The Bible might be translated but it is still Jewish!
Some say it’s a manual for living life….
Some say it’s a collection of inspirational stories to encourage us….
Some say its a book full of ‘magic/supernatural’ sayings that can change situations – a bit like waving a wand and making something happen……
Actually the Bible is none of those things although some may be secondary outcomes of what this book is all about.
The Bible is God’s concerted effort, through generations of prophets and writers, to let us know WHO HE IS. It’s his curriculum vitae, his letter of introduction, to the children he created to live on this planet.
He has addressed this letter to a specific audience – not to the Eskimos of Greenland, or the Swahili in Africa – but to the group he chose before the beginning of time to be the carriers of this letter for the rest of humanity… the Jews. He chose them simply because he is God and we aren’t, and he can do that. He justified his choice (although there was no need for justification because he is God) in Abraham’s faithfulness.
So what does that mean when it comes to reading this introductory letter? When God’s prophets wrote this book, they didn’t write to the Eskimos or the Swahili. They wrote in the language, symbolism and mind set of the Jewish culture. The first readers of this letter were to be Jewish.
Today, we have Jewish scripture translated (often badly) into English and many other languages. So which set of glasses do we need to read the letter? Not Eskimo, not Swahili, not even English. The ‘glasses’ we choose determine our ability to read with understanding what is written. Once we put on the correct set of ‘glasses’ the text becomes clear.
God is seated on his throne in heaven. He delights as he sees us pick up the Bible and begin to read what he has written, all about himself.
“Now they’ll be able to relate better to me,” he thinks.
We read, come to a passage that is ‘too difficult’, has references we don’t understand, so we just jump over that bit and read on.
“Aw shucks!” says God. “They’ve just jumped the bit that talks about my mercy/compassion/love/justice/provision/righteousness… Only yesterday they were praying to me, saying they can’t understand how a merciful God can allow such and such, or a just God does not do such and such… They said they wanted a closer relationship with me, wanted to understand me better!”
The Bible is not about us. It’s not even about the Jews. It’s about God. We need to put on the ‘glasses’ he has chosen to read the letter he has written to us.
Some points to consider:
1: People will say that the Bible is indeed a set of rules to live by. What about the ten commandments? Aren’t they a set of rules? Actually, the ten commandments aren’t and never were a set of rules to live by. They are a set of standards by which we can measure our failure! Apply any of these and we are immediately aware of our sinfulness. Without awareness of sinfulness, we have no awareness of the need for salvation from sin. (Ignorance is bliss – until the hour of reckoning!) Note that Jesus dealt with this in the Gospels, saying that one can consider himself a murderer if he is even angry at someone else. You don’t have to go out and do the deed to fail this standard of behaviour.
2: Cultural understanding is essential to understanding God’s letter.
Compare with my experiences living in a very different culture – Mainland China. I hate queue jumpers and I feel within my rights to do something about it. Queue jumping is endemic in China. I become incensed at this behaviour and tell the offenders off in front of everyone. They slink to the back of the line.
But have I won the battle? Later someone explains: “You can’t do that. You made them lose face!”
I think: “Rubbish, their faces are still on the front of their heads. Even if I have humiliated them, they deserved it in order to learn to behave better. They’ll get over it.” I have no cultural understanding and so I am unable to interact amicably and usefully with these people. My ignorance has been my downfall.
How true is that, when we approach the Hebrew scriptures with the same ignorance, with our own personal set of ‘glasses’ instead of the appropriate ones?