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Reading the Bible with Obedience
First of all, when reading Scripture, we are to listen in a
spirit of obedience. The Orthodox Church believes in divine
inspiration of the Bible. Scripture is a "letter" from God, where
Christ Himself is speaking. The Scriptures are God's authoritative witness of
Himself. They express the Word of God in our human language. Since God Himself
is speaking to us in the Bible, our response is rightly one of obedience, of
receptivity, and listening. As we read, we wait on the Spirit.
But, while divinely inspired, the Bible is also humanly
expressed. It is a whole library of different books written at varying
times by distinct persons. Each book of the Bible reflects the outlook of the
age in which it was written and the particular viewpoint of the author. For God
does nothing in isolation, divine grace cooperates with human freedom. God does
not abolish our individuality but enhances it. And so it is in the writing of
inspired Scripture. The authors were not just a passive instrument, a dictation
machine recording a message. Each writer of Scripture contributes his
particular personal gifts. Alongside the divine aspect, there is also a human
element in Scripture. We are to value both.
Each of the four Gospels, for example, has its own
particular approach. Matthew presents more particularly a Jewish understanding
of Christ, with an emphasis on the kingdom of heaven. Mark contains specific,
picturesque details of Christ's ministry not given elsewhere. Luke expresses
the universality of Christ's love, His all-embracing compassion that extends
equally to Jew and to Gentile. In John there is a more inward and more mystical
approach to Christ, with an emphasis on divine light and divine indwelling. We
are to enjoy and explore to the full this life-giving variety within the Bible.
Because Scripture is in this way the word of God
expressed in human language, there is room for honest and exacting inquiry when
studying the Bible. Exploring the human aspect of the Bible, we are to use to
the full our God-given human reason. The Orthodox Church does not exclude
scholarly research into the origin, dates, and authorship of books of the
Alongside this human element, however, we see
always the divine element. These are not simply books written by individual
human writers. We hear in Scripture not just human words, marked by a greater
or lesser skill and perceptiveness, but the eternal, uncreated Word of God
Himself, the divine Word of salvation. When we come to the Bible, then, we come
not simply out of curiosity, to gain information. We come to the Bible with a
specific question, a personal question about ourselves: "How can I
As God's divine word of salvation in human
language, Scripture should evoke in us a sense of wonder. Do you ever feel, as
you read or listen, that it has all become too familiar? Has the Bible grown
rather boring? Continually we need to cleanse the doors of our perception and
to look in amazement with new eyes at what the Lord sets before us.
We are to feel toward the Bible with a sense of
wonder, and sense of expectation and surprise. There are so many rooms in
Scripture that we have yet to enter. There is so much depth and majesty
for us to discover. If obedience means wonder, it also means listening.
We are better at talking than listening. We hear
the sound of our own voice, but often we don't pause to hear the voice of the
other person who is speaking to us. So the first requirement, as we read
Scripture, is to stop talking and to listen - to listen with obedience.
When we enter an Orthodox Church, decorated in the
traditional manner, and look up toward the sanctuary at the east end, we see
there, in the apse, an icon of the Virgin Mary with her hands raised to heaven
- the ancient Scriptural manner of praying that many still use today. This icon
symbolizes the attitude we are to assume as we read Scripture - an attitude of receptivity,
of hands invisibly raised to heaven. Reading the Bible, we are to model
ourselves on the Blessed Virgin Mary, for she is supremely the one who listens.
At the Annunciation she listens with obedience and responds to the angel, "Be
it unto me according to thy word" (Luke ). She could not have borne the Word of God in her body if
she had not first, listened to the Word of God in her heart. After the
shepherds have adored the newborn Christ, it is said of her: "Mary kept
all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke ). Again, when Mary finds Jesus in the temple, we are told:
"His mother kept all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:5l).
The same need for listening is emphasized in the last words attributed to the
Mother of God in Scripture, at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee: "Whatsoever
He saith unto you, do it" (John 2:5), she says to the servants - and
to all of us.
In all this the Blessed Virgin Mary serves as a
mirror, as a living icon of the Biblical Christian. We are to be like her as we
hear the Word of God: pondering, keeping all these things in our hearts, doing
whatever He tells us. We are to listen in obedience as God speaks.