The Rector's Blog
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June 4, 2015, 11:38 AM

Reading the Bible the OLD Way

How did early Christians Read the Bible?

I’m so glad you asked!  They read it very differently from the ways we do now, and I am sure that doesn’t really surprise you, when you stop to consider it. 

Nowadays, we have the “advantage” of the “historical critical” method for examining Scripture, which helps us fill out the context as to when something might have been written, by whom, to whom, and why. 

Archeological finds continue to provide new bits of text to place next to the received versions, and the texts we do have are often updated with earlier manuscripts.  The historical critical method and new discoveries of ancient texts, for example, tell us that the Gospel of Mark originally probably ended at the tomb, with the women too frightened to follow the instructions to “go and tell the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee.”

But of course, the ancients did not have the benefit of the historical critical method.

Their Scriptures consisted of the Jewish texts: the Pentateuch (the Law of Moses; the first five books), the annals of the kings, the prophets, and the psalms, and of course, the New Testament gospels and letters.  They mined these writings for far more than the obvious, surface meaning; that would have been very superficial.

In fact, they did not value these books so much because of the stories they contained, which they considered just a basic garment, but for the things one could do with these stories.  Hence, we see advice from the 4th century Egyptian monk Evagrius to turn to Psalm such-and-so if you are angry at someone, or to this-or-that passage from Isaiah if you are downcast, and so on.

The Scriptures were a tool, a technology, to guide one through the vicissitudes of life.  You could put yourself in the midst of the story of the Israelites in Egypt when you were seeking a way out of difficulties or temptations, for example.

The Scriptures were used to remind the early Christians of the saving grace of God, and as a means of ensuring that people would have the means to live out their lives in the presence of God every day.  The faith was a 24/7 proposition, a full expression of what it means to be human.  To do any less was to be lost.

 


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