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On the Reading of Scripture

May 10, 2011

N.T. Wright, in Surprised by Hope had this to say about reading Scripture:

Scripture – the Old and New Testaments – is the story of creation and new creation.  Within that, it is the story of covenant and new covenant.  When we read scripture as Christians, we read it precisely as people of the new covenant and of the new creation.  We do not read it, in other words, as a flat, uniform list of regulations or doctrines.  We read it as the narrative in which we ourselves are now called to partake.  We read it to discover “the story so far” and also “how it’s supposed to end.”  To put it another way, we live somewhere between the end of Acts and the closing scene of Revelation.  If we want to understand scripture and to find it doing its proper work in and through us, we must learn to read and understand it in the light of that overall story.

Some time ago, I challenged myself for a variety of reasons, to design a reading plan for the Bible in which the reader would be taken through every book of the Bible, but not through every word.  The theory of how I proposed to do this was that the reader would be invited into the narrative arc of the Bible, from Genesis through Revelation, and would hopefully find out how each passage I selected as part of the reading plan advanced that narrative arc.  I believe the Bible is one story in many parts, and that the central theme of that one story is God’s Saving Acts with God’s People.  I have enjoyed hearing back from folks who have used the plan how they feel like they understand so much more about Scripture when read from that perspective, and that they were encouraged along the way not to give up because they did not get bogged down in the bits of Scripture that are “flat, uniform” lists of regulations and doctrines.  So, it’s really, really satisfying when I read in some acknowledged scholar’s work that they are thinking along the same lines!

How do you view the reading of Scripture?  Have you ever tried it beyond what you hear in church on Sunday morning?  Have you ever tried to follow a “Read the Bible in a Year!” sort of plan?  How did it work out for you (if you’re my uncle or my cousin, you don’t count because you have insane personal discipline and extreme dedication of which I am envious)?  How do you view the Bible: as one story with many parts, or as many parts that sort-of-make-a-cohesive-whole-if-you-stretch-it?

Fr. Ryan+

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