Friday, July 06, 2007

How to Read the Bible, Part Deux

I've noticed quite a few bloggers in the Jeebus circle are talking about how NOT to read the Bible, and there are some very good points on that subject.

I thought I would tack in a slightly different direction and do a short post once again on "how to" read the Bible.

And what with the rapture coming in just hours, this whole question could be moot by Sunday morning. But okay, assuming you're still here on Sunday and you want to start fighting the good fight, er whatever...

My first recommendation is to not begin with Genesis. Unless you're Cervantes, then it's perfectly okay. But if we are, in fact, talking about the Christian Bible, or one of the versions of it, my suggestion is to begin with Mark.

Why Mark? It was the first Gospel written, completed sometime around the fall of the temple in 70 AD. It is short, coming in at only 16 chapters, and easily completed in one sitting. Reading a book in one sitting can give you the sort of big picture you don't get by looking at random verses. Mark's Gospel is all about action--Jesus is always doing something. Mark uses the Greek word for suddenly, at once, and immediately over and over again. It is used 42 times. It appears only seven times in Matthew and only one time in Luke.

This simple, pictorial style projects the idea that Jesus mission cannot wait. There is no time to pause. And with the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, the end of the priesthood--it must have seemed like the end times to those first Christians.

The overall construction of this Gospel leads to the cross. A key moment is at the Gospel's midpoint when Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Jesus tells them he will be rejected by religious leaders, killed, only to rise again. His response is ultimately, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."(Mark 8:34) There is no mistaking the real mission of Jesus in this Gospel.

Mark is the most intense of the gospels. Jesus is the paradoxical "Son of Man;" Jesus is the most human in Mark (and most divine in John).

And finally the stark ending, 16:1-8, the Empty Tomb. (Vv 9-20 were added on later according to most scholars.)

So those are the reasons I like Mark. Well, plus it's the New Testament, it's the Gospel. As a Christian, I tend to see the entire Bible through the prism of the Gospels. Not to throw away the Old Testament or other books of the New Testament, but to look at them in light of what Jesus taught.

That cuts through a lot.

One last tag line: All of the stories in the Bible are true; some of them actually happened. That's basically my attitude.

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