“The prayer of the Psalms, concluded with a hymn…is followed by a Scripture reading…Here, too, we will have to overcome some harmful prejudices before we achieve the right way of reading Scripture together.
“…for many the Scripture reading consists only of a few brief selected verses that are to form the central idea of the day…but…there can be little doubt that brief passages cannot and must not take the place of reading the Scripture as a whole…The Holy Scriptures do not consist of individual sayings, but are a whole…The Scriptures are God’s revealed Word as a whole. The full witness to Jesus Christ the Lord can be clearly heard only in its immeasurable inner relationships…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 32.
These “harmful prejudices” which Bonhoeffer writes about remain a great enemy of the church today, and I think even more so – for whatever the attention span may have been when Bonhoeffer wrote, it is much less today. We must see the Bible as a whole, and yet we read it piecemeal, we often preach it piecemeal, and we study it piecemeal – and we therefore do not see or live the full witness of Jesus Christ the Lord.
We do not watch movies by pausing frame after frame, we watch the entire movie and then we go back and explore what we’ve seen and heard. We do not read biographies or historical narratives or poetry or novels sentence by sentence, reading a sentence and then stopping to ponder it as if it were from a fortune cookie. Nor when reading a novel or biography or historical narrative do we read a sentence or paragraph form one chapter and then read one from another chapter and then from another and another. How would we ever know and experience a book or an author if we normally read this way? How would we ever experience a movie or a play or a symphony? And yet we think nothing of reading the Bible as if it were a collage of fortune cookie sayings without narrative and without connection.
Suppose my neighbor and I both ordered the exact same car from an automaker to be delivered the same day. On the appointed day a representative from the automaker drives up to my neighbor’s door in a glistening new car and hands him the keys. However, a dump truck drives up to my door and drops a load of parts at my doorstep. When I run outside and ask where my car is the truck driver points to the pile of parts and says, “It’s right here. Can’t you see it?”
My neighbor has a car he can drive, one in which the parts are in right relationship with each other; he has a machine in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I have parts, and I have a problem. The way we often read the Bible makes as much sense as someone delivering me a truck load of car parts when I’ve ordered a new car – the parts were manufactured to be assembled in a certain order so that they would be in right relationship with each other and so that the end result would be a certain type of car.
I may not have the patience for the car to be rightly assembled and may insist that the automaker simply deliver me the parts, and therefore I may have my “car” well ahead of my neighbor having his car – but in the end who will drive his car first? It is also likely that I will never drive my “car”, but no matter, I’ll have all those shiny new parts.
If this illustration is crazy, it is no more crazy than the way we treat the Bible. I have been in Bible studies in which people did not want to read the Biblical text. I have been in churches where the preacher and congregation did not want to spend time reading the Biblical text. And yet people expect to have a car to drive…they expect to read the Bible piecemeal and hear it preached piecemeal and they think that they therefore “know” the Bible, when all they really know is what other people have told them; and sad to say that many of the people doing the telling are only working with a truck load of parts rather than with a fully assembled automobile. A sculpture made of junk is still a sculpture made of junk, it is not the real thing it represents – the parts and pieces of junk are not in right relationship with each other in harmony with their original design; Paul tells Timothy that we are to “rightly divide the Word of truth,” he does not write that we are to make junk sculptures.
To overcome “harmful prejudices” regarding the Bible means that we must learn to be overcome by the Bible; we must learn to be still and to submit ourselves to the Word of God and to respond in obedience to that Word. As we listen and meditate and read the Word our souls will be molded by the Word and Holy Spirit into the image of Jesus Christ, our life together will be formed into His image and each of us, each member of Christ’s body, will find our proper relationship to one another.
Do we see the Scriptures as a whole? Do we see Christ throughout the Scriptures? Do we see the inner corridors and relationships that Bonhoeffer writes about? Are we willing to embark on a journey through the Scriptures and continue that journey until the day we see Him face to face? Are we committed to beginning each day, to living each day, and to ending each day, in the Word of God?