$38 million for a Bible? How much is your Bible worth?
It would become known as the Codex Sassoon — a volume of all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible.
In the shadows of a history dating back more than a thousand years, Jewish scholars labored over what in the 10th century were already ancient scrolls. Masorete scribes and Talmudic rabbis were beginning to realize that a standard text of the Scriptures would be a boon to theological discussion and research.
Thus in A.D. 950 — before the foundations were laid for the great cathedrals of Notre Dame, Chartres and Canterbury, before a single Crusader set out from France for the Holy Land, before the great universities of Europe at Bologna or Paris were founded, before Aristotle had replaced Plato or the Neo-Platonists in esteemed philosophical circles, and even before the Great Schism of 1054 in which the Greek and Latin rite churches split into distinct branches of Christianity that exist to this day — a magnificent codex was in the making.
The codex was a manuscript of pages rather than a scroll, with three columns per page. Now known as the Codex Sassoon (CS), the book is more than 1,000 years old, consists of more than 750 pages of animal skins, and weighs a hefty 26.5 pounds.
It just sold at a Sotheby’s auction for more than a cool $38 million!
Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester sold for about $30 million in 1994, and in 2021, a first edition print copy of the U.S. Constitution fetched $43.2 million at an auction, a record for any book, manuscript, historical document or printed text.
But $38 million for a Bible?
What makes the Bible, even what we Christians call the “old” half of the Bible, so valuable?
A number of factors come into play, of course. The provenance of a book might make it valuable to collectors. The CS, according to one source, “is the earliest surviving example of a single manuscript containing all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible with punctuation, vowels and accents.”
The rarity of the book might amp its value. A used, 1941 first edition copy of the Nancy Drew tale of The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion will set you back $32 on eBay.
Whether an antiquity is valuable depends on the eye of the beholder. If an artifact has perceived value, it is sought by collectors and aficionados.
So, the CS goes for $38 million.
Most reasonable people would agree that the Bible has value. Since Gutenberg inked up his press in the mid-1400s, the Bible has gone on to be history’s best-selling book ever. More than 5 billion copies have been sold or distributed, far outdistancing the Harry Potter series, the Quran, The Book of Mormon or The Little Prince. No one can say that the Bible has value because of its rarity. Thus, provenance is also not relevant, except possibly in the case of a thick 19th-century family Bible with brittle, yellowed pages for family genealogies and picture pages for hoary black-and-white photographs of bearded ancestors and white-capped aunties wearing black dresses and a stern countenance. A buyer might be interested in the history of such a Bible.
But why does the Bible really matter? Is it the creation story of today’s text?
No Bible; no Christianity
We Christians cling to our Bibles. We cannot give them up. Without the Bible, our faith disappears like smoke from a crumbling chimney. Christianity without the Bible is like an Oreo without the creamy center; like a pie without the filling; like the Kansas City Chiefs without Patrick Mahomes; like a Tesla without a battery.
The Bible is our sacred book. Without it, we’re nothing. It is the written medium through which God has spoken to us and continues to speak today. In that sense, the Bible is superior to the natural world as an expression of the nature of God. The creative and majestic genius of God that we see in nature is amazing. Even the Bible acknowledges this. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4). But the Bible surpasses nature as a media tool. The Bible explains everything we need to know about the Creator God and our relationship with God better than just nature itself.
This additional knowledge is critical, as we will see below. And so, Christians have historically protected the sacred texts of the Bible so that:
It is the foundation of our faith. No Bible; no Christianity.
The Rarity Factor
The Bible matters because there’s a rarity factor — its best-selling numbers notwithstanding.
While there may be nothing “as rare as a day in June,” as James Russell Lowell asserts, the Codex Sassoon comes close. Rare things have value — sometimes extravagant and exorbitant value.
Jesus understood the concept of value and rarity. He gave advice about the best places to store valuables (Matthew 6:19-21). He told stories about rare things, like the “merchant in search of fine pearls” who, after finding a “pearl of great value,” sold everything he had to possess it for himself (Matthew 13:44-45). Then there’s the report of a wealthy young man who wanted to follow Jesus, except … he could not divest himself of his financial portfolio.
But could there be something even more rare, perhaps, than treasure in a field, a pearl of great price or extensive financial holdings?
Yes. Perhaps rarest of all is the person who not only professes to follow Jesus, but actually does so!
Reports suggest that humorist Mark Twain made a shrewd observation along these lines. Evidently, a Boston businessman whose ethics were dodgy and who built his fortune on the misfortune of others confided in Twain about some of his religious aspiration. “Before I die,” he exclaimed, “I intend to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I want to climb to the top of Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud.”
“I have a better idea,” suggested Twain. “Why don’t you stay home in Boston and keep them?”
What is rarer than a Christian who patterns his life on the template of Jesus himself, who practices what Jesus preaches, who loves as Jesus loves, who is as selfless as Jesus?
Critics outside the church often are not thrilled with Christians. Say you’re at the office, and word comes down about a new hire: “I hear that she’s a Christian!” Or worse, “I hear that he’s a born-again Christian!!” You’d think your co-workers were talking about a new variant of Covid.
The general unease in our culture with professing Christians is something we’ve brought upon ourselves. We have two choices: Walk the talk or shut up about it. If we cannot match our walk with our talk, then it might be best to opt out, and do as Peter once did. “Oh, no, I don’t know anything about Jesus at all. Never heard of him.”
The Indian reformer Mahatma Gandhi is often misquoted as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Although it cannot be confirmed that he actually spoke those words, it is likely he said something similar. In The Christ of the Indian Road by E. Stanley Jones, the Methodist, theologian and author asked Gandhi (with whom he had become a close friend) how to better introduce Christianity into India. Gandhi replied in part: “I would suggest first of all that all of you Christians, missionaries and all begin to live more like Jesus Christ.”
Gandhi might also have read the Hindu Indian philosopher, Bara Dada, who, in the mid-1920s, said that “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like him.”
Bottom line: We are walking codices. People read us. But do they keep us as one would keep and treasure a rare book? Or are we tossed into the used book bin like a trash novel?
A Book with All the Answers: Priceless!
The Bible matters because of its wisdom.
Wisdom is where it’s at. And Americans know exactly where to get it: the self-help section of major bookstores, live events and seminars, motivational speakers, personal life coaches, audiobooks, weight-loss programs and holistic institutes.
Add this up and the self-help industry is an $11 billion juggernaut. But in the Bible, we have everything we need to live lives that are healthy, circumspect, meaningful and actualized. We can live our entire lives as good citizens, no arrests and rap sheets, no delinquencies, no addictions and be joyful and happy about it.
And when misfortune befalls us like disease, an accident or some kind of loss, it will not be trouble we brought on ourselves. And this gives us a 95% chance of getting through life as a successful person, spouse, parent or citizen.
Of course, all of this depends upon our willingness to make the right choices. And, alas, sometimes we don’t. Even the apostle Paul understood this from personal experience (see Romans 7). But the gospel gives us second and third chances.
The Bible is good for us. It offers wisdom, and as a reference guide, it’s really handy.
Why Do We Live as Though the Bible Doesn’t Exist?
Clearly, the Bible matters. It is valuable.
So, why do we live as though the Bible doesn’t exist? Why the disparity?
Maybe we’ve never taken the “Christ Challenge” pledge. Usually when someone is challenged to run a marathon, they begin training. When one signs up for a weight loss program, one abides by the rules of the program. When one decides to live sober, AA meetings might be a part of the plan. Could you be a Jesus person? Can you go one day without being a smart mouth, without being ungracious and impatient, snide or rude?
Great! Now practice Jesus living for two days.
Maybe we haven’t read the manual for a while. The Bible is the manual. Be honest. When is the last time you read the Bible at home or outside of the church? The last time you studied the Bible? Perhaps, like Twain, it “ain’t the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts I do understand.” The Bible can be demanding and challenging, often asking for more than we’re willing to give. Yet, the Scriptures are sacred words for Jesus people. We don’t know the cost until we read the catalogue. We are called People of the Book. So, let’s read the book!
Maybe we haven’t been too regular at church. Understandable. Lots of calls and tugs on our time these days. And it’s true that going to church won’t convert anybody. It’s like Billy Sunday, professional outfielder and blunt-talking evangelist of yesteryear said: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”
Point taken. But, without a strong connection with local believers, we get weak and flabby.
Runners meet with runners, doctors with doctors, teachers with teachers, lawyers with lawyers.
Think of church as a weekly workshop that enhance your Jesus skills, helping you to succeed at the Christ Challenge. The challenge calls us to live authentically. To stop the hypocrisy. To end the disconnect between the walk and the talk.
There are thousands of books that collectors today call “rare books.” The Codex Sassoon is in a stratosphere of its own. At $38 million, the codex is beyond rare. It beggars description. Thirty-eight million is a ton of denarii.
But remember: the Codex Sassoon is a manuscript of part of … the Bible.
And the case can be made that there is no other book than the Bible — ever — that has been more influential and changed the lives of countless millions for the better.
The Bible is valuable and important to others, for perhaps the wrong reasons.
May it be valuable and important to us for the right ones.
—Timothy Merrill and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.
“Codex Sassoon 1053.” Wikipedia. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
“David Solomon Sassoon.” Wikipedia. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
Gritten, David. “Oldest most complete Hebrew Bible sells for $38m at auction.” bbc.com, May 18, 2023. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
Hills, Megan C. “First-edition copy of US Constitution sells for record $43.2 million.” cnn.com, November 19, 2021. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
LaRosa, John. “$10.4 billion self-improvement market pivots to virtual delivery during the pandemic.” https://blog.marketresearch.com, August 2, 2021. Retrieved July 15, 2023.
Schuessler, Jennifer. “Oldest nearly complete Hebrew Bible sells for $38.1 million.” nytimes.com, May 17, 2023. Retrieved June 24, 2023.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Vox Dei. The voice of God, or “the Lord,” is referenced seven times in this psalm of 11 verses. This is no ordinary voice: It is “powerful,” “full of majesty,” “breaks the cedars of Lebanon,” “flashes forth flames of fire,” “shakes the wilderness,” “causes the oaks to whirl” and more. The human voice, compared to the voice of God, is much more human. Literally, it can only break fine crystal and then, only at a certain pitch and frequency. The sermon might discuss the role of the voice of God in creation, and then move from the vox Dei to the voice of humans and a consideration of what kind of power we have in our voice. Not the power to break “the cedars of Lebanon,” certainly, but the power to wound and to heal, to destroy and to build up, to irritate and to soothe.
What Does the Text Say?
This psalm echoes, in part, the description of Genesis 1:1-5. Beings who are described as “heavenly” are called to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord, the same Lord whose “powerful” and “majestic” voice hung over the “mighty waters.” This God is a God whose power extends over the natural world, whether the “cedars of Lebanon” or the “wilderness of Kadesh.” The psalm begins with Genesis 1 and seems, at its conclusion, to echo Genesis 6, when the Lord sits “enthroned over the flood.” Only one prayer can be offered to such a powerful deity: May this God grant strength to “his people,” and “bless his people with peace.”
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
An Unbaptized Christian? This text clearly has relevance on this Baptism of our Lord Sunday. That Paul baptizes these believers “in the name of the Lord” — “John's baptism” notwithstanding — indicates that the apostle regarded baptism to be a critical step in the faith development of Christians, as well as their practical walk in their new life. Today, unfortunately, baptism for many is a long-forgotten event, if indeed it was ever remembered, and confirmation is but a rite of religious passage undertaken at a tender age and of insufficient meaning and strength to make a practical difference in one’s life as an adult. Fair statement? Would not confirmation be better suited for young adults in today’s culture? For those traditions that practice baptism by immersion as adults, is it not expected of the freshly minted Christians that their subsequent and post-baptism behavior will be above reproach? The sermon, then, is an opportunity to remind Christians of their baptism and urge them to take it seriously.
What Does the Text Say?
The gist of this story seems clear enough. Returning to Ephesus, Paul encounters a group of “disciples” (or as the Greek may just as accurately be rendered, “Christians”) whose theological training appears to be sadly lacking. When questioned about their experience of the Holy Spirit, this band of believers is clueless. Paul’s first question to them in verse 3 indicates their problem, which was apparently quite evident. Paul asks nothing about their faith in Christ. He asks only: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” Not only do they claim no personal experience of the Holy Spirit, but they deny having ever heard about the Holy Spirit’s existence. When Paul presses them on their baptism experience, they claim to have received “John’s baptism” (v. 3). Paul never voices any dismay at the ignorance of these disciples, but he does move quickly to rectify the situation. After a remedial theological briefing, Paul re-baptizes these followers “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (v. 5). As “proof” that this second baptism has “taken,” the men immediately begin to speak in tongues and to prophesy — clear signs that the Holy Spirit has come upon them.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Back Where It All Begins. The sermon title is a dated reference to a 1994 The Allman Brothers Band studio album called Where It All Begins. The album included the song, “Back Where It All Begins.” Check out some of the lyrics: “When I was younger I was hard to hold/Seem like I was always goin’/Whichever way the wind would blow/Now that travelin’ spirit calls me again/Callin’ me back to where it all begins.” For Jesus, in three years it would all be — in a certain sense — over. But today’s text recounts “back where it all begins.” Tell the story. Then revisit the theme of the Allman Brothers’ song to discuss our longing and yearning sometimes to get back to “where it all begins.” That is, our longing to go back to when life seemed simpler, our faith seemed stronger, our ideals were purer, and our strength was fresh. The baptism of Jesus reminds us of our own baptism, i.e., “where it all began,” and we can covenant to begin the new year with a fresh starting point, a new locus and focus, so that someday we can say that this day was the day it all began.
What Does the Text Say?
This week’s gospel reading presents the story of Jesus’ own baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. Since Jesus does not need his heart opened to repentance, nor does he need divine forgiveness, this event clearly serves a different purpose in his life. First, Jesus’ baptism formally announces his presence, and inaugurates the beginning of his public ministry. Second, this event reveals Jesus’ true identity and relationship to God as “my Son, the Beloved” (v. 11). Finally, Jesus’ baptism serves as the impetus for the arrival of the foretold Holy Spirit, whose presence has been proclaimed as the special mark of Jesus’ ministry. The simile used by Mark to describe the descent of the Spirit, “like a dove,” is not a particularly common one in Hebrew theology. The Hebrew text most frequently linked with this baptismal appearance of the Spirit is Isaiah 11:1-3. There, the “spirit of the Lord shall rest on” the long-awaited descendant of Jesse, empowering this chosen one with “wisdom and understanding,” “counsel and might,” “knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” The dove symbol underlines the “descending” nature of God’s spirit. The Spirit did not simply appear. The heavens were torn open so that the long-absent Spirit could formally descend upon God’s chosen one. Mark also records the message of the heavenly voice that personally addressed Jesus at this moment. “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Only here and at the transfiguration does a divine voice directly address Jesus, both times identifying him as “my Son.”
As we leave this place, may the Word of God light our path and illumine our way.
And may God’s spirit empower us to be a light for others.
In the name of the triune God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.
One: Out of the blue
All: God comes to us.
One: In the midst of turmoil
All: Jesus walks toward us.
One: As darkness closes in
All: The Spirit lights a way for us.
One: Out of the blue
All: Jesus comes through.
One: When times are tough
All: God can be enough.
One: As questions arise
All: The Spirit is wise.
One: Let us raise our voices in song;
All: May our praise be loud and strong.
Author of all creation, we go about our lives filled with frustration and often feeling lost. Culture wants to point us down one path, yet we know there is a better road to follow. We are more likely to turn to Google Maps for directions than to you. We forget that you have provided us with a compass — the Bible. Instill in us a desire to turn to you first; to delve into your teachings; to not only read your laws on an intellectual level but to take them into our hearts. If we choose to live our lives according to your ways, we need never fear getting lost. Amen.
O Wondrous Sight, O Vision Fair
When Jesus Came to Jordan
We Sing the Mighty Power of God
Worship and Praise*
Good Good Father (Brown, Barrett)
Ancient Words (DeShazo)
Every Promise of Your Word (Getty, Townend)
*For licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.
on Genesis 1:1-5
The opening words of the Bible, today’s lesson (Genesis 1:1-5), summarized by biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann as “Creator creates creation,” are, in Brueggemann’s estimation, “decisive for everything” (Genesis [Interpretation; Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982], 17). The basic parameters of all biblical thought are established in the three words “Creator creates creation,” which is doubtless the reason the Bible opens with an exposition of that fundamental idea, but relatively infrequently returns to it, at least explicitly. The creation referred to by Brueggemann (and commonly thought of by most everyone else who hears that word) is not, in the main, the overriding concern of the theologians of ancient Israel who bequeathed to posterity the Bible. Their concern was more narrowly focused on the people of Israel and the conditions under which Israel had been brought into existence by God and sustained in that existence. Although the opening 11 chapters of Genesis, of which our passage is the first part of the introduction, are indeed about the primeval history of the world, those chapters are, in their canonical context, prolegomena to the main story, which is the story of Israel, its God and its land (which begins with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12; see the comment of E. A. Speiser, in his Anchor Bible commentary, Genesis [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962], 9). Those three topics, in various permutations and elaborations, make up the bulk of the Hebrew Bible.
Interpretive questions about our passage begin, well, at the beginning. The traditional (KJV) “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” has been replaced by NRSV’s “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” with a text note indicating that the Hebrew can also be translated in the traditional form or as, “When God began to create.” The first two Hebrew words in the Bible, bereshit bara’, constitute a construct chain, with the first word dependent on the second for its meaning: “In the beginning of …” and the two words function as a temporal clause that could be translated (Speiser, 3), “When God set about to create heaven and earth …”
The significant point is that “beginning” in this verse refers not to the beginning of time but to the beginning of a series of actions, that God was doing. The impressive calendar calculations of Archbishop James Ussher notwithstanding, when God’s creative work commenced was of no real interest to the writer of Genesis. Such a philosophical question was of no importance to the sixth-century B.C.E. priestly writer of this version of creation, who was introducing the story of the chosen people for the exiles in Babylonia.
Similarly, the question of whether God created ex nihilo “from nothing” or from primordial chaos (as verse 2 indicates) would have been of no great concern to the author. The theologoumenon of creatio ex nihilo appears by the time of the intertestamental period (2 Maccabees 7:28, dated somewhere between ca. 104 and 63 B.C.E.; see also Romans 4:17; Hebrews 11:3; and the Pseudepigraphical 2 Enoch 24:2 and the comments by the translator, I. F. Andersen, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth, vol. 1 [New York: Doubleday, 1983), 142-43), but it is a philosophical interpretation of Genesis 1:2 that has weak support from the OT itself. The plainer meaning of verse 2 is that God brought order out of watery chaos; where the chaos came from was of no interest to the writer of Genesis, and a question for which the writer supplies no answer. From the perspective of the priestly writer, chaos was not only good for nothing, but it was also as good as nothing. Brueggemann (29) suggests that the imagery of verse 2 presupposes a primordial chaos and is traditional, making it likely older, in Brueggemann’s opinion, than the more abstract introductory thought of verse 1.
The point of verse 1 is not to counter an atheistic scientism that has no use for a creator. Such an idea, while not an entirely unknown possibility for the author of Genesis (see Psalm 14:1-53:1, “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God’”), would nevertheless not have been of great concern in this context because the overriding issue for the priestly writer(s) of Genesis 1:1-2:4a was to provide hope for the believing but disheartened Israelites in Babylonian captivity. The points made in this liturgically structured quasi-narrative are theological, not scientific (the realm of the purely natural) and not mythological (the realm purely of the gods). In the context of the competing theoagonistic creation account of the Babylonians, the Israelite version of a world created as “speech-creature” (the phrase is from Brueggemann, 24) would have been a subversive alternative for its captive (and captivated) hearers.
The Hebrew verb translated “create” (bara`) occurs throughout this story of origins, alternating with the more primitive verb “to make” (’asah), and its first appearance (v. 1) is as part of the construct chain discussed above. While the traditional translation (represented by KJV) is not grammatically impossible (as the text notes in the NRSV indicate), comparison with other similar constructions, both within the Hebrew Bible and with cognate languages, favors the temporal dependent clause, as it is rendered in NRSV.
The second verse, as the JPS correctly translates, is a parenthetical element interrupting the main sequence of actions that extends through the first three verses of Genesis: “When God began to create … — the earth being a formless void … — God said … and there was …” (see the discussion in Speiser, 5). Such a rendering conforms more closely to the rhetorical pattern used in the rest of the passage.
The description of the earth as a “formless void” is NRSV’s translation of the Hebrew tohu wa-bohu, a hendiadys of two uncommon nouns that literally says, “formlessness and emptiness.” The first noun, tohu, is taken by lexicographers to be from a putative root thh, and the noun tehom, a few words later, translated “the deep,” is understood to be from the root thm; it is doubtful that the two words tohu and tehom are unrelated. The rhyming pair tohu wa-bohu might be translated (by the late professor Henry Fischel of Indiana University) as “waste and schmaste” or (with the NRSV translator in his notes) as “formlessness and normlessness.”
The “wind from God” sweeping over the primordial waters is supernatural, not natural (“mighty,” as one NRSV alternative translation puts it, had already been rejected by Speiser, 5; see his fuller reasoning for rejecting a naturalistic translation of ruach `elohim on 230-31). The use of the word `elohim as an appellative, while more common in the Yahwist, is not unknown in P and always denotes a divine source.
The Hebrew stem translated “swept” (v. 2) is used in Deuteronomy 32:11 to describe an eagle hovering over its young. The Ugaritic cognate is more forceful, with the sense of “swooping,” and it is impossible to say which meaning comes closer to capturing the Genesis image (although a gentle gliding is probably moving in the wrong direction). Common to the root in its various forms, however, is the idea of movement or restlessness, an idea expanded upon later in the tradition (see the passage in 2 Enoch cited above).
With the first divine words in verse 3, “Let there be light,” the rhetorical pattern begins that, with slight variations, will form the structure of this account of creation: (a) the deity speaks a creative command (“Let there be …”); (b) the command happens; (c) God sees that the result is good; (d) God fine-tunes or supplements the thing(s) created; (e) God names the thing(s) created; and (f) the creative event is date-stamped (“And there was evening and there was morning …”). Scholars have long suggested that this rhetorical pattern is hymnic or poetic in origin and may have been part of the liturgy for a new year’s festival in the temple, an annual reminder of Israel’s divine Creator and patron.
The Codex Sassoon is a 1,000-year-old manuscript of all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. It sold at auction for more than $38 million. It’s the most expensive book ever, but it too often goes unread.
So the Bible preserves in its pages the word of God, but the Bible alone is not enough. The church must take the word of the Bible and make it a living word. It’s not a matter of literally repeating psalms and parables but of applying them to the concrete life of the particular time when that word of God is being preached. The Bible is like the fountain that conserves the revelation of God’s word, but what use is the fountain, as crystal clear as it may be, if we don’t fill our jugs from it and apply its waters to the needs of our homes? A Bible that is read only so that we can strictly follow the traditions and custom of the times when those pages were written is a dead Bible. That’s called biblicism; it’s not what we mean by the revelation of God.
—St. Oscar Romero, “Sowing the Word of the Kingdom,” sermon preached on July 16, 1978. Source: The Archbishop Romero Trust
Retrieved August 11, 2023.
“During college, the Bible came alive in a way that is hard to describe,” [Tim Keller] wrote in his book, “Jesus is the King.” “The best way I can put it is that, before the change, I pored over the Bible, questioning and analyzing it. But after the change, it was as if the Bible, or maybe Someone through the Bible, began poring over me, questioning and analyzing me.”
—Bob Smietana, Religion News Service, “Tim Keller, retired New York megachurch pastor and bestselling author, dies at 72,” Presbyterian Outlook, May 19, 2023.
Retrieved August 11, 2023.
But what might this appropriate response [to the biblical story] look like? Let me offer you a possible model. … Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost. The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a wealth of characterization, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play ought to be staged. Nevertheless, it is felt inappropriate actually to write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play into one form, and commit Shakespeare … to being prospectively responsible for work not in fact his own. Better … to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves. …
We must allow scripture to teach us how to think straight, because by ourselves we don’t; we think bent, we think crooked. Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “The Holy Spirit over the bent world broods with warm breast and with Ah! bright wings.” And the Spirit broods over us as we read this book, to straighten out our bent thinking; the world-views that have got twisted so that they are like the world’s world-views. God wants us to be people, not puppets; to love him with our mind as well as our soul and our strength. And it is scripture that enables us to do that, not by crushing us into an alien mould but by giving us the fully authoritative four acts, and the start of the fifth, which set us free to become the church afresh in each generation.
—N.T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?” Originally published in Vox Evangelica 1991, 21, 7-32.
Retrieved August 11, 2023.
I have discovered over many years in the classroom that narratives and stories are far more effective when introducing new and sometimes controversial ideas than logical precision. A character in Richard Powers’ 2021 novel The Overstory says that “the best argument in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.”
There is a reason that the Bible contains very little argumentation and logical reasoning concerning the nature and existence of the divine, while filled from cover to cover with stories of all sorts. The authors and compilers of the sacred text understood that human beings resonate deeply with narratives and stories, tending to construct logical arguments after the fact to support the stories that have been most influential and life-affirming.
—Vance Morgan, “The Story of God and Us,” Patheos.com, April 25, 2023.
Retrieved August 11, 2023.
My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.
?John Dominic Crossan and Richard G. Watts, Who Is Jesus? Answers to Your Questions About the Historical Jesus (Westminster John Knox, 1999).
Show the children a large lump of clay and ask them what it is. They’ll answer, “clay.” Shake your head and say, “No, it’s a figure of a ballerina. All that I need to do is shape and mold this clay in the right way, and it will become a beautiful sculpture of a dancer.” Explain that this is exactly what God did, according to the book of Genesis. He took the formless stuff that existed before the beginning of time and molded it into a good and gorgeous world. The messy material that God worked with wasn’t very nice to look at, but with it he made light and darkness, water and land, plants and animals and people. Ask them, “Does God do the same thing with us today?” Yes! The Lord takes the stuff in our lives — even the parts that aren’t very pretty to look at — and uses this material to shape us into better people. Our job is to let God mold us, so that we’ll eventually be more in the shape of his Son Jesus.
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