I want to do something a little different today, we’ll get back to Mark tomorrow. At St. Matthew’s these new few weeks, we’re preaching a series entitled “Long Story Short” where we will be talking about the themes and teachings of the Bible. I wanted to share with you a couple of things we talked about.
One of the words that is used with scripture by many Christians is the word “inerrant.” That word means free from error, and that is what we believe the Bible is. However, one of the challenges we face is distinguishing between the error-free teachings of the Scripture and our interpretation of the Scripture. That is where the Creeds come into play, they give us the boundaries of the teachings of the Scripture, these are the essentials of the Christian faith and the distilled teachings of the Bible. Outside of those boundaries is heresy. If your reading of Scripture teaches you that Jesus is not divine or something like that, that is wrong. That is heresy. But within the boundaries, there is room for diversity. For instance, I’m a Methodist, so thus I believe in the Methodist doctrine on Baptism and Communion. My Baptist and Catholic friends have a different theology of both of those sacraments. And you know what that is? That’s ok. These beliefs are within the boundaries where there is great freedom. Now, I believe what I believe and I think it’s right, but don’t we all? We can all learn from each other. Let’s be careful not to mistake our (no matter how well reasoned) human doctrine and interpretation for the inerrant Word of God.
We read scripture as a Means of Grace. In other words, we believe that when we read the Bible, the Holy Spirit is active in our reading and teaches us and transforms us. That is the key. As much as we read the Bible for information, we read it more for transformation.
One of the tools I shared Sunday in my sermon was to understand the Bible as a Bookshelf. If you would like you can listen to my podcast of this sermon here or stream it below:
When we understand the Bible as a Bookshelf, it helps us better make sense of what is happening. The Bible is 66 books, with dozens of authors written over 1,600 years. It tells the story of the creation of humanity, our fall, and God’s plan of redemption through covenant, beginning with the Old Covenant of the Law in the Old Testament and then with the New Covenant of Grace in the New Testament. All things will be completed and restored through this New Covenant. Within scripture each “shelf” or section is different, and understanding what is happening within helps us better interpret it. So, for instance, the Book of Psalms is on the Wisdom Shelf, and it is poetic worship of God and is to be interpreted differently than the Gospel of Mark, which is a Gospel, or Narrative History of Jesus. Understanding those shelves helps us better understand the context and understand how to interpret them.
Here are the Shelves of Scripture
The Books of Moses: Often called the Pentateuch or the Torah. These books are attributed to Moses and give us the story of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Issac, Joseph), the Exodus, and then the Law. For the Jewish people, they often understood them in the same way we understand the Gospels, they show the special heart of God. We do not believe the Gospels are “more” inspired than the rest of the Bible, but we believe they give us special insight. These books do the same for the Old Covenant. They are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
History: These books are just that, they tell the history of the Jewish people, from Joshua to the Judges, King David, and all the kings, into the Exile and Esther. These books have some of the best stories in all of Scripture and show us how God moved in His people. These books are Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
Wisdom: These books are poetic and teach us bigger lessons on Worship, suffering, ethics, and love. These are best and often understood through these lenses. For instance, Psalms calls God a rock. He is not a rock, but poetically, it makes more sense. Read these with a sense of wonder. They are Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclessatics, and Song of Songs.
Prophets: There are two sections of prophets: Major and Minor. This has nothing to with importance, but size. The Major are longer books, the Minor are shorter. These are basically the sermons of the persons God has called to proclaim His word. While there are parts that refer to the future and what will happen, most of what we see is the prophets calling out the people for their sins. The Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the Minor Prophets, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
Gospels and Acts: The Gospels tell us the Narrative History of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and the Acts tell us the Narrative History of the Early Chruch. These books are given to show us that Jesus is the Son of God (John 20:31) and give us special insight into the very Son of God. We stand for them in worship out of reverence to Jesus’ words not because they are “more” inspired. They are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts.
Paul’s Letters: These are literally letters that Paul wrote to churches (most of whom he helped start) answering questions about who Jesus is, what we believe, and how to live. These books are very specific, to specific churches, about specific questions, dealing with specific things. The later letters are pastoral, written to specific persons, mentoring and teaching them. These have so very much to teach us about who Jesus is and how we are to order our lives and the church. These letters are Romans, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
Catholic Letters: These letters are more general, written to the church at large, not specific persons and churches. These letters are Hebrews, James, 1 Peter and 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John and 3 John, and Jude.
Apocalyptic Book(s): Revelation is the only book that is completely apocalyptic, but there are parts of the Gospels and Old Testament prophets that are also apocalyptic. These books are written in code to an oppressed people, giving them hope that God will save them. The book of Revelation has parts about the past, present, and future. The challenge for us if figuring out where the shift happens and what the “code” means. The hope is that God will save His people, we do not fear!
When we know these shelves, it helps us make sense of the different books, as well as find their location within the Bible.
On Mondays through this series, I’ll share a recap in our Rooted readings (they won’t be this long, I promise!). Or you can worship with us at St. Matthew’s, subscribe to my podcast, or watch the videos.
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