What is the purpose of the Bible?
What does the Bible mean to you?
In Jewish thought the three main aspects of religious existence are worship, action and learning. This last aspect is, in a sense, central as study is considered a high form of worship and, if it doesn’t lead to action, what is the point of it?
To understand study as worship one must look at the difference between the Greek and Hebraic approach to it. The Greeks learned in order to understand, leading to modern man’s approach of learning in order to use, to make things, to manufacture. Contrast this with the Hebraic approach of learning in order to revere God. For them, the weekly study of Torah in the context of a service is far, far better than the dry recital of creeds and doctrines.
And central to their study is the Torah, the Word of God and, by extension, the Bible itself. Abram Heschel writes:
“The Bible is an eternal expression of a continuous concern; God’s cry for man; not a letter from one who sent out a message and remained indifferent to the attitude of the recipient. It is not a book to be read but a drama in which to participate; not a book about events but itself an event, the continuation of the event, while our being involved in it is the continuation of the response. The event will endure so long as the response will continue. When we open it as if it were a book, it is silent; as a spiritual power, it is a voice …”
The Bible is more than a book, it is a living entity, God’s mouthpiece. Yet it is also the words and thoughts of its human writers. Of course it’s a mystery how the divine and human elements mesh together but one way to look at it is as God’s voice in human words. When we read the book we are conscious of two levels of interaction; with God in the form of Divine inspiration and with the writers, who have their own style and context and should be studied as with any other document, with an understanding of genre and the relevant history and geography.
So, how do we go about studying it? In Jewish practice communal study takes place in a Beit Midrash (House of study). Studying itself is a noisy affair. It’s not just about reading and learning but by dialogue, with other students and with God Himself, through His words. There’s nothing genteel about this, students often study in pairs, reading the text aloud and forever challenging and disagreeing with each other, egging each other on, perhaps arguing for the sake of it but with the intention of teasing truths out of the text.
Of course these students won’t be just reading and discussing Torah, but also Talmud, the sayings of the rabbis and sages, with an accent on Jewish law. This is where we and they part. Any Beit Midrash expression of Hebraic Church would need to be in the context of Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis would be on questioning and dialogue. While it is certainly possible to study on one’s own, studying with a partner or in a group allows this process to flow, fuelled by constant questioning, even if the proceedings are quite noisy.
Why is study so important? The attitude should be, “When I pray, I speak to God. When I study Torah, I keep quiet and let God speak to me.” It is all part of our worship, our connecting with the One who first met with mankind at Sinai and Who wants us to stay connected.
This is an extract from the book, Hebraic Church, available for £10 at http://www.sppublishing.com/hebraic-church-101-p.asp