LEARNING OF the death of my friend, Minka, via Facebook sent me on a used book quest to find her out-of-print works. Finally a copy of Praying from the Free Throw Line – For Now was procured from Thriftbooks. Reading it has not only triggered old memories (for I can hear her voice as I read it) but so many other realizations as well. We learn from our teachers and she was my teacher in so many ways. Even things she did not teach me, I see clearly, seem to have grown from seeds we planted together. All that follows is such. What is my process for working with Bible?
When readings the meditations in Praying From the Free Throw Line it’s easy to recognize the genesis of my own voice. But it’s also easy to recognize the fountainhead of my own theological errors. Minka’s knowledge of Biblical Languages (which she taught at two seminaries) does not mean that her final conclusions are safeguarded from error. I was only too happy at one time to hear her conclusions sine they justified my own actions. They were wrong, sinful. The process needs correction, not rejection.
The Christian texts of the Bible, of course, flow from the Jewish texts. This is not only a prophetic or historical claim but also a stylistic one. In its current form, the Jewish scripture is presented as three components: Torah, Prophets, and Writings. In Hebrew, תורה Torah, נביאים Nevi’im, and כתובים Khetuvim. These are abbreviated as תנ”ך Tanach. The Torah is the first five books. This is usually translated law, but law is only a part of the text (and the texts are only part of the law). The word also means instruction. Perhaps it’s best to read it as mainly meaning “instruction”? I don’t know. The guys at Bible Project take that to mean the entire text of the Bible is Meditation Literature – something to chew on, over and over. The Prophets include a few books that many Christians might not consider “prophetic” such as Judges, Samuel and the Kings. However, the Writings include some considered prophetic by Christians (Psalms, Song of Songs and Daniel) as well as some considered “only” history like the Chronicles. The New Testament is also parsed out this way: The Prophet scroll is the Apocalypse. The Writings are Acts and the Epistles. The Torah is the Gospels. This is all meditation literature. Some of it might be history or myth (as we understand those words today), but all of it is God-breathed meditation literature.
So, when we hear Jesus use the imperative and command his Father to “forgive” from the Cross, there’s as much there to meditate on as when Eve uses the Sacred Tetragrammaton to describe God, even though that name has not yet been revealed to Moses. How is that important? Well, the Rabbis who complied the scriptures in Babylon put the Name of God on the lips of our First Mother, so why? Yeshua probably spoke in Aramaic from the Cross. Why did the Greek Authors take the imperative?
For a Christian, a better way to ask is, “Why did the Holy Spirit inspire the authors to do this?”
And we might spend a whole week chewing on it in prayer.
And there begins my method for doing Bible or, in Hebrew, לעשות תנ׳ך l-asot tanach to do tanach: you read in the context of the whole thing – a unified story that leads to Jesus – and you meditate. If something catches your eye, you follow it. Where does it go? This is why the four Gospels are the Torah Scroll in the New Covenant: Jesus is the living word of God, the embodiment not of the Law but the very Giver of the Law himself, not “in human form” but incarnate as a human. Under the Law he himself gave. When he pulls wine out of the Mikveh jars or enters the debate between Hillel and Shammai, when he asks about the Divine Image on the Roman Coin or says “I AM” with enough force to scare people, we need to ask not only “What’s going on here?” but also, “What is the Divine Author saying to us here?” and also, “What is the human writer trying to tell us here?” and also, “How can we communicate this to others?” Each question is equally important for different reasons. When Paul works out his Daddy issues with Timothy, that’s one thing. When a preacher in the pulpit at Mass points out that’s what Paul is doing, that’s another thing. When a listener, working on the same things as Paul, hears the sermon and is moved to tears, that’s a third thing. Read. Mark. Learn. Inwardly Digest. And Proclaim. All of these are needed but at different places. This is how to do Bible.
Then it has to be read in the Church. Yes, there are other commentators that do not believe it leads to Jesus. But they are on another track now and God will guide them back as he needs to. A Christian must read the Bible in the Church. So we reference the Fathers and Church teaching not as a supplemental authority but as the final one. It’s possible for some random theologian (such as my teacher that started this post) to take her knowledge way out of the bounds of the Church, but if we draw back to the Fathers and the Magisterium, we can make sure that while we avoid the mistake of being 100% correct and entirely wrong.