Today is the day! Today is the day that we begin our shared undertaking. Today is the day that you take a quick trip to www.bibleinayear.org and sign-up. You have a few options to choose from as you set up your account.
When asked which of the programs you want begin, select ‘start to finish.’ I recommend that you use the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The RSV is a scholar’s version, and it is very similar to its younger sibling, the NRSV, which we use in worship. Of course, this is only a suggestion; you may use whichever translation you find most meaningful. Plug-in your email and a password, and you will be ready to go.
If you are reading this after January 15th, don’t fret! Go ahead and sign-up anyway. The books are long, and we will be spending plenty of time in each location, getting to know the lay of the land, meeting the main players, absorbing the complicated social structures, tripping over the pronunciation of hundreds of names (in the ‘begat’ sections), struggling with the nuances of so many obscure rules. As time goes on, and life overtakes us, we will undoubtedly become separated from one another. The ambitious will get ahead; the procrastinators (me!) will struggle not to fall too far behind. Hopefully, we will encourage and challenge one another along the way with our reflections, questions and critiques.
Because I have assigned myself as the trail guide, so to speak, and you are standing at the head of the trail, I think it is important that I share with you a little bit about the map I am using. I offer one way of reading the Bible; clearly there are as many ways to read the Bible as there are readers of the Bible, but I can only be truly responsible for my own way. If you are a member or visitor at The First Presbyterian Church, this will not be unfamiliar to you.
My own, personal beliefs about Scripture
(let this be a disclaimer! I’m not speaking for anyone but myself)-
The Bible is a book, written over a long period of time by multiple authors, edited over a long period of time by multiple editors, compiled over a long period of time by multiple compilators (oh, wouldn’t this make a great word?). These authors, editors and compilators (OK, compilers, I know), were of the human variety, men (and women!) who lived lives as complicated as our own, as profane as our own, and as sacred as our own. They made mistakes (there are typos in the Bible!); they had agendas; they lived in a context very different from ours. The Bible reflects power struggles, unchecked misogyny, and competing theologies. The Bible is redundant and contradictory- we will see this almost immediately when we confront the two versions of Creation and the two versions of the Flood, which biblical editors chose to weave together rather than choose between them.
The Bible is not a literal history book, though there is much history to be learned from it. The stated authors are not often the actual authors. Moses did not write the first five books of the Old Testament. King David did not pen all of the Psalms attributed to him. Paul only wrote a handful of the letters that carry his name. And the Gospels are complicated (let’s save that for later in the year). Stories that read like newspaper articles- with the ‘who/what/when/where/why/how’ answered with great thoroughness may be completely fabricated. Just because it reads like history, doesn’t mean it is.
Well, at this point, maybe some of you have written me off as a blasphemer and heretic. But if you haven’t, there is grace to be found in even the most critical of historical/critical approaches to reading Scripture. Those whose hands, minds and hearts touched the Bible as it was being created shared a commonality- a desire to know God, a desire to unravel the mystery of the divine, and a desire to be seen in God’s favor. That, in and of itself, is enough to make this text holy. For where we search for God, God is found. In the process of our inquiry, God is uncovered. As one theologian has described the Bible- it is a window through which we can glimpse the divine, and it is a mirror in which we catch a glimpse of ourselves.
So let’s get to it. Genesis awaits…