Bible Sunday 2010

It was announced this week that images of the Dead Sea Scrolls are to be made available to all on the internet. Good news, no doubt, for scholars of ancient Aramaic, but hardly of much practical use to the rest of us, I should have thought. But I was amazed at the number of comments online when I Googled about this. Not only a fair bit of interest, but some very strange reactions. Conspiracy theories – had “the Jews” released the real text, or would this be a distortion? Was the Catholic church behind the delay in publishing, and would they now make available the text of the books that had not been included in the Canon of Scripture? I was relieved to see that one commenter had at least read the Scrolls in translation and so could testify to their major characteristic – dullness. While undoubtedly on immense importance and interest for our knowledge of 1st century judaism, they are certainly not entertaining..

It seems there is a hankering still for special texts that will impart hidden wisdom. I am inclined to blame fundamentalism for this, with its delight in apocalyptic mysteries. While fundamentalism has an appeal for many, I believe it creates problems for would-be believers. Even those commenters who clearly had no time for religion were indoctrinated with essentially fundamentalist views. The “magic text” which will “reveal all” is a delusion, whether we identify it with the Bible, the Qu’ran, the gnostic gospels, or any other yet-to-be discovered text.

All the more important then to give some reasonable account of the meaning and function of the Bible within Christian living. Our Old Testament reading this Sunday reads : “from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return” (Isaiah 45:23)

In the three monotheistic religions – judaism, christianity and islam – “word” is an important concept when speaking of God. “The word of the Lord” is a constant refrain in the prophets. What does it mean to speak of “the word of the Lord”?

My little son is beginning to talk – some words very clear, like “Dada”, others you’d need to be in the know to understand – “gee” can mean “dog” or “drink” – but it’s very exciting: with words he is becoming more of  a person in his own right, and a more sophisticated relationship is developing. “Word” has to do with the personal and the relational – when we speak of “God’s word” we are describing our experience of the source of all things as in some sense personal; the unknown silence addresses us and seeks to relate to us. In that “word” there is a revelation of divine character which in turn provides a standard and ideal for shaping human lives. In the very diverse writings that comprise Holy Scripture there is testimony to the human experience of the world as the place where the “word of the Lord” is encountered. Using many literary forms, factual and fictional and everything in between, there is testimony to an emerging sense of God’s character and therefore of what a human is meant to be, made in the divine image. From the christian point of view, that process finds its culmination in the person of Jesus, revelation and model and embodiment of divine-human relationship. We believe that Jesus is the last word on who God is and what we are to be – but the process of understanding what that means for us here and now continues, and presumably will always do so. 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