Orthodox Church of the Mother of God

Joy of all the Sorrowful - Mays Landing, NJ (f. 1966)

How to Read the Bible

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Christ, the Heart of the Bible

The third requirement in our reading of Scripture is that it should be Christ-centered. If we agree with the 1976 Moscow Conference that the 'Scriptures constitute a coherent whole,' where are we to locate their wholeness and coherence? In the person of Christ. He is the unifying thread, that runs through the entirety of the Bible from the first sentence to the last. Jesus meets us on every page. It all ties up because of Him. 'In Him all things hold together' (Col. 1:17NRSV).

Much study of Scripture by modern western scholars has adopted an analytical approach, breaking up each book into what are seen as its original sources. The connecting links are unraveled, and the Bible is reduced to a series of isolated units. Recently, there has been a reaction against this, with biblical critics in the west devoting much greater attention to the way in which these primary units have come to be joined together. This is something that we Orthodox may certainly welcome. We must see the unity of Scripture as well as the diversity, the all-embracing end as well as the scattered beginnings. Orthodoxy prefers for the most part a 'synthetic' rather than an analytical style of hermeneutics, seeing the Bible as an integrated whole, with Christ everywhere as the bond of union.

Such, as we have just seen, is precisely the effect of reading Scripture within the context of the Church's worship. As the lessons for the Annunciation and Holy Saturday make clear, everywhere in the Old Testament we find signposts and waymarks pointing to the mystery of Christ and His Mother Mary. Interpreting the Old Testament in the light of the New, and the New in the light of the Old - as the Church lectionary encourages us to do - we discover how the whole of Scripture finds its point of convergence in the Savior.

Orthodoxy makes extensive use of this 'typological' method of interpretation, whereby 'types' of Christ, signs and symbols of His work, are to be detected throughout the Old Testament. Melchizedek, for example, the priest-king of Salem, who offered bread and wine to Abraham (Gen. 14:18), is regarded as a 'type' of Christ not only by the Fathers but equally in the New Testament itself (Heb. 5:6; 7:1-19). The rock that flowed with water in the wilderness of Sinai (Ex. 17:6; Num. 30:7-11) is likewise a symbol of Christ (1 Cor. 10:4). Typology explains the choice of lessons, not only on Holy Saturday, but throughout the 'second half of Lent. Why are the Genesis readings in, the sixth week dominated by the figure of Joseph? Why read from the Book of Job in Holy Week? Because Joseph and Job, who both suffered innocently, foreshadow the redemptive suffering of Christ on the Cross.

We can discover many other correspondences between the Old and New Testament by using a biblical concordance. Often the best commentary of all is simply a concordance, or an edition of the Bible with well-chosen marginal cross-references. Only connect. It all ties up. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, 'A Christian is the one who, wherever he looks, finds everywhere Christ, and rejoices in Him.' This is true in particular of the biblical Christian. Wherever he looks, on every page, he finds everywhere Christ.

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