Public, Dynamic and Living*

When someone enters the place where I worship, I often wonder what they notice first of all.  If they enter through the front of the sanctuary, there are two sets of double doors opening to the center of the church.  If it is a sunny day, the beautiful windows may catch a visitor’s attention.  Maybe the large cross at the center of the church, suspended from the ceiling will become apparent.**  But beneath that cross is God’s Word, The Bible displayed on an ornate stand, open for all to see and read.

Peter Gomes feels the public nature of The Bible is a major factor in understanding its use as well as two other words:  dynamic and inclusive.  As I comment on the last part of chapter 1 entitled “What’s It All About,” I will touch on all three words.

Most people would not quibble with the word public.  Many churches display The Bible in a prominent place, a sacred place in the center of the church.  Gomes says it is as if the church is trying to communicate that this book is a “treasure for the people.” 

Historically The Bible is read from the pulpit, where a pastor will then expound on selected Scripture [some feel this is what “makes” a sermon].    In ancient days, the public recitation of Scripture was necessary since scrolls of Scripture were not available for ownership by hardly anyone.

The public nature of The Bible is intended to impact public life.  Christians are not just expected to read God’s Word, they are also expected to behave publicly like Christians according to The Book’s precepts.  Gomes points out that this attitude has caused tension throughout history as Christian behaviors often clash with cultural norms.  Christians are expected to live in this world while not being a part of it.  Our allegiance is to God’s Kingdom [see John 18: 36 as Jesus defends His Kingdom to Pontius Pilate].  Likewise, “The Bible is a public book, and as such will always give offense.  Christians who take The Bible seriously have to be prepared for that” [Gomes, 20].

Besides being public, Gomes describes The Bible as a “living text.”  At first glance this seems to be a reference to the Holy Spirit that animates the pages of the Bible.  This is the force that gives The Bible its power.  Then Gomes says “The dynamic quality of Scripture has to do with the fact that while the text itself does not change, we readers change; it is not that we adapt ourselves to the world of the Bible and play at re-creating it as in a pageant or tableau ‘long ago and far away.’  Rather, it is that the text actually adapts itself to our capacity to hear it” [20].

Gomes refers to this as a “Pentecostal” experience, akin to the Holy Spirit manifesting itself to the believers in the book of Acts.  Those people understood what was happening in that room, “they understood in their own languages: not a paraphrase, not a delayed interpretation, not even a translation; they understood in their own language” [21].  For Gomes this means that readers of The Bible don’t need to be confused by the ancient context, just read The Bible in our contemporary context.  Our understanding of God’s Word evolves and transforms just as we evolve and transform.  To a certain extent I understand what he is saying but context [when it is known and applied] can add layered textures to Scripture.  This morning I taught a Sunday school class on the “Parable of the Ten Minas” from Luke 19: 11-27.  The parable on the surface is about doing God’s work with the gifts that He provides us all, but a layered meaning which does not hurt understanding is that the parable is also about King Archelaus, who was cruel to the Jews.  The reader should not be confused and think the king in this Scripture is Jesus.

Sometimes context can be confusing but just saying context is not important and never trying to understand it may lead to interpretations that miss the mark, interpretations that are a bit too “creative.”

This concern for The Bible as a living text leads into Gomes’ third point that The Bible is an “inclusive word.”  Gomes says The Bible “has the power to draw all people unto itself.”  Certainly the organic nature of Christianity is a testament to this.  The Scriptures moved beyond the Middle-East to the whole of the Roman world and thanks to the efforts of many, The Bible has saturated the world, making it a perennial “best seller”.

So Gomes is correct in saying that when Jesus said “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest” He is including all, “the poor, the discriminated against, persons of color, homosexuals, women and all persons beyond the conventional definitions of Western civilization.”  I find it interesting that he picks African people who are enslaved by American landowners as examples of those that God offers rest.  “One of the great paradoxes of race in America is the fact that the religion of the oppressor, Christianity, became the religion of the oppressed and the means of their liberation” 23].  If Christianity in America depended only upon white Christians, there would be no right-minded black Christians.  God reached out to an enslaved people and gave them a means to survive slavery and a means to dream of a better life.   You can bet when they read their Bibles, they felt “included”.

In thinking of the Bible, Gomes feels that its public nature, it dynamic nature and it living nature make it the Book that it is.  It is deserving of a place at the center of worship, it is deserving of a place in the center of a Christian’s life.

In Chapter 1 of The Good Book, Gomes has written about how Christians do not have much familiarity with God’s Word and most Christians do not have much knowledge about how The Bible was “constructed.”  How do we cure this problem?  Read God’s Book appreciating its public, dynamic and inclusive nature.  An appreciation of the construction of The Bible is nice but not necessary.  Those three basic factors Gomes discusses will serve “as landmarks, points of departure and of return” and they will guide us as we open God’s Word.

They will be enough…

*Due to widespread damage from wind storms and resulting power outages,  St. John Studies is being published later than usual this week.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s