The Bible is wrong, but God is real
Should a Christian have read the whole Bible?
The Bible is one of the most widely used books in the world. But is it also read or is it just on the bookshelf? Many Christians find it difficult to read their scriptures. Individual passages and biblical stories are known. But the whole book? Should a Christian even have read the whole Bible? Two opinions:
Adam and Eve? Do you know. Moses, Abraham and Joseph? You know too. The Ten Commandments? Sure, even by heart. You have heard of Isaiah. At least for Christmas. You can even retell the story of Jonah, and so can the story of the Exodus from Egypt. And of course you can pray along with Psalm 23 from your head. But do you know Balaam and his godly donkey? Have you heard of the miraculous announcement of Samson's birth and his mysterious power? Do you know the Queen of Sheba, whom David visited, or the prophet Elisha, who made irons swim? And have you ever read the book of Esther? And what about the New Testament? Did you know that the apostle Paul preached for so long that a man fell asleep and fell out of the window he was sitting in? Do you know who Jesus' favorite disciple was and have you ever noticed that the New Testament tells in at least three different ways about how Jesus became God's Son? And have you ever read the letter of Jude?
The Old and New Testaments of our Bible are full of stories of faith that span a period of more than 1,500 years. The historical contexts in which the biblical texts arose were very different. The biblical stories of faith are therefore polyphonic, contradictory and full of dissonances. That is why it is as difficult to read through the Bible as reading a novel from first page to last. Nevertheless, or rather: precisely because of this, it is worth taking up the challenge of reading the entire Bible. In addition, five reasons are decisive for me:
First of all, the polyphony of the biblical texts enables different possibilities of identification: I can complain with Job and sing Hallelujah with the psalms; I can read the criticism of the Old Testament prophets over into my time or think myself into the first Christian communities. I can look forward to the resurrection of Jesus and ask myself what significance the miracle stories had in New Testament times or have for me today - but the question of God is always present in the texts. But I always read myself into experiences of faith that people before me have had with their God. The polyphony of the biblical texts offers resonance spaces for many of my experiences.
Second, reading the Bible fully offers some protection from apparently simple Biblical answers to questions of our time. When I perceive the Bible in its polyphony, it quickly becomes clear to me that I can find a quote calling for holy war as easily as a quote calling for peace. I can find passages in the Bible that claim that women are subordinate to men, just as there are passages that claim the opposite. A full reading of the Bible enables one to see these different and contradicting statements in their context. The biblical context makes me ask again and again how the circumstances were in which the respective texts were created and what human experience of faith could lie behind the biblical statements.
Third, the Christian religion is inconceivable without the tradition of Judaism, its texts and its theology. The New Testament not only refers in many places to the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew Bible is the ground on which Jesus of Nazareth stood and from which the Christian religion developed. The Christian tradition has therefore not abandoned the Hebrew Bible, but has made it part of its holy scripture in the form of the Old Testament, which consists of the Old and New Testaments. If you want to understand the New Testament texts, you cannot do that without the Old Testament scriptures, you cannot do so without noticing the ground on which the first Christians stood before they were baptized and confessed to Jesus Christ. It is not for nothing that people often speak of a “Judeo-Christian tradition”.
And fourth, many of the texts in the Bible are just wonderful and worth reading. The Bible tells of brave women and kings who got everything wrong. She tells of mean siblings and great friendships. She describes God as a quiet whisper and a punishing judge. She really lets it rip in the apocalyptic texts and promises that the savior of the world can be found in a stable. The Bible offers songs and texts full of poetry and lyrical power and at the same time lengthy, bureaucratic legal texts and genealogies. You can find travelogues and letters, intrigues and love stories that a screenwriter could not imagine more beautifully. And some things are even funny, like the aforementioned young man who fell out of the window because he fell asleep while Paul's sermon.
So it pays to read the Bible in full. It is advisable, however, not to read them from the beginning to the very end, but rather in back and forth and up and down and back and forth. Many Bible reading plans or the annual Bible of the German Bible Society provide helpful suggestions.
Nothing would be further from me than to prevent people from reading the Bible, especially not Christians. An extensive knowledge of the Bible in all its parts not only helps to decipher the pictorial program of Gothic cathedrals and East Frisian tile walls on vacation, but also gives the educated contemporary strong motives to interpret basic human experiences of trust and forgiveness, falling in love and passing away and to cope with. So, should Christians read the Bible? Yes. Point. The question here is put in such a way that my Protestant-Lutheran spirit immediately wants to formulate a contradiction. My contradiction is directed against the question and at the same time touches the foundations for the (Christian) human interaction with the Bible as an essential reference for believing in God's liberating message. So I answer the question with counter-questions: Should a Christian person have read the whole Bible?
Until confirmation or graduation? Until baptism or until temporal blessings? The question arouses in me the suspicion of the appropriation of justification through good works. Can I only see myself as a Christian who can hope in God's grace or only when I have read the entire Bible? No. God's grace is before that. Whether and when I will become a person redeemed by God and named after him does not depend on my ability to read.
Is it really necessary for my Christian existence to perceive as many, if not all, facets of the biblical experience of faith as possible? What for? People have different and limited talents and abilities. This also applies to their religious understanding. The traditional experiences of faith that tell me something today may be silent again tomorrow. At this moment, I throw myself trustingly into the arms of the image of God that still disturbed me yesterday. Some things are generally too high for me. A thorough, careful reading of the biblical books guarantees me no deeper faith than that which under certain circumstances already nourishes me with Psalm 23 and Luke 2 alone.
What does reading mean?
Reading is a cultural technique. I read the Bible by absorbing and understanding the thoughts that are written there. The peculiarity of the Bible as a religious basis and thus as a holy text lies in the fact that the inclusion of this writing can and must take place in many dimensions. The content of the human experience of faith conveyed in the biblical narratives and images was not just written down for reading. It was and is translated, preached, taught, told, painted, filmed, set to music, played and danced. Dancing the St. John Passion, reading a Bible manga or watching "Corpus Christi" on DVD also means reading the Bible.
Why read alone?
One life is not enough to read the Bible. It is not up to the individual Bible reader to grasp the unmanageable content and fullness of the biblical tradition. Bible readers are not alone. They stand in a community: in the community under God's Word, which strikes human tones in biblical words. What one member of this communio lectorum does not know, another reads. The Bible connects Christians. Not one person reads (and understands) everything, but everyone reads one thing. What we need now is to share and share the Bible experiences with one another. The communication of the Bible becomes the communication of the Gospel: the limited number of characters between two book covers becomes the word of the living God - from the mouth of minors, lazy readers, bookworms, illiterate people, dancers, painters, scribes , ...
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