Why Should I Read and Study Scripture: Part 3

The First Five Books [The Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy)]

Why Should You Read The (Jewish Bible) Old Testament?
Here is some familiar ground that we covered previously. The Jewish Bible (Old Testament) provides the foundation for understanding the New Testament. It is often neglected or only read in part. Because of the prominence of the Law in the Jewish Bible, the idea of the grace of God is almost lost to its modern readers. It is often pointed out by readers of the Jewish Bible that God appears to be a God of wrath and judgment. However, some Old Testament characters present God as a God of love and justice. (Moses: Deut. 4-6; Jeremiah: Jer. 9.23-24).

The Jewish Bible (OT) provides the historical background which allows us to understand the message of the New Testament. The authors of the New Testament echo the Jewish Bible over 600 times. Jesus constantly appealed to its teachings as did Paul and other New Testament authors.

The history of the Old Testament is primarily found in the first seventeen books (Genesis-Esther). We must remember when reading this history that it is theological history. It was history told with a purpose. The history that is told is selected history to demonstrate the purpose of God to bring salvation to his creation. The whole Bible is often called salvation history because the God of the Bible is a missionary God.

What does it mean that God is a missionary God? Dallas Willard in his book Divine Conspiracy speaks about a “barcode faith.” Like barcodes on store purchases it doesn’t matter what is inside the package, the scanner just responds to the external barcode. Todd Hunter, has been known to say something like; “Christianity has become a mental assent to a set of beliefs around one theory of the atonement. You get a barcode and that assures you that you can go to heaven.” In short, nothing on the inside of a person has to change.

Marcus Borg in his book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time closes his book by talking about the familiar Christian phrase — believing in Jesus.

For those of us who grew up in the church, believing in Jesus was important. For me, what the phrase used to mean, in my childhood and into my early adulthood, was “believing things about Jesus.” To believe in Jesus meant to believe what the gospels and the church said about Jesus. That was easy when I was a child, and became more and more difficult as I grew older.

But I now see that believing in Jesus can (and does) mean something very different from that. The change is pointed to by the root meaning of the word believe. Believe did not originally mean believing a set of doctrines or teachings; in both Greek and Latin its roots mean “to give one’s heart to.” The “heart” is the self at its deepest level. “Believing, therefore, does not consist of giving one’s mental assent to something, but involves a much deeper level of one’s self. Believing in Jesus does not mean believing doctrines about him. Rather, it means to give one’s heart, one’s self at its deepest level, to the post-Easter Jesus who is the living Lord, the side of God turned toward us, the face of God, the Lord who is also the Spirit.

Believing in Jesus in the sense of giving one’s heart to Jesus is the movement from secondhand religion to firsthand religion, from having heard about Jesus with the hearing of the ear to being in relationship with the Spirit of Christ. 1

God is not merely interested in our believing him, but that through our believing that we become the “salt” and “light” to his creation. He is about saving his world, putting it to rights. We learn best how to become a part of this “mission” by reading, understanding, and then living into HisStory.

Reflections

  • What is your definition of the Bible?
  • Where did you learn your definition?
  • If the purpose of Scripture is to share God’s missionary activity in redeeming his creation, then why do you think that we spend so much time reading it for other purposes?
  • What do you think about Dallas Williard’s “barcode faith” theory?
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Notes:

  1. Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne 1995), 136-137. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time

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