Seeing The Bible Through Different Lenses

If we live in the same community, should we attempt to understand each other?  In my experience, in Rockwall County a large number of Christians believe that the Bible is to be taken literally.  However, other Christians look at the Bible through the lenses of interpretation which ask, “Who wrote the text?  Why was it written?  What was happening when the text was written?” They also consider the literary form.  “Is the text a narrative story, a book of laws, or a book of songs or poetry, a letter?  Was it written by an eyewitness, or is it the collection of writings by different people?  Is it a coded text, filled with symbolism and allegory, addressing a specific people at a specific time? Was it was written to address a specific need?”  This perspective in no way invalidates the wisdom of the Biblical text and the relationship of God with humanity.

This type of  biblical study, illustrates that the Bible primarily as a collection of writings by ancient people.   These Ancients developed stories that were passed down from generation to generation through oral traditions; the telling of stories.   These stories were intended to explain, in their understanding, the origins of the earth and human life and the reality of good and evil.

One of these Ancient peoples, Hebrew slaves living in Egypt, migrated to the land of Canaan. Already familiar with the culture and religions of Egypt, they came into contact with the civilizations of Babylon and Mesopotamia. They learned how the Babylonians and Mesopotamians related to the gods of their understanding and their stories of creation and of the struggle between good and evil.  A Babylonian epic poem, “The Enuma Elish” (2d millennium BCE) describes the beginnings of the cosmos, the birth of the Babylonian gods, the rise to dominance of the god Marduk, and the creation of humanity. The Mesopotamian poem, “The Epic of Gilgamesh” (2100 BCE) is the story of a king who set out to defy death only to discover that his gods were not to be trusted and that love is the ultimate value in life.

The Hebrews began to tell their own stories of God’s interaction with humanity. Their God was one and more powerful than the many gods of their neighbors.  Their God made a covenant with them that could not be broken because God Himself was the guarantor of the Covenant.   They were the people of the covenant ad as such were to obey the Law of the Covenant.  They developed rituals to express their relationship with God. As humanity developed written language the stories were written down and became known as the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  The Hebrew people’s relationship with their God is also found in the Books of the Prophets. Their poems and songs are recorded in the Book of Psalms.

The written story of Christianity began after the death of Jesus when Matthew, Mark, John, and Luke wrote accounts of Jesus’ life.  Known as The Gospels, these narratives describe events in the life of Jesus. Each Gospel begins and ends differently. The Gospel of John is believed to be a synthesis of the views held by John’s community and includes accounts of rituals practiced by that community.

Paul, though not an eyewitness, was an ardent follower of Jesus and became known as the Apostle of the Gentiles, establishing communities throughout the known world.  The Acts of the Apostles is attributed to Paul along with other letters to the communities he established.  The Christian Scriptures also contain letters attributed to other apostles. These letters were sent to instruct, strengthen and encourage the early Christians who were under attack from Jewish leaders for being heretics and from Romans who feared their growing numbers.

The last book of the Bible, Revelations, was written in a language of symbol and allegory known only to the authors and their readers. Some scholars view it as a response to the crisis of faith experienced by the followers of Jesus during a time of great persecution.  Many scholars believe that accounts by multiple writers were compiled into the Book of Revelations to show both the beliefs of the ancient prophets and the emerging beliefs of the followers of Jesus. The fall of Babylon, the delivery of the elect, the rise of the kingdom of the Messiah and a New Jerusalem which had already occurred were combined with messages of God’s love meant to instill hope in a community experiencing the wrath of the Romans.

Those of us who look at the Bible through the lenses of interpretation are moved by this powerful narrative of a people’s relationship with God.  A relationship that changed human history and that has lasted through the ages.  This way of interpreting the words of Scripture invite us to bring the rich heritage contained in the words to life in the present.  When asked what is the greatest commandment Jesus replied that love of God and neighbor was the greatest commandment and in it were contained the whole law and the prophets. The story continues today in the way Christians embody the teachings of Jesus.  He set the example of the covenant relationship for his followers.  A relationship lived in love of God and neighbor.



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