equally valid terms. This joint statement, signed by the delegates of both traditions, forms an excellent summary of the Orthodox view: “The Scripture constitutes a coherent whole. They are at once divinely inspired and humanly expressed. They bear authoritative witness to God’s Revelation of Himself in creation and as such express the word of God in human language. We know, receive, and interpret scripture through the Church and in the Church, Our approach to the Bible is one of obedience.”

Combining Saint Tikhon’s words and the Moscow statement, we may distinguish the four key characteristics which mark the Orthodox “Scriptural mind.” First, our reading of Scripture is obedient, Second, it is ecclesial, in union with the Church, it is Christ-centered. Fourth, IT IS personal.

Reading the Holy Bible with Obedience

First of all, then, we see Holy Scripture as inspired by God, and so we approach it in a spirit of obedience. The Divine inspiration of the Holy Bible is emphasized alike by Saint Tikhon and by the 1976 Moscow Conference. Holy Scripture is “a letter” from “the King of Heaven,” says Saint Tikhon; “Christ Himself is speaking to you.” The Holy Bible, states the Conference, is god’s authoritative witness” of Himself, expressing “the word of God in human language.” Our response to this Divine word is rightly one of obedient receptivity. As we read, we wait on the Spirit.

Since it is Divinely inspired, the Holy Bible possesses a fundamental unity, a total coherence, for it is the same Spirit that speaks on every page. We do not refer to it as “the books” in the plural, ta vivlia, but we call it “the Bible,” “the Book,” “e vivlos”, in the singular. It is one book, one Holy Scripture, with the same message throughout–one composite and yet single story, from Genesis to Revelation (Apokalypse).

At the same time, however, the Holy Bible is also humanly expressed. It is an entire library of distinct writings, composed at varying times, by different persons in widely diverse situations. We find God speaking here “in many and various ways” (Hebrews 1:1). Each work in the Holy Bible reflects the outlook of the age in which it was written and the particular viewpoint of the author. For God does not abolish our created personhood but enhances it. Divine grace co-operates with human freedom: we are “fellow-workers,” “co-operators” with God (1 Corinthians 3:9). In the words of the second-century Letter to Diognetus, “God persuades, He does not compel; for violence is foreign to the Divine nature.” So it is precisely in the writing of inspired Scripture. The author of each book was not just a passive instrument, a flute played by the Spirit, a dictation machine recording message. Every writer of Scripture contributes his or her particular human gifts. Alongside the Divine aspect, there is also a human element in Scripture, and we are to value both. (Source: Orthodox Study Bible)

(To be continued)

By the Right Reverend KALLISTOS, Bishop of Diokleia

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