Psalm 19:7-14, Isaiah 55:1-11, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, John 5:36b-47
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work”. Words we heard a moment ago from the second letter of Paul to Timothy.
Today is Bible Sunday, and so it would seem appropriate to talk about the Bible, a wealth of stories for all and every occasion. Now we come to the end of the period in the Church Lectionary, started after Trinity Sunday, way back on the 30th of May, and the end of our readings and study of Mark’s Gospel. We are about to enter November, a month very much of Remembrance, before moving into Advent and, of course, Christmas. So it is good to take a moment to reflect on ‘the word of God’, as it comes to us in the Holy Bible.
The Bible, as I have mentioned before, is a collection of books, 39 in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, as we know it, and 27 books in the New Testament. There is also the Apocrypha, another set of books that are not always included in the Christian canon, although the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches use parts of it. I am sure that we all have at least one, if not more copies of the Bible on our bookshelves, I counted 6 in our flat.
The Bible has been, and still is, a massive influence on art, literature and history, especially in the Western World. According to an edition of Time Magazine, the Bible, and I quote, “has done more to shape literature, history, entertainment, and culture than any other book ever written. Its influence on world history is unparalleled, and shows no signs of abating”. With estimated total sales of over 5 billion copies, in over 900 languages, it is widely considered to be the most influential and best selling book of all time; and today can be found on your computer, tablet or phone.
If we were able to ask those early Christians, whom Paul was writing to in his letter to Timothy, what the Bible was, they would not have known. For Christians growing up in the 1st Century the Bible as we know it did not exist. Scripture did exist and the scrolls it was then written on were regularly read in public, and it was to these that Jesus was referring to in our Gospel reading. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life”. Then as so often now people used ‘the word of God’ for their own ends, rather than let it truly instruct their own lives to the service of God and His son Jesus Christ.
The contents of the New Testament was argued about for years and consensus only came together at the end of the 4th century, and in fact further deliberation came in the 16th century when a decision was finally made on the New Testament Canon as we generally know it today.
Biblical Scholarship, particularly since the 19th century onwards, has opened the pages of scripture even further, and new ancient texts, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, have been discovered bringing fresh understanding to texts many believed to be ‘set in stone’. As it is written in the letter to the Hebrews: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.
The Bible has forever been a text formulated and interpreted by countless believers in countless situations. Yet it can be a lifeless thing without the people who read it and live through it, you and I. Then, indeed, the Bible does indeed become living and active.
Christianity has over the centuries taken much of the Bible and used it as seen fit within our changing structures of Service and Liturgy. The God of the Old Testament is indeed the same God as that of the New Testament: the God of the Jews, the God of Islam, and the same God as our own. The Bible tells the story of how and why that God was, and still remains, that same God, now to us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the God who came to us as Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as he told his listeners in the Gospel reading today, but they did not accept what had been written in Scripture, they choose not to accept the true Messiah, for whom they had been waiting.
The Bible is the most sold book in the world, but is so often the one left unopened on the bookshelf. The Bible without a believer is empty, and it is down to us all to live out that sacred text in our everyday lives. As someone once wrote, “Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.” For again as Paul wrote, and is true today: “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths”. Amen