How to Read the Bible
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How to Read the Bible
By Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16)
If an earthly king, our emperor, wrote Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-83), wrote you a letter, would you not read it with joy? Certainly, with great rejoicing and careful attention. But what, he asks, is our attitude toward the letter that has been addressed to us by no one less than God Himself? You have been sent a letter, not by any earthly emperor, but by the King of Heaven. And yet you almost despise such a gift, so priceless a treasure. To open and read this letter, Saint Tikhon adds, is to enter into a personal conversation face-to-face with the living God. Whenever you read the Gospel, Christ Himself is speaking to you. And while you read; you are praying and talking to Him.
Such exactly is our Orthodox attitude to the reading of Scripture. I am to see the Bible as Gods personal letter sent specifically to myself. The words are not intended merely for others, far away and long ago, but they are written particularly and directly to me, here and now. Whenever we open our Bible, we are engaging in a creative dialogue with the Savior. In listening, we also respond. Speak, for Your servant hears, we reply to God as we read (1 Sam. 3:10); 'Here am I' (Is. 6:8).
Two centuries after Saint Tikhon, at the Moscow Conference held in 1976 between the Orthodox and the Anglicans, the true attitude toward Scripture was expressed in different but equally valid terms. This joint statement, signed by the delegates of both traditions, forms an excellent summary of the Orthodox view: The Scriptures constitute a coherent whole. They are at once divinely inspired and humanly expressed. They bear authoritative witness to God's revelation of Himself in creation, in the Incarnation of the Word, and in the whole history of salvation, and as such express the word of God in human language. We know, receive, and interpret Scripture through the Church and in the Church. Our approach to the Bible is one of obedience.
Combining Saint Tikhon's words and the Moscow statement, the four key characteristics which mark the Orthodox 'Scriptural mind' may be distinguished. First, our reading of Scripture is obedient. Second, it is ecclesial, in union with the Church. Third, it is Christ-centered. Fourth, it is personal.