So after having missed last weeks lent lecture though spending the evening sorting out a major failure with the Church e-mail and internet connection, this week I was able to enjoy Revd Dr David Spriggs from the Bible Society speaking on the subject of ‘Exploring the Bible as Scripture’.
This wasn’t a lecture on the history of how the Bible was brought together – indeed when someone asked in the question and answer session if he could describe how the Old Testament came together, he started the answer by saying that it would take a three year degree course to give a proper answer! The key theme of the lecture was that it is not possible to properly explore the contents of the Bible, without viewing it through it’s religious context. Indeed, you miss fundamental points about the book if you view it purely as a piece of literature. One of the key questions he put was whether the Bible would even exist today if it weren’t for the living Christian community who have used it over the centuries.
He gave some very good analogies to describe the Bible, my favourite being to think of it like a Cathedral. Like a cathedral it has been evolving over a long period of time, with successive generations making changes, adding bits on and so on. Also like a cathedral bits of it don’t fit together – successive generations haven’t tried to make new bits fit in neatly with the old. However, also like a cathedral you have to appreciate the whole, and also appreciate the way that whole has been used, and is used today in order to fully understand it’s meaning.
There was also audience participation. He gave us an exercise where he got us all to tell our favourite Bible story to the people sat next to us. As he pointed out, different people tell the same story in different ways, highlighting different aspects. Indeed he pointed out that many of our versions of the stories had significantly more in them than in the original texts – the Christmas stories being a prime example where our versions have been coloured by Christmas card scenes and the words of carols, rather that what is in the actual text. He also highlighted some of the differences between accounts of the same events in the texts themselves, for example if you read the account of the Last Supper in Luke Chapter 22 Jesus takes the cup first, then the bread, and then the cup again – which differs from the other accounts, and certainly comes as a surprise to many people. He also specifically mentioned that later changes to the stories were as a result of the Christian communities that used the texts – hence why it is important to consider the Bible as the scripture of a living Christian community rather than as a static document.
After all of that, he also said that it is also still important to consider the Bible using the tools of literary analysis. As an example he mentioned the 23rd Psalm, which is very well known, but what is almost never commented on in religious commentaries is the way that in verse four, it changes how it refers to the Lord. In verses 1, 2 and 3, the Lord is ‘he’, whist in 4 and 5 – where the tone goes more dark, it is the much more personal ‘you’.
It was definitely an interesting lecture, and certainly gave us some questions to consider. Next week we’re looking forward to hearing Revd Professor Ian James, Diocesan Environment Advisor talking about â€˜Christianity, Christians and the Environmentâ€™.