Picking up the Bible can be a daunting prospect. Where do you start? What does it mean? How do I understand its language and content? It’s not easy. I’ve been a reader of the Scriptures over many decades and even now I can feel daunted by some of the books, chapters and verses. But one way in to appreciating this ancient book is the use of metaphor and pictures to help us. I want to mention three I have found particularly helpful based on gems, lamps and honey pots. They are metaphors which help me grasp the purpose of the Scriptures in my journey of faith.
The Gem – A Journey of Revelation
A Jewish way of reading the Scriptures is the idea of turning the gem. By viewing the Bible like a big, shiny, gem we see that each turn offers a different refraction. We see the gem in a different way because of what it offers through the turn. By turning the gem, we have a fuller sense than we do when we just take one perspective.
Scripture is very much like this – with each turn we are offered a fresh perspective, a new way of seeing. In this way the Bible is viewed as a book of revelation – more than simply a book of history, poetry and prose it offers light on how we both view and live in the world. The writer to Hebrews wrote about it in this way, ‘For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).’
So, the Bible by nature is a book of revelation – a revelation of the mystery of God which has been kept hidden for ages and generations that culminates in Christ – who is God’s word in the truest sense of what this means. The writer, C.S. Lewis said, ‘It is Christ himself and not the Bible who is the true word of God. The Bible read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to him. We mustn't use the Bible as a type of encyclopaedia from which texts can be taken to use as a weapon.'
Or, as another long time, well-practiced Bible Teacher recently wrote…
Now, I see the Bible as ‘God’s Word’ in only a secondary sense. The ultimate ‘Word of God’ is Jesus Christ. The Bible is the story—a God-breathed one, I believe—of a people struggling, through their changing times and cultures, to understand God better, and often getting it only half-right, or sometimes even wrong. But the whole story was leading to its brilliant climax: Emmanuel, God with us in the person of the God-man, Jesus the Messiah. He alone is the end to which the Bible is merely the means.
Jesus, and Jesus only, is ‘the exact representation of God’s being’, the full and final revelation of what God is truly like. Everything else is shadowy, vague, temporary, unclear. But in him the shadows have cleared and the sun has come out. The Bible gave enough light to guide the previous generations along, but it will always be secondary to him. I’m now trying to take my views and convictions, my lifestyle-model, my attitudes, my standards, my everything from him, and from nowhere else.
We read the Bible from a Christocentric (Christ Centred) position. Christ is the ultimate expression of the Creator God – the fullest revelation of Deity, each turn of the gem is leading to him. As pastor and theologian Brian Zahnd says, ‘The ancient orthodox alternative to modern heterodox Biblicism is to say what the church has always said: Jesus Christ is the true Word of God. The Bible is the word of God, only in a penultimate sense. The Bible is the inspired, canonized witness to the Word of God who is Jesus Christ — the Word made flesh. Only Jesus Christ is the inerrant and infallible, perfect and divine Word of God.’
Read as a book of progressive revelation – we see the unfolding of this revelation as we travel through the scriptures and then captured and expressed in Christ.
The Lamp – A Journey of faith
A further way to let the Scriptures come to us is by seeing them as a lamp. The Psalmist wrote, ‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119:105).’ It’s in the understanding of the type of lamp the writer is referring to that we have a clear picture of God’s word at work in our lives. The oil lamp was a common form of lighting in the ancient Jewish world and was held on a small chain just below the waste as a person walked at night. The light was poor but sufficient to illuminate the next step – and then the next step after that and so on. In this way one was able to move forward using the lamp to guide one step at a time – and this is how the journey of faith works for us.
In life we often want the road ahead well lit, we are used to halogen bulbs powerfully illuminating the pathway, but God calls us to the walk of faith when it is the immediate step that we can see and not all that way down the road!
The Honey Pot – A Journey of Joy and Sweetness
The third picture is taken from the classroom when the Jewish Rabbi was about to teach his students the Torah. He would take honey and place it on the student’s fingers and then have them taste it. He would ask them to describe the taste – what it was like and how good it was. Then using the words of Psalm 119:105, ‘How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’ He would remind them that God’s words taste like honey on the tongue. He wanted the students to associate the words of God with the most delicious, exquisite thing they could imagine. Creating a love for the Scriptures was his first task – he knew that if he could create hunger then his students would be keen to purse learning.
As we continue through this blog series: What is the Bible? Let me encourage you to keep these images in mind and allow them to help shape the way the Scriptures come to us and next time we will ask the question – in what way do we come to the Scriptures?