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Visions of Glory: Bible

"Looking back over the early part of my life I can see several stages in my reading of the Bible,'' writes William Sykes.

Bible—the scriptures of the Old and New Testament, a copy of them, a particular edition of them, authoritative text

Looking back over the early part of my life I can see several stages in my reading of the Bible. As a teenager I dipped into the Bible from time to time, but was never really a devotee. I flirted for a while with the Bible Reading Fellowship notes and found these helpful. In my early twenties I joined a beginner's group and was given some basic teaching on the Scriptures. This was followed up at theological college with a detailed study of the Bible involving biblical and literary criticism.

About this time I came across the Daily Study Bible commentaries of William Barclay. The author was Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University. Three things appeal to me in these New Testament commentaries.
First, they are very readable. The author explains the meaning of certain Greek words in simple terms, and this sometimes alters radically our understanding of a passage. Secondly, he explains the environment and context in which words were spoken and this adds greatly to our insight. Thirdly, he makes the teaching of the New Testament relevant for us today, and thereby helps us in everyday life. I remember an undergraduate saying she would be eternally grateful to me for introducing her to the William Barclay commentaries.

Finally, I have found A Theological Word Book of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson, a good scholarly companion to the William Barclay commentaries.

Man does not live by bread alone, but... by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 8:3

Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Mark 13:31

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
2 Timothy 3:16

That God pities and pardons, it is precious to know. But that He loves with special affection, and can take delight in us—this is overwhelming. Yet both the Old and New Testaments teach this.
Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, Charles Burnet & Co., 1887, page 140

So we pick out a Text here, and there to make it serve our turn; whereas, if we take it all together, and considered what went before, and what followed after, we should find it meant no such thing.
John Selden, 'Bible, Scriptures', in The Table Talk of John Selden, Alex. Murray & Son, 1868, page 21

The point of reading the Bible is to relive that disclosure of God which the Bible story is depicting, and then to use it to stimulate the imagination to see his disclosure in the contemporary scene.
Frank Wright, The Pastoral Nature of the Ministry, SCM Press, 1980, page 18

I for my part love and cherish the Bible. My moral education I owed almost exclusively to it,
and its stories, doctrines, symbols, parables—all had made a deep impression upon me
and influenced me in one way or another.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wisdom and Experience, selected by Ludwig Curtius, translated and edited by Hermann J. Weigand, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1949, page 65

... we must reject the assertion of neo-orthodox biblicism that the Bible is the 'only' source. The biblical message cannot be understood and could not have been received had there been no preparation for it in human religion and culture.
Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, James Nisbet & Co., 1953, volume 1, page 39

What a book the Holy Bible is! What a miracle and what strength is given with it to man! Just like a sculpture of the world and man and human characters, and everything is named there and everything is shown for ever and ever. And how many solved and revealed mysteries.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, translated by David Magarshack, Penguin Books, 1963, volume 1,
page 343

Had the Bible been in clear straightforward language, had the ambiguities and contradictions been edited out and had the language been constantly modernized to accord with contemporary taste it would almost certainly have been, or have become, a work of lesser influence.
J.K. Galbraith, Economics, Peace and Laughter, essays edited by Andrea D. Williams, Andre Deutsch, 1971, page 34

... I perused the books of the Old and New Testaments—each book as a whole, and also as an integral part. And need I say that I have met everywhere more or less copious sources of truth, and power, and purifying impulses—that I have found words for my inmost thoughts, songs for my joy, utterances for my hidden griefs, and pleadings for my shame and my feebleness?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aids to Reflection and The Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, George Bell & Sons, 1884,
page 294

There was something deep and disturbing in the lines. I thought they only moved me as poetry: and yet I also felt, obscurely enough, that there was something personal about them. God often talks to us directly in Scripture. That is, He plants the words full of actual graces as we read them and sudden undiscovered meanings are sown in our hearts, if we attend to them, reading with minds that are at prayer.
Thomas Merton, Elected Silence, Hollis and Carter, 1949, page 245

We need to approach our reading and study of the Bible with reverence, prayer, and the spirit of obedience. If we set ourselves to listen for the voice of God in our Bible reading we must be ready to obey what He tells us to do or to renounce. This attitude will not come of itself—often it will be very difficult—our minds are very individualistic, and we have an innate tendency to revolt. Only the determination to surrender to God at all costs will enable us to enter into that prayer and silent 'waiting' upon Him in which we shall come to know that: 'this is the way, walk ye in it.'
Olive Wyon, On the Way, SCM Press, 1958, page 113

Central to my own thinking about the authority of the Bible is the conviction that we can say nothing worthwhile about the Bible except by beginning with the Christian gospel that existed before there ever was a Bible and could survive if every Bible was destroyed. The centre of the gospel is not about knowledge, but about love: the love of God for a fallen world, and his will to restore it through Christ. About this gospel the Bible—in both Testaments—provides us with all kinds of information, both historical and theological. By reading the Bible, studying it with all our critical powers, using it in worship, and being challenged by it as a literary text, we can come face to face with the gospel and respond to it with our whole lives. If that is not to accord authority to the Bible, I do not know what would be.
John Barton, People of the Book: The Authority of the Bible in Christianity, SPCK, 1988, page 89

Certainly the Bible always remains the foundation book of Christianity, precisely because it is genuine in itself and free from ideological prejudices. But for all this, regarded realistically, it has, so far as we are concerned, receded so far back in history from us that it is no longer possible for a religious book to be a florilegium of passages from scripture with a few words of commentary attached to each. Scripture is indeed too remote, historically speaking for our lives, and we must learn to recognise this realistically, and not to be full of pious enthusiasm as to use it exaggeratedly and without discretion. In all cases in which it is not scientific exegesis that is being aimed at the religious author should quietly spare the reader the long journey (whenever and wherever it is in fact long) from the letter of scripture to the reality signified by it. He should speak directiy of this reality itself. And when it is always open to him, in appropriate cases, to say at the end of his investigation 'and this is already to be found in such-and-such a passage of scripture.'
Karl Rahner, S.J., Theological Investigations, volume 8, Further Theology of the Spiritual Life, translated by David Bourke, Darton, Longman & Todd, 1971, page 253

Christians are not those who believe in the Bible, but those who believe in Christ. It should by now be more than clear that I do not believe there is any practical way to Christ today that does not involve the Bible at some point on the road. I am quite sure the authenticity of our knowledge of and faith in Christ cannot be established unless we have the Bible, the earliest documents of the Christian religion, to act as a check and a source. Equally, the truth that the Bible can indeed become the Word of God, God's way of continuing to speak to the Church, when it is heard and read in faith, is for me beyond dispute. But all this is a million miles away from enthroning the Bible as the sole arbiter of what is Christian, in faith or practice; binding the Church to so called 'scriptural' doctrines; requiring other sources of knowledge to be rejected in the name of scriptural authority; and—the ultimate contradiction—forcing the Bible to say what we want to hear, because we cannot believe anything unless we think it is from the Bible that we are hearing it. This is to press a valuable metaphor—the Bible as God's Word, as though it were a literal definition of ultimate truth, and indeed the most important and central such definition in the Christian faith.
John Barton, People of the Book: The Authority of the Bible in Christianity, SPCK, 1988, page 83

The true and essential Word of God is the divine revelation in the soul of man. It is the prius of all Scripture and it is the key to the spiritual meaning of all Scripture.
... from its inherent nature, a written Scripture cannot be the final authority in religion: (a) It is outward, external, while the seat of religion is in the soul of man. (b) It is transitory and shifting, for language is always in process of change, and written words have different meanings to different ages and in different countries, while for a permanent religion there must be a living, eternal Word that fits all ages, lands, and conditions, (c) Scripture is full of mystery, contradiction, and paradox which only 'The Key of David'—the inner experience of the heart—can unlock. Scripture is the Manger, but, unless the Holy Spirit comes as the day star in the heart, the Wise man will not find the Christ, (d) Scripture at best brings only knowledge. It lacks the power to deliver from the sin which it describes. It cannot create the faith, the desire, the love, the will purpose which are necessary to win that which the Scriptures portray. No book—no amount of 'ink, paper, and letters'—can make a man good, since religion is not knowledge, but a way of living, a transformed life, and that involves an inward life-process, a resident creative power.
Rufus M. Jones, Spiritual Reformers in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Macmillan and Co., 1914, page 60

The Bible is a map, says Bunyan, to show us the way of life.
What does this mean? How can the Bible guide us on our journey through life? We are naturally suspicious of a 'magic' use of the Bible, such as opening the Bible at random and sticking a pin into the first text we see... But Bunyan is right, although it is obvious that the Bible is much more than a map for our journey. Indeed, it is there that the Bible is absolutely essential for the spiritual life. If we are ignorant of it, and neglect to read and study it, the effect will be disastrous. Either our spiritual life will become very thin and our faith wavering and uncertain, or we may be easily led astray into enticing paths of thought which lead us off the true Way into by-paths which lead—nowhere.
The Bible is essential for the spiritual life for at least three reasons. First, because it contains the answers to those fundamental questions... about the meaning of life, the meaning of man, the meaning of history, the riddle of the universe, and the reality of God. In the language of the present day all these are 'existential' questions, matters of life and death. The Bible does not give us ready-made answers, it is true, but the serious enquirer will surely find, if he seeks the right way.
Secondly, in spite of its diversity, the Bible is a unity, and its message is one. Until we realize this we may think that we 'know the Bible' because we know a few favourite passages which happen to appeal to us, but we have not found the clue to the whole. Now the Church—all down the ages—presents the Bible to us as the authentic revelation of the True God; it does so because the whole Bible means one thing: that God alone IS, and that He has sent His Son Jesus Christ, to be the Saviour, King and Judge of all mankind. That is why St Jerome says that 'to be ignorant of the Scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ'. In other words, apart from Christ, there is no Bible, no 'way of life', no Hope for mankind. For Jesus Christ is not only the centre of the message of the Bible. He is the centre of human history, the one Answer to our deepest longings—the Word made Flesh. And this 'Word' is Love Incarnate...
Thirdly, it is a fact of experience that God speaks to men in and through the Bible. He has spoken to the world in a Person, and it is this Person, Jesus Christ, who is the 'Word of God'. This Book, however... is the source of our knowledge of this Person, and it is in and through its pages that He makes Himself known to us. It is this quality which makes the Bible unique. All down the centuries the Bible has led men home to God, through Christ. For here revelation becomes personal. The Bible is not the story of man's search for God but of God's search for man. When we study the Bible in the light of its message of love, we see how God calls men, woos them, deals with them in their wanderings, trying by every means to bring them back to Himself, yet without once forcing them or infringing their self-respect, till at last in Christ He goes all lengths to reconcile them to Himself...
Olive Wyon, On the Way, SCM Press, 1958, page 110


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