Tuesday, 7 November 2017
Sermon for Bible Sunday 2017
Today we call Bible Sunday, a day in the year when we especially give thought and reflect on the importance and meaning to what we call “The Bible”
If we were to ask ourselves “what is the Bible” we may get a variety of answers. Furthermore if we were to ask people outside the church we would get another set of answers.
For us it usually comes in the form of a book, though for many today it may be on line or other digital form.
If we were able to ask the early Christians what was the Bible they would give a very different answer to us. For Jewish Christians growing up in the 1st century (Jesus own day and beyond) the Bible as we know it simply did not exist! Strange to think this I know.
Scriptures did exist and the scrolls were regularly read publically yet as we hear in Nehemiah they were always read … with interpretation. The Word of God was never restricted to what was written on the page the Word of God included “the interpretation”.
The Jewish collection of books (what we might describe loosely as “Old Testament” or Tenakh in Hebrew, was not fixed until well into the second century. There are just 5 Torah Book, 13 Prophet books and 4 collections of hymns. (22 books all told)
The New Testament as we know it was argued about for years and consensus was hard to come by and it was not until the end of the fourth century that something was decided and in fact a further deliberation came in the late 16th century that a decision was finally made on the New Testament Canon.
This also excludes the situation that some even today think the Apocrypha is or is not acceptable!! So we cannot even reach a conclusion today!
It may seem strange to us who have been so used to thinking of the New Testament that early Christians did not grow up with what we now simply take for granted. Even the thought that you did not know the gospel of Luke for example might make a huge difference to how we would approach Christmas! And many Christians did indeed not know Luke, and others who may have known Luke would not have known Matthew etc… everything was much more localized.
Perhaps one way of illustrating this for our minds today is how some churches use one hymn book, and others a different one…. Think how attached we become to hymn books!? (perhaps a poor example)
Furthermore we also have that key to scripture as Nehemiah witnessed and also the Ethiopian Eunuch…. Interpretation…. How can we understand without interpretation? This has always been key to scripture throughout Judaism and Christianity.
It goes without saying that Martin Luther’s battle cry “Sola Scriptura” Scripture alone was actually worked out with very rigorous teaching and interpretation…. Even if only to cope with clear contradictions and anomalies we come across in the differing texts.
Biblical Scholarship particularly from the 19th century onwards has opened the pages of scripture even further, and new ancient texts have been discovered since then too. Our current Bible is sourced from hundreds if not thousands of different textual sources, words have been poured over for years now to bring fresh understanding to a text we many have believed to be set in stone.
Whoever wrote the epistle we call, to the Hebrews was probably correct when they wrote:
“the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Bear in mind of course that even this was written before a word of the Gospels as we know them had been penned.
I do indeed believe in the strength and wisdom of what we may call the Word of God….. indeed I feel this more today than I did in the 1980’s and 1990s. The Bible is truly fascinating and gripping, but it only so for me because of study and learning about its intricacies. The more I read and learn the more I am able to inwardly digest what is expressed and said. It certainly takes patience too!
The Bible has forever been a text formulated and interpreted by countless believers in countless situations. It is amazing how this is. It is a lifeless thing to me without the people who read it and live through it. The Bible this way does indeed become living and active.
The Bible without a believer is empty… as illustrated by that interesting film called the Book of Eli.. the blind man who learnt by heart the words and in this way was able to save the text from destruction.
And, as has been wonderfully expressed elsewhere
“Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.”
On this Bible Sunday let us give thanks for God’s word living and breathing through us. The text is nothing without the believer.