“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word,
@@and my Father will love him,
@@@@and we will come to him and make our home with him." John 14:23

 

 

The Bible

“The Bible isn’t just written about us but to us.”
The Message

The Bible is a collection of books joining what Christians call the Old and New Testaments. We can think of the Bible as a library, with the Old Testament being selected sacred texts of ancient Israel and the New Testament selected books of the early Christian church. Different individuals at different times, in different places, with different ideas wrote the different books. There is unity in the collection, but we should also be cautious about saying things like “The Bible says…” just as we would not say “The Public Library says…”.

There are numerous different sorts of writing in the Bible. There are histories where the occurrences over a period of time are recounted. There are the writings of prophets. There are sacred songs and hymns and poetry. There are collections of wise sayings. There are letters to individuals and to communities. There are the Gospels, expositions of the life and works of Jesus. This is only to sketch out some broad categories, but it is sufficient to recognise that in the Bible there are numerous different sorts of writing with different purposes.

The Gospels are especially important to us because they are stories of the life of Jesus, who is the principal revelation of God, the centre of the Christian faith and the key to God’s work of salvation in the world. Consequently, the Gospels are usually the best place to start for a group or an individual setting out to listen to God by meditating on a text.

What draws together all the texts with all their difference and gives them unity is faith in the one God. From the creation and on: through the promises made to Abraham and his faith in them; the revelation of God to Moses on Sinai and the making of the Covenant where Israel became a people; the faith of David and Solomon; the faith of the prophets; the revelation of God as man in Jesus Christ and the response of faith of those who believed in him and went out to spread the Good News. The texts of scripture tell the story of God’s love perceived through the eyes and ears and hearts of the people whom God chose to be receivers of the promise of God’s faithfulness to us.

Many times the words of Scripture can confuse us and cause us to ask questions: sometimes questions about the very text itself and what the writer was trying to communicate, and sometimes questions about what the implications of the text might be for people today. When we do lectio divina it is likely (and quite right) that just such questions as these will be present. While it is very helpful for us to be able to recognise the different sorts of writings in the Bible and to be able to identify different groups and individuals who have been involved in writing it, these are only tools for interpretation of the text. Whilst the search for God’s word to us in the Bible does not by-pass these context issues neither does it end with them. Conceptualising and analysing take us away from the personal encounter with God. Lectio Divina is much more about moving beyond these tools and instead becoming open to being analysed and interpreted by the text as God shows you who you really are.

It is good if we desire to know as much about scripture as we can and there are some people who devote themselves to this for much of their lives. However, in any search for God, academic learning and knowledge cease to be the key. In the words of Dom Bernardo Olivera in his circular letter of 1993: “If you want to know and reach Christ, you will arrive at your objective much sooner by following him than by reading about him.” Those with no theological preparation or pretensions are often those who are most open to the word of God in scripture: children can often perceive with great clarity what God would like to say to them at a particular moment. It is also important to recognise that we can become entangled in an attempt to sort out the problems of the church or our local community when we read a piece of Scripture. Again, a perfectly honourable pursuit can come between a restless person and God, who wishes to heal the heart of one of his loved ones. In fact the most important questions relate to ourselves: what does God desire of me, why are particular things happening to me, who am I and who am I to be? In the Bible you can search for God’s answers in Scripture to the very questions which perplex you at any moment. (To search for the answers doesn’t mean to search for a text within Scripture which you think will help you at a particular time.)

The first stage of lectio divina involves a reading so as to understand what the words say. Where the particular text comes from will be relevant: the same set of words spoken by an Old Testament prophet and a New Testament Epistle writer will have different connotations because of their different audiences. But essentially you should seek after understanding what the author was communicating to his/her audience. If you have read well you should be able to explain what the text says. It is from this that your understanding of what God would like to say to you will come.

Whatever your level of knowledge of the Bible and the peoples it speaks about and the people it was written by, it is all helpful background in lectio divina. There is no doubt that it can become overwhelming background noise if you will not let go of your desire to dissect and analyse for a brief period. You must acknowledge that it is likely that you will sometimes want to discover new things while you do lectio divina. You can take up such threads at other times, but during your time of meditation and prayer in lectio divina you should choose to simply acknowledge distractions as they occur and offer them over to God. Do not try to dominate them but rather return to the text and return to an openness to listening for what God wants to say to you and what you would like to say to God in response.

For further reading on the nature and origin of the New Testament and how to read it, see Raymond Brown Introduction to the New Testament, especially chapters 1-5.


Raymond Brown, Introduction to the New Testament. (New York: Doubleday, 1997), xxxiii-xxxvi.

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Page last updated on 16 February, 2015