How to Read the Holy Bible (Part III)


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

By His Eminence Metropolitan KALLISTOS (Ware), of Diokleia

"All scripture is inspired by God" (2 Ti 3:16)

Understanding the Holy Bible through the Church

In the second place, as the Moscow Conference affirms, "We know, receive, and interpret Holy Scripture through the Church and in the Church." Our approach to the Holy Bible is not only obedient but ecclesial. The words of Holy Scripture, while addressed to us personally, are at the same time addressed to us as members of a community. Book and Church are not to be separated.

The interdependence of Church and Bible is evident in at least two ways. (1) First, we receive Scripture through and in the Church. It is the Church that tells us what is Scripture. In the first three centuries of Christian History, a lengthy process of sifting and testing was needed, in order to distinguish between that which is authentically "canonical" Scripture, bearing authoritative witness to Christ's Person and message, and that which is "apocryphal" -- useful perhaps for teaching, but not a normative source of doctrine. It is thus the Church that has decided which books form the Canon of the New Testament. A book is not part of Holy Scripture because of any particular theory about its date and authorship, but because the Church treats it as canonical. Suppose, for example, that it could be proved that the Fourth Gospel was not actually written by Saint John the Beloved Disciple of Christ--in my view, there are in fact strong reasons for continuing to accept John's authorship--yet, even so, this would not alter the fact that we regard the Fourth Gospel as Scripture. Why? Because the Fourth Gospel, whoever the author may be, is accepted by the Church and in the Church.

(2) Secondly, we interpret Scripture through and in the Church. If it is the Church that tells us what is Scripture, equally it is the Church that tells us how Scripture is to be understood. Coming upon the Ethiopian as he read the Old Testament in his chariot, Philip the Apostle asked him, "Do you understand what you are reading?" "How can I," answered the Ethiopian, "unless someone guides me?" (Acts 8:30, 31). His difficulty is also ours. The words of Scripture are not always self-explanatory. The Holy Bible has a marvelous underlying simplicity, but when studied in detail it can prove a difficult book. God does indeed speak directly to the heart of each one of us during our Scripture reading--Saint Tikhon says, our reading is a personal dialogue between each one and Christ Himself-but we also need guidance. And our guide is the Church. We make full use of our private understanding. Illuminated by the Spirit; we make full use of biblical commentaries and of the findings of modern research. But we submit individual opinions, whether our own or those of scholars, to the judgment of the Church.

We read the Bible personally, but not as isolated individuals. We say not "I" but "we." We read as members of a family, the family of the Orthodox Catholic Church. We read in communion with all the other members of the Body of Christ in all parts of the world and in all generations of time. This communal or catholic approach to the Holy Bible is underlined in one of the questions asked of a convert at the reception service used in the Russian Orthodox Church. "Do you acknowledge that the Holy Scripture must be accepted and interpreted in accordance with the belief which has been handed down by the Holy Fathers, and which the Holy Orthodox Church, Our Mother, had always held and still does hold?" The decisive criterion of our understanding of what scripture means is the mind of the Church. The Holy Bible is the book of the Church.

To discover "this mind of the Church," where do we begin? A first step is to see how Scripture is used in worship. How, in particular, are biblical lessons chosen for reading at the different feasts? A second step is to consult the writings of the Church Fathers, especially Saint John Chrysostom. How do they analyze and apply the text of Scripture? An ecclesial manner of reading the bible is in this way both liturgical and patristic...

"…How can we develop this ecclesial and liturgical way of reading Scripture in the Bible study circles within our parishes? One person can be given the task of noting whenever a particular passage is used for festival or Saint's day, and the group can then discuss together the reasons why it has been so chosen. Others in the group may be assigned to do homework among the Fathers, relying above all upon the biblical homilies of Saint John Chrysostom, which are available in English translation in the series Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, reissued by Eerdmans. Initially, we may be disappointed: the Father's manner of thinking and speaking is often strikingly different from our own today. But there is gold in the Patristic texts if only we have the persistence and imagination to discover it. (Source: Orthodox Study Bible)

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" - Saint John Chrysostomos


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George