If you notice under the Archives heading to the right, I haven’t written on this particular blog since 2010. While most of the ideas in the former posts I still hold to, five years of reading, thought, and plain old life have influenced my understanding of Genesis. For instance… there are two different tellings or stories of the Beginning. One which stretches between Genesis 1:1 and 2:4, while the second takes up in the end of 2:4 and runs through chapter 3.
which are kind of unwieldy in their connection by the editor.
Authors and Editors?
It sounds like I am talking about some publishing company, right? But THIS IS THE BIBLE…..THE BIIIIIIBUUUUULLLLLLLL….(imagine a deep, resonant voice which makes the walls shake…oops…I think the light over the dining room table just blew a bulb…)!
The voice and message of God, right?
The Rule against which all things are measured….right?
I think it is really more important than that.
The fall of 2010, I started classes at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. My purpose was to earn a master’s degree in Spiritual Formation.
(People often asked me what I wanted to do with the degree. I responded that I have a Bachelor’s of Arts degree with a major in Psychology, so I just wanted to get another worthless degree…..b’dump bump.)
My first semester I took Introduction to Old Testament from a wonderful teacher, and even better man, Steve Delamarter. This class revolutionized the manner in which I read, interpret, and understand the bible. First, the class seemed to be more a lesson in literary criticism than theology. I can still hear Dr. Delamarter’s words ringing in the caverns of my mind: “What in the text leads you to that conclusion?” We spoke of how the text leads us to question the intention of the writers. We had text books that informed us of the cultural context of the writers, and how knowing something of the cultural structure could help us better understand those possible intentions. I began to understand that if I wanted to know what the writers meant, I needed to hear their words with ancient ears, rather than my own. To do this might mean a little detective work on my part, and even a little…imagination…gasp!
(In fact, one of my favorite authors and theologians, Walter Brueggeman, titles the first chapter in an intro. to Old Testament textbook: Imaginative Remembering: The Theological Witness of the Old Testament.)
To drive this point home, Steve asked us to choose how we imagined the process of writing the bible to look. He then acted out two scenarios:
The first was the author sitting at a desk with a pen….ok, a quill… with the quill in one hand feverishly writing on parchment, head tilted with one ear pointed to the sky cupped by the other hand….
The same guy…sitting at a desk… with the quill laying on the desk…
now with both hands massaging his head, deep in thought…
now standing up and pacing, with one hand behind his back, the other thoughtfully stroking his beard…
now standing with head bowed, eyes closed, lips silently moving…
now seated at the desk again, when his face brightens…
now quill in hand writing at first quickly, then tentatively…
So….were the writers essentially acting as an amanuensis taking dictation from God, or something entirely different?
What do YOU think?
Maybe the writers could give us clues in the pictures they paint with words. For instance:
Genesis 2:18-20: The picture is of God creating “every animal of the field and every bird of the air” out of the dust, and bringing “them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” So…a collaborative act of creativity in which God and man (in this telling) both express their creativity, but in which God is the initiator.
Or, what about this picture:
Genesis 32:24-30: Jacob is alone at night, after sending his belongings and family across the river to where his rival brother is. He is alone, afraid, with no resources and…”a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.” But even though the man/angel/God tried to leave, Jacob kept hanging on asking to receive a word…a blessing…from him. The co-combatant relented and renamed Jacob: Israel. Struggle…wrestling…persistence until a word is heard.
Exodus 3:1-10: Moses…wandering in the desert…bathed in sheep dust… notices a “flame of fire coming out of a bush,” but though “the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” A man going about mundane work, discovers a surprising, even`unnatural event through which he hears God speak, and the natural becomes holy.
Maybe the way scripture was written depended on the writers…
Maybe each one interacted with the Mystery in different ways…
I am convinced that the bible is God’s…
probably the best word I could use is God’s principles which are layered and speak about God, and others, and us, and….
The bible speaks powerfully in every generation. Its messages speak volumes about our tendencies, and the intentions God has to partner with us, while we often respond in regrettable, yet predictable ways. Its message is both timeless and timely for our day, and the days to come. The bible is more a collaborative painting with different artists applying a variety of colors to the canvas separated by years, sometimes centuries, in dissonance, yet also in harmony. The resulting painting is a portrait of God we call scripture. Yet we also find scripture in the natural world around us…another portrait of God.
I have been thinking a lot about how the bible is interpreted. There are so many different voices, which clamor to be heard with the expectation that THEIR understanding of the biblical message is better, or MORE TRUE than another voice. And…to be honest…I have certain prejudices that I hold dear, too.
But what I am hoping, is to keep searching scripture and God, so that I can move past interpreting scripture, and into allowing scripture to interpret me!
THAT’S why I like the bible….