Reading the Bible As the Word of God - week 1 of a 4-week series.
Here are Cynthia's discussion questions that supplemented her talk on Wednesday night:
1) Why do you read (or why do you not read) the Bible? What is the importance of the Bible to your life?
2) Read 1 Timothy 3:14-16. What do you think Paul means when he tells Timothy that the Scriptures have made him "wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ"?
3) What does it mean to say that the Bible is "the word of God"? How would you explain this to someone who didn't understand?
4) What are some good reasons why people challenge the Bible's authority?
5) What are some bad reasons why people challenge the Bible's authority?
6) Bonus Question (this one is hard!) Consider the three ways we usually use the phrase "the word of God":
a. Revealed in Jesus Christ
b. Written in Scripture
c. and proclaimed in a sermon
How do you understand the relationship between God's word as it is revealed in these three forms? For example: is the "Word made flesh" in Christ the same as the "Word of God" we read? In other words, what is the distinction between God's word in Christ, in the Bible and in sermon?
Reading the Bible As the Word of God - Week 2
(1). The prologue to the Gospel of John explains that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). According to John 1:14 and also 1 John 1:1-4, why is this so significant? What difference does the fact that the Word became flesh make to our everyday lives?
(2). The Word became flesh only in Jesus Christ. But isn't there also a sense in which the word entered into words - that is, that the word is known to us in the words of scripture? What is the relationship between the "Word through whom nothing was made that was made" (John 1:3) and the Word that is the Bible?
(3) Calvin says that God "accommodates" to us so we can know and understand God. What does he mean by this? Is this idea helpful to you, in thinking through what it "looks like" to read the Bible as the word of God?
(4) Calvin compares the Scriptures to a pair of glasses. Why does he use this metaphor of "spectacles"? What is he trying to help us understand?
(5) Bonus Question: what metaphors have you found helpful for understanding scriptures' authority?
Reading the Bible as the Word of God, week 3 - “What Happens When We Don’t Agree?”
Topic #1: Imagine (with Karl Barth, who wrote this) that the Bible is "talking” (kind of a monologue). Here's how Barth imagines it, and what he says:
“When we come to the Bible with our questions – How shall I think of God and the universe? How arrive at the divine? How present myself? – it answer us, as it were, "My dear friend, these are your problems: you must not ask me! Whether it is better to hear mass or hear a sermon, whether the proper form of Christianity is to be discovered in the Salvation Army or in "Christian Science,‟ whether the better belief is that of old Reverend Doctor Smith or young Reverend Mr. Jones... You can and must decide for yourself. If you do not care to enter upon my questions, you may, to be sure, find in me all sorts of arguments and quasi- arguments for one or another standpoint, but you will not then find what is really here.‟ We shall find ourselves only in the midst of a vast human controversy and far, far away from reality, or what might become reality in our lives . . . It is not the right human thoughts about God which form the content of the Bible, but the right divine thoughts about human beings. The Bible tells us not how we should talk with God but what God says to us; not the right relation in which we must place ourselves to God, but the covenant which God has made with all who are Abraham‟s spiritual children and which God has sealed once and for all in Jesus Christ.”
- Karl Barth, “The Strange New World Within the Bible” (1916)
React to this quote in your group. Here are some questions you might want to discuss:
(A). Do you agree that the Bible does NOT give us answers to everything? That there are some things "we can and must answer for ourselves?"
(B). Do you think our questions and concerns, when we come to Scripture, can sometimes get in the way of our seeing what is really there?
(C). What can we do to be more receptive to the message God wants us to receive from the Bible? For example, does prayer help? Does studying Scripture with others help? How about reading commentaries on the passages? Share strategies for faithful reading and study with your group.
Topic #2: Putting aside memories of discussions/debates related to homosexuality, think of a time when you and someone you respect disagreed about an interpretation of Scripture.
(A). If you feel comfortable sharing with the group, say what it was you disagreed about.
(B). How did you feel when you disagreed? (Panicked, angry, unsure of your own faith, unsure of the faith of the other person? Interested? Excited? Some other feeling?)
(C). What did you both do once you realized you disagreed? In answering this, you might want to include reflection on the following:
1. Was it your goal to overcome your disagreement, or to find a way to “live
together” with the disagreement?
2. Were you able to present your own view persuasively, and with kindness?
3. Were you able to hear the view of the other person?
4. What would you do differently, next time?
(D). Have you ever changed your mind about an interpretation? Give an example, if you can. Have you ever helped change someone else‟s mind?
“Reading the Bible as the Word of God,” Week Four:
“Ways of Interpreting the Bible as the Word of God”
Vocabulary word of the day: hermeneutics (meaning: “interpretation”)
A. Literal How about: “if you have two coats, give one away” (Luke 3)
B. Allegorical How about: the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18)
B. Prophetic (Daniel, Revelation?) C. Wisdom (e.g., Ecclesiastes) D. Poetry (e.g., Song of Solomon) E. Didactic (Sermon on the Mount) F. Prescriptive versus Descriptive texts (do we agree?) G. But what happens when we disagree on genre?
(1) E.g., if I see Revelation, and/or Genesis 1-2, as “literal,” and someone else sees it as allegorical or metaphorical?
(2) E.g., if I see Wisdom literature not only as prescriptive, but also as descriptive?
II. Approaches to Reading
A. Historical/Critical. 20th century approach of biblical studies. Takes into account history, development of manuscript, scribal anomalies and inconsistencies, context, authorship, and language barries
B. Trust & Suspicion (really? Suspicion? We like “trust” better, don’t we?) Asking God to show us what is there in black and white, and what is “between the lines” (e.g., Mathew 26 story of woman who anointed Jesus)
C. Retrievalist (see, for example, Aída Bensaçon Spencer) D. Reconstructionist (Reconstruing what it says/what has happened and believing the Spirit is at work in helping us discern what the text is about) E. “Antithesis” (I made this term up!) Looking not only what is in the text, but also to our response to it (e.g., Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror).
III. With all this in play, what does it mean, finally, to read the Bible as the Word of God?
Reading it regularly; submitting to the work of the Spirit in prayer; listening to others in the context of Christian community (church); recognizing the Word proclaimed as an invitation into the Word written as an invitation to know the Word revealed.
Small group questions:
Small group questions
(1) Can you name a time when you and a friend or family member disagreed about an interpretation of a biblical text? What text was it? What was the disagreement? How did the conversation/disagreement end?
(2) Is the story of Jonah and the “big fish” literally true, or is it a parable? Does everyone in your group agree that it is one or another? Does thinking about as a parable, versus thinking about it as literal, change the way you interpret it? Or is the message the same either way?
(3) Are there certain passages in the Bible that are “more central” to the message of the Gospel than others? Name one that seems central to you.
(4) What is your favorite Bible verse of all time and why.
(5) (Especially for those who have come to this series for at least two times):
What have you learned in these sessions that has most surprised you? What have you learned that has most annoyed you? What have you learned that has most challenged you?
(6) What is the likelihood that you will sit down and read your Bible for more than 5 minutes some time in the next two days? What can you do to “up” the chances of this happening?