November 1, 2006

The First Time

Category: Bible :: Permalink

On my drives out to Ashland for a Bible study on the campus of Southern Oregon University (12:30 on Tuesdays at Elmo’s, if any of you are interested!), I’ve been listening to Jim Jordan‘s lectures on “How to Read the Bible for the First Time,” which he gave a few years back at a church in Paducah, Kentucky.  They’re available from Biblical Horizons now, and I highly recommend them.

In the first lecture, Jordan talks about the importance of hearing the Bible.   Today, most of us can read and reading the Bible is fine in itself.   But the Bible doesn’t stress reading the Bible; it stresses hearing it.  Why?

One reason has to do with the difference between hearing and seeing.  With sight, you’re the one in control.  If you don’t like what you’re seeing, you can shut your eyes.  Immediately, the sight is gone.  Don’t like what you’re reading?  Turn the page.  Close the book.  Close your eyes.  You’re in control, and that “offending” verse is gone.

But with hearing, you’re not the one in control.  The speaker is.  Don’t like what you’re hearing?  Shut your ears.  Except that you can’t.  Not effectively.  You can put your fingers in your ears, but all it takes is for the speaker to raise his voice and your fingers won’t be able to shut out the sound.  Your only hope to escape is to raise your own voice to drown out his voice or to get out of earshot.  If you don’t want to listen, you have to leave.

Seeing has to do with judgment.  Think of how God sees that things are good in Genesis 1 or how God’s eyes test men in the Psalms.  But hearing has to do with submission.  In fact, hearing and obeying are almost synonyms in some passages in the Bible.  In every conversation, if things are going well, there’s mutual submission: I talk and you submit and listen, and then you talk and I submit and listen.

So when Scripture is read and preached, you have to submit and listen or you have to get up and leave.  True, you can leave mentally, letting your mind wander while the pastor speaks.  But whether you leave physically or tune out mentally, you’re rejecting a demand that comes to you from outside, the demand that you hear, that you listen, that you submit.

And that’s how God wants it.  Reading doesn’t change you the way hearing does.  If you can read the Bible, Jordan was saying, go ahead and read it.  But more importantly, hear it and submit to it.

That is, of course, what the church has done for much of its life.  In most of the past, only a few people could read and the rest of the people were illiterate.  If you wanted to have something written or read, you’d go to a scribe and he’d read it for you.  For that reason, God appointed certain men to be readers and, going along with that, teachers.  That was true in the past when, for instance, the Levites read the Law and gave instruction in Nehemiah’s day, and it’s still true today.  We’re always relying to some degree on “experts,” on people who know at least a little bit more than we do.  That’s how God wants it.

To flesh that out some more, hearing creates community.  There’s at least the one speaking the words and the one hearing the words spoken (assuming you’re not just reading the Bible out loud to yourself, which is what I usually do).  God wants His Word heard and meditated on in community, so that we help each other understand it better.

In the next few lectures, Jordan then began to trace some themes through the Bible.  In particular, he focused on a theme which, I have to admit, I don’t remember hearing much about before, namely, the theme of maturation.

What is the Bible all about?  What’s the main story, the main theme?  Most of us would probably say “Sin and redemption” or something like that.  But that’s really a secondary theme.  Redemption would not have been the theme at all if there hadn’t been the Fall.

God had a theme in mind from the beginning even apart from sin, and that theme was growth and maturation.  God intended to grow His people to maturity, from glory to glory.  Sin made that growth more difficult and added extra challenges and hurdles, but God is still following the same plot, working out that same theme, maturing His people.

That’s why the Bible is so long, Jordan said.  If it was just about sin and redemption, then the next person after Adam and Eve should have been Jesus.  He would have died and then there would be salvation and forgiveness, and that would be pretty much it to the Bible.

But that’s not how the story goes.  Instead, we have genealogies, laws that seem obscure to us and which were always intended to pass away, proverbs and poems, and so forth, all of which culminate in Jesus Christ who, as Paul says in Galatians 4, was the first full-grown man.  All of that stuff has to do, not just with redemption, but with maturation from childhood toward adulthood.

Of course, sin and redemption is a major theme as well.  Jordan spent some time on that theme in Lecture 5, which I heard today.  Along the way, he talked about the difference between sins of “wandering” and sins “with a high hand” in the Bible, which roughly match the sin of Eve (being led astray) and Adam (sinning deliberately). 

He also dealt with something I had wondered about but hadn’t figured out.  Here’s how he set it up: When Israel comes out of Egypt, she’s made up of tribes.  And the enemies she encounters are often also tribes.  By the time Israel has a king, it seems that all the enemy nations around her have kings.  When she continues to rebel, she gets oppressed by empires.  But what happens if you continue to rebel after that?  Demons.

That’s what we see in the New Testament.  Back in seminary, I wrote a paper on demon possession in the New Testament, and it struck me that we don’t hear about demon possession much at all (Saul being a rare exception) in the Old Testament.

But then we turn the page from Malachi to Matthew and suddenly demons are coming out of the woodwork.  In the synagogue, no less, which says something about synagogue worship.  Jesus goes around casting out demons from Israelites because Israel is being oppressed, not so much by the Romans, who aren’t cast in such a bad light in the New Testament, but by the demons.

Why that change from hardly any demons in the Old Testament to tons of demons in the New?  Because of the growth and maturation (if you can call it that) of Israel’s sin and therefore of the powers of evil that are arrayed against them.

Furthermore, in the Old Covenant, God’s people weren’t mature enough to stand against Satan and his legions and so God restrained them and sent tribes and kingdoms and empires instead.  Now, in Christ, we’re mature enough to battle, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.

All of which led into the other great theme besides maturation and redemption, which is the holy war.  And that’s where I left off when I arrived back at home today.

I’ve only touched on some of the stuff in this tape set.  But I highly recommend it.  It will revolutionize the way in which you read Scripture so that a lot more of it makes sense to you and, in turn, it makes sense of you and of your life, as well.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:25 am | Discuss (1)

One Response to “The First Time”

  1. DadB Says:

    Now you know why we read the Bible to you and why Mum and I read the Bible aloud to each other and have done so for over 40 years.

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