Is Reading the Bible Together Just a Form of Groupthink?

A jam-packed episode where Tim and Jon discuss the ancient Hebrew practice of reading the Bible aloud, the sociology of both creating environments and being created by environments in Christianity, and the different kind of power between stories and facts.

Episode 5
Jun 9, 2017
Play Episode
Show Notes

This is our second episode in our How To Read the Bible series. At the beginning (0-21:40), Tim and Jon start the episode talking about how the ancient Hebrew practice of reading the Torah aloud spun out into the New Testament. Jesus himself participated in public readings of Hebrew scriptures, and actually announced his public ministry at one. In the second part of the show (21:40-34:36), the guys have a fascinating discussion on the sociology and group identity formation elements of Christianity. They discuss ideas by famed sociologist Peter Berger about how humans both create environments and are created by environments. Jon wonders if Christianity is just a social construct or if there is something real to gather around.

In the final part of the show (34:36-End), Tim shares part of an essay by N.T. Wright called “How is the Bible Authoritative?” Tim and Jon discuss the differences between stories and facts, how stories have a different kind of power than facts, and why it’s more powerful to view the Bible as a story not as a rulebook.

This show is designed to accompany our new video on reading Scripture together in a community. You can check it out on our YouTube page here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BO1Y9XyWKTw

Show Resources:

"The Didache - early Christian manual on discipleship" - Wikipedia Resource.

"Desiring The Kingdom" by James Smith.

"The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge" by Peter Berger.

"The Sacred Canopy: Elements of A Sociological Theory of Religion" by Peter Berger.

"Essay: How Is The Bible Authoritative?" by N.T. Wright

"Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari

Show Music:

Defender Instrumental by Rosasharn Music; The Size of Grace by Beautiful Eulogy; Conquer by Propaganda

Scripture References
Genesis 1
Exodus 1-15
Colossians 4:16
1 Thessalonians 5
Isaiah 61
Luke 4
1 Corinthians 12
1 Timothy 4:13
1 Corinthians 14:26

Podcast Date: June 09, 2017


Speakers in the audio file:

Jon Collins

Tim Mackie

Jon: Hey, this is Jon with The Bible Project podcast. Today, I'm going to continue talking

with Tim on this biblical theme of reading the Bible together out loud. Last episode,

we talked about the history of ancient Israel, how they read the Torah allowed in

their community.

Today we're going to look at how that practice continued on into the New

Testament with Jesus, Jesus who actually announced his public ministry during a

public greeting of Scripture. In this episode, we're going to talk about key practices

in the early church that helped that group form their identity. Practices, including

communion, also known as the last supper, but also this practice of reading the

letters of the New Testament aloud as a group.

Tim: Because you when you're by yourself, you're like, "The Bible's weird." But then when

we're a group together, we're like, "This our story and we're going live by this story

and I find the Christian worldview more believable."

Jon: As a skeptical person, sometimes this whole thing feels a little bit like just group

think or brainwashing. I asked Tim about that too.

Tim: It is a form of identity formation called brainwashing, but the point is, is that the

person poking holes in that is themselves exposing themselves constantly to a

different form of brainwashing of just a different story about the world. Of course,

the question is, which of those stories offers a better account of the human

experience and of reality?

Jon: If you've ever wondered about what early church services looked like, if Christianity

might be some weird group therapy, stay tuned. Here we go.

Tim: Out of Ezra, Nehemiah practice comes a practice that went two ways in Jewish

tradition in Middle Eastern—

Jon: Ezra, Nehemiah's practice?

Tim: Both, they revived this practice. They read of it, and then they asked all the people to

renew their commitment to the covenant. Then, what the story is, and the rest of

Nehemiah go on to show is it didn't really work. People didn't really stay faithful. But

that's another matter.

But historically, this practice went on. So Babylonian, Middle Eastern Jewish

communities from later Jewish texts, the mission, and the Talmud have this practice,

this synagogue practice of gathering on the evening of Sabbath or Shabbat, and

over the course of one year, they'll have read the entire Torah aloud in the

synagogue gatherings. All the way back in Israel Palestine, Jewish communities are

taking three and a half years.

This practice developed in two different ways. There are Shorter readings, and then a

practice developed where they would combine that shorter reading from the Torah

with a selection from the prophets or the Psalms or the wisdom books.

It's the early lectionary. This is what became the lectionary practice in Christianity of

reading from sections of the Bible.

Jon: Which is in a high church?

Tim: That's right. Yeah, for the most part. The practice when diverse directions in Jewish

history after the biblical period, but it's been a practice within Jewish history all along

- the public reading of Scripture. This is what moving forward into the New


Jon: So there's no Jewish tradition where they just every seven years on the Feast of

Booths actually just read through?

Tim: That's a good question.

Jon: There's no Hasidic? It seems like Hasidic Jews would do that.

Tim: Yeah, we keep that going. I'm not as much off the top my head about more modern

Jewish practices like that. There's nothing in the Second Temple period. We go to

Ezra, Nehemiah, and then out into the spread of the Diaspora Jewish communities

around Babylon and Israel, and these other practices developed. This is the setting

the Jesus and the apostles are all a part of.

There's that story in Luke chapter 4. Jesus goes to synagogue on the Sabbath, and

the scroll of Isaiah is opened and handed to him.

Jon: So they must be in that part?

Tim: Yeah. the Torah reading's already been done. Now, this is the reading of the

prophets. Whether he just neglected the order and chose Isaiah 61 or whether it

happened to be Isaiah 61, we're not told.

Jon: He's like, "Oh, we're in Isaiah 61. Perfect."

Tim: "Perfect. Let me tell you guys. This is being fulfilled in your hearing." There are a

couple other mentions of it. Like when Paul and Barnabas go out on the first

missionary journey, they're sent out by the church in Antioch, and they go to a town

in modern-day Turkey called Pisidia Antioch. On the Sabbath, they entered the

synagogue and sat down.

After the reading from the Torah and the prophets, the leaders of the synagogue

said, "Hey, you guys are new to town. Give us a short word of exhortation."

Jon: That was a typical thing in the synagogue?

Tim: Yeah. Well, think back to that Ezra, Nehemiah practice. You have reading the

scriptures and then expositing them or giving them sense.

Jon: And there wasn't like one person who gets to do that, necessarily?

Tim: Yeah, that's right.

Jon: It wasn't just the rabbi who gets to do that?

Tim: Well, there was the priests and Levites in Ezra, Nehemiah, but there are no rules

about who can read.

Jon: The two can expose it?

Tim: Anybody can get up and read. Like Jesus can, or Paul and Barnabas after the reading

are invited. "There are new guys in town, some new brothers, new kinsmen of ours."

So they invite them, "Hey, give us a word of exhortation based on the scriptures that

we just read."

When Paul gets up is he does a whole retelling of the story of the Old Testament

leading up to the Messiah. Then he says, "Then the Messiah is the crucified Jesus."

Jon: And they're kind of like, "Whoa. We didn't expect that."

Tim: This is same practice. It is the origins of the sermon in Jewish Christian tradition.

Jon: In my small church ministry experience, you do not let people get up on stage and

start expositing scripture without. The open mic time is—

Tim: "Open mic." It's not really cool.

Jon: It goes wrong. I mean, even in a small group setting, if you turn to someone and say,

"Cool. Now, what do you think what might happen?" Someone's going to have some

just crazy thing to say. Why is that such a fear?

Tim: That's interesting.

Jon: There are some crazy people, right?

Tim: Oh, yeah.

Jon: There's that. There are people who they just waiting because they have this thing

they're obsessed with and they're just waiting for an opportunity to obsess about it

without love.

Tim: Many people have been in those awkward home groups or Bible studies where

there's the person who just hijacks the room.

Jon: Can you just imagine like Barnabas being one of those guys, and they're in Antioch

and they're like, "You're new brothers." And also they're talking about space aliens

and everything—

[crosstalk 00:07:18]

Tim: Note to self: Do not let Barnabas exposit.

Tim: Maybe they knew some people there. I don't know. Early Christianity develops in the

setting of weekly gatherings where the scriptures are read aloud and there's a short

exposition of them or word of exhortation.

Here's what's interesting. Jesus and the apostles as they went into Jewish settings

did this. As the followers of Jesus started to form their own worship gathering not

around Sabbath but around resurrection morning, which is Sunday morning, they

would gather in homes and eat a meal together and take the bread and the cup


Jon: So instead of going to the temple...When would synagogue be?

Tim: Synagogue would be on Friday nights.

Jon: And there was a specific place?

Tim: Yeah, it would be at the synagogue.

Jon: At the synagogue?

Tim: Yeah, building designated. Christians didn't have any of their own building


Jon: And they're not going to crash the Jewish synagogues on?

Tim: Maybe you might have some Jewish followers—

Jon: It isn't like the Korean church saying, like, "Hey, you guys don't use this building on

Saturday night?"

Tim: There are no stories about that. All the evidence in the New Testament and after is

that met in people's homes because it was all about a meal. Everything's focused

around replaying the Lord's Supper together.

Jon: Every time?

Tim: Mh mm. Then we get a window in Paul's letter to the Corinthians that during the

meal, and afterward, somebody would bring a word, a prophecy, somebody would

bring a teaching, and multiple people would contribute to the sharing time over or

after the meal. That's the early Christian gatherings.

Jon: So there wasn't just reading the scripture?

Tim: It certainly played a part but there's more happening at least in the house churches

that Paul started. But it's interesting because at the end of two of his letters he talks

about the reading aloud of something and what it is, is his letters.

At the end of his letters to the Thessalonians, 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, he says, "I

charge you before the Lord to have this letter read aloud to all the brothers and

sisters." The end of Colossians, he says, "After this letter has been read to you, see

that's also read in the church down the road of Laodicea. And in turn, get the letter I

wrote to them and read that."

Jon: Which we don't have.

Tim: We don't have it, unless, it's the letter to the Ephesians. It's also the letter to the

Ephesians. Just interesting rabbit hole that we don't have time for there. We know

that Paul intended his letters to be read aloud the same way that they would be

reading aloud other sacred texts of the Scriptures.

Jon: So, sorry to be picky, how do we know they were continuing the tradition of reading

the Torah?

Tim: In 1 Timothy, in the directions is the third important passage. When Paul writes to

Timothy who's a pastor, he's stationed in Ephesus. Paul wants to come help Timothy

out with a bunch of pastoral problems, but he says, "Until I come, keep devoting

yourself to the public reading of Scripture and to preaching into teaching."

Between all of this, Paul's having his own letters read aloud, but also in these house

church gatherings, we're having just Scripture read aloud. Which at the time he's

writing, Timothy doesn't refer to the New Testament because those writings are just

coming into existence. He's referring to the Old Testament Scriptures.

Jon: So based off of that verse, we know there was the public reading, the Christians were

continuing reading out loud these Jewish Scripture?

Tim: Yeah. They both picked up but also developed this Jewish practice of reading the

Old Testament Scriptures allowed, probably in Greek for many of these people. And

that along with the scriptures, Paul's letters are being read aloud, which the issue of

that he viewed his letters as having the same kind of Covenant authority, almost

certainly somebody would be reciting from oral memory, large sections of the

Sermon on the Mount or something like that, teachings of Jesus.

Then also, as the Spirit led people, what he talks about in 1 Corinthians 12 through

14 of the Spirit prompting people to share something they feel like God wants to say

to their church community. It's a very active gathering over a meal.

Jon: Would they actually be at a meal the whole time?

Tim: Good point. I mean, all you do is think of gatherings that we host in our home.

Jon: Yeah. After a while, you go back to the living room or something.

Tim: We have a meal together, and we're talking and then we put the dishes away and go

living room and we just keep talking. We pray for each other and we don't sing. We

don't sing songs.

Jon: These Christians who are really interested in how the early church actually performed

worship service or a gathering because of the belief that the way that it was done in

the early church is the way it should always be done. And so if we could figure out

what they were doing, that's the way we should be doing in church.

We don't have to get into whether or not that's a valid assumption, but how much

can we actually know exactly what was being done? Because it seems like we're just

getting these little piecemeal things. And who knows? It would have been done one

way in a Jewish environment yet and then it probably would have been

done...because they have all the synagogue background, so would have been highly

adapted from the way that they were used to do in synagogue. They changed the

day, but they're still going to have all of that tradition to fall back on.

But then you go to a city that's not Jewish and they don't have that—

Tim: And the majority of the followers of Jesus are Greeks and Romans.

Jon: And they don't have all the synagogue background. And maybe some of it was

imported in a little bit from the missionaries that came and told them about Jesus.

They have that background.

Tim: Like the public reading of the Scriptures, that's a Jewish practice that gets adopted

into these non-Jewish traditions.

Jon: But they'll probably bring their own flavor of the way that they're used to gather into

it too.

Tim: That's right.

Jon: The kind of assumption I would have is that it probably looks very different in every

single gathering.

Tim: Depending on the city and on the house, church community. I think that's right.

There's no manual of worship gathering in the writings of the apostles.

One of the earliest post-New Testament documents that claims to represent the way

worship and teaching was done in the New Testament era is called the didaskalía

which is just the Greek word for teaching or instruction. It's a little manual of like

discipleship from the early church. It’s really interesting.

Mostly, some of it's like how to perform baptisms and the kind of catechism or

instruction new converts are to be given. You pray the Lord's Prayer every morning

and every night, you fast once a week.

Jon: For how long?

Tim: One whole day. One day a week you don't eat to dedicate yourself to prayer. It's a

little window into early Eastern Christianity. But even that doesn't give you like the—

Jon: That's what? A couple generations in?

Tim: Yeah, totally. We're decades out from the era of the apostles. This gets us more into

controversial territory because both the Catholic tradition. The Eastern Orthodox

tradition makes a claim that the Liturgy of the mass have ancient roots that go all

the way back to a period of the apostles. People have debates about these kinds of


But essentially we don't have anything like the apostle describing what the worship

gathering ought to look like. The only thing we know for certain is that it was a meal

which at some point reenacted to take Last Supper, the Passover meal with Jesus.

Jon: And it was always a meal. Is that right?

Tim: Well, we don't have any indication that these references to meals were anything

other than the actual meals.

Jon: It's just so weird for me. For some reason, that's so shocking, and I think it's because

that's so rare in the tradition I grew up in to actually have a meal. Like that one

happens once a year. It's like the church potluck. And it's a bunch of work.

So like, 1% of the gatherings involve a meal. Every gathering involved a meal, that

just seems crazy. But I guess you got to eat when you're in your house.

Tim: It was a house based movement. The central symbol of the gathering was reenacting

the bread and the cup.

Jon: Which has the same kind of influence that reading scripture aloud lowed should

have, which is, let's remember.

Tim: And we discover also the reading aloud of the scriptures of the writings of the

prophets and then the apostles taking the bread in the cup together, which is food

so is in the context of a meal, and then the reading aloud of the apostles and


Jon: They never just like said, "Hey, we've already eaten or some of us will eat when we

leave, so let's just take little bits of bread, little sips of wine?"

Tim: This is a huge problem in the churches in Corinth that Paul lays into them for

because there's no status in the Roman world. If you're wealthy, you could come

early to the meal, and they would eat all the food and drunk all the wine before or

later people who had to work. And then they get to work later, Paul calls them those

who have not come. And everybody else is already little tipsy because they drank

too much wine. And Paul's just like, "You call this the worship gathering?" He thinks

it's a shame. Anyway, he's laying into them, but it gives us at least some clues that

people are getting there at different times.

Jon: So interesting.

Tim: Then, later on, 1 Corinthians 14, he says, "What do we say, brothers? When you guys

come together, different ones of you, one has a hymn to share, one has a word of

instruction, teaching, one has a prophecy, a tongue or interpretation. That's a whole

other thing. Paul says, "Everybody contribute so the community can be built up."

Then he gives instructions about how tongues and prophecy works because the

Corinthians were getting out of control.

Jon: Would it have been possible during these early gatherings then since there are so

many elements now that there would be times where scripture wasn't read?

Tim: Oh, interesting.

Jon: Before it was like that's all - you got together, you read the scripture, you did a little

bit expositing, and then that was it. Now it seems to have more. To such a degree it's

like you got a meal, someone brings a hymn, someone have a prophecy, there might

be all these different things. And then it's like, "Guys, we ran out of time, and we

haven't cracked the scroll."

Tim: We don't have the manual. All we have are these little tidbits in the New Testament

itself and then the later from later [inaudible 00:19:05].

Jon: It just feels like it went from the thing to now one of many things.

Tim: I understand. That's interesting.

Jon: Is that the case?

Tim: Yeah. It seems to be that the bread and the cup becomes the center symbol, but we

all know that the reading of Scripture and the reading of the Torah, prophets, and

apostles was also a part of what Paul had happened in his house Scripture.

Jon: And he told Timothy not to neglect it?

Tim: Told Timothy, "Make sure you keep reading scriptures aloud to people." It starts to

sound more and more like a church gathering except maybe a more modern setting.

The bread and the cup have become disconnected from an actual meal from most

communities. I still don't understand the Protestant tradition of having the bread

and the cup just once a month. It's utterly bizarre to me.

Jon: But when it's not a meal, it's kind of a weird thing to do every week.

Tim: Kind of. But as such at crucially...talk about identity formation. Because the bread

and the cup are you're eating story. Instead of reading aloud, you're consuming the

story. You're engaging in it in a really powerful way that reminds you of who you are,

and who Jesus is, and the kind of life that I'm called to. And that gets you to look


Like in Josiah, we look back, and we lament ways that we haven't been faithful. And

then, like Joshua, you look forward to the new horizon that lay ahead and what kind

of person the story makes you into. That's really what this is about.

The public reading of Scripture, whether it's connected to a worship gathering, or

whether it's a more of a one off thing like in Joshua's day, the whole point is identity

formation. It's the creation of reality for people. And that's really the goal.


Tim: You're really interested in this - the history of worship gathering.

Jon: Yeah, I'm sorry.

Tim: No, it's okay. I know. Now that I think about it, it's like, "Of course, you would be

interested in this." It's context for you. It's like, how did we get—

Jon: I would be afraid to make such a stand of how important...All of a sudden, I just

started getting this sense of, "Oh, yeah, the Lord's Supper actually is probably more

important than reading scripture aloud in the early tradition."

Tim: I see.

Jon: And that was the thing that you would always do. Actually reading scripture was

really important, but that you could maybe miss. But you wouldn't not eat the meal.


Tim: I see.

Jon: I'm also very interested in identity formation. I've thought a lot about and read

about how our identity is shaped by our myths. In particular, trying to think through

that in a modern context of what are the myths that we are told and reenact—

Tim: By myth, you mean in the technical sense of a foundation story?

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: Whether or not it's rooted in historical events or not, isn't the point. It's story begins

to shape your sense of who you are and your role in the world.

Jon: For Americans, there are certain stories that really form an American identity. A lot of

them are these Western stories. You get these Clint Eastwood kinds of characters.

And that becomes a sort of mythology of like the self-made, like, take care of

yourself kind of guy. There's the American Dream kind of entrepreneurial myth. I

don't mean myth in that it's not true. It's just like story that defines who you are.

Tim: This is how sociologist uses the word myth. Regardless of whether it's anchored in

historical events, or not, a mythical myth or historical myth function in the same way.

Jon: Maybe there's a better word that doesn't need this kind of—

Tim: Yeah, it's a good word. When you're saying that for America, I think even both of

those are rooted in an older one, which is like the liberation freedom narrative.

Freedom from the British rule.

Jon: Yeah, we celebrate that.

Tim: So it' we've carved out who we are in this new place. We won't tolerate this

oppression of these institutions from our past, the self-made reality that assumes

freedom and liberty of the individual and that kind of thing. These are core

narratives in American culture.

Jon: When we think of myths, we think of what Greek people told each other back in -

2000Bc? I don't know, about Zeus and different things. And yeah, those were myths

that shaped their identity. But then there are myths that shape our identity.

Then there's also practices that we have, these kind of almost liturgical practices of

like...I guess this doesn't happen as much anymore, but growing up for me was like

going to the mall. It's like a liturgy almost. It becomes the temple and it's where you

gather, and it's all around.

Tim: And the story is?

Jon: And the story is about consumption and about identity of what you're wearing and

who you are around. So that becomes part of the mythos.

Tim: One of the most important sociologists of the 20th century was a guy named Peter

Berger. His most significant book was called "The Social Construction of Reality."

Then his follow up volume was called "The Sacred Canopy."

In both of these books, he reshaped the whole study of anthropology and human

culture, and so on. His basic point was the story of human civilization...First of all, it's

the claim that he made that no human experiences reality in some kind of pure form,

but that every human is already born into a particular interpretation of the world

through thousand forms of media and socialization and family and so on.

It's like this metaphor that I found helpful of the fish swimming in water. So the

tropical fish who by nature has been shaped as a being to inhabit warm, shallow

waters among a reef, and then a shark because it inhabits the deep, cold, cold, dark

waters, they have no framework.

If you were to ask them, "Oh, how do you like these warm, shallow waters? What's

your opinion about the deep waters out there?" Of course, the tropical fish is like,

"What water? What do you mean? What is water? What do you mean shallow?”

That's just reality.

His point was, that's exactly how human cultures are. But paradoxically, humans

create those environments. So we are both the creators of those environments and

we are also created by them.

Jon: And we have the intelligence to then step back and talk about them in a meta kind

of way.

Tim: It's really interesting. "The Sacred Canopy" was about how religious communities do

this for people. Anyway, as this interesting process that he talks about how it's this

constant replaying cycle of humans...he calls the externalization where we create

something to help shape our environment. Like create the mall, that's a human

creation right within recent history.

But then because objectification that this institution, he calls it, hardens, and then

people just begin to take it for granted. Then within a few generations, the mall isn't

something humans created. It's now something that's creating human.

Jon: Interesting.

Tim: This is as fascinating. So every human's inhabiting the world by already being

created with some vision of who we are, the story we're in. And so, how does this

relate to the public reading of Scripture? The public reading of scripture in the story

of the Bible is completely wrapped up with this sense of forming identity.

Jon: It's supposed to be that thing that forms you. It's like when the mall has been

around so long, and you become a part of it, it's now forming your identity just by

participating in the exercise of going to it. That's reading the Scriptures.

Tim: It acts on you. And that's exactly the role that the scriptures have played throughout

their history. That's why they came into existence was to retell the story of what God

has done to save and redeem the people, and then to invite those people into a

covenant relationship into a new way of life.

The question is, how do you sustain that way of life when it's not the norm? That's

precisely what the role of this scriptures are, and it's why the public reading aloud of

the Scriptures has played such an important role throughout Jewish and Christian


There's something that happens there that's intangible. When you have one verse

up on a screen and a sermon is given, that could be a very powerful way of reflecting

on a biblical truth in a depth that you've never experienced it. But there's also

something about hearing the whole story of the Exodus from chapter 1 chapter 15

read aloud to you. It raises all these crazy questions. But you walk away challenged

with a view of the world. And it gets you thinking like, "Oh, yeah, who's is really in

control around here? God or Pharaoh?"

I think I told you this story of Roman. He watched The Bible Project video on Part

one. He and I gotten some conflict, I was asking him to do something, like come to

dinner and put his Legos away and he didn't want to. He's five he got really ticked


It escalated to the point of essentially, like, "Don't tell me what to do." And I was like,

"Buddy, there are sometimes where I just need you to do what I'm asking you to do."

Then he brought Jesus into it. He got angry with me. As way of dissing me, he said,

"I want you to be out of my family."

Jon: Paxton says it too.

Tim: Then he said, "I'm going to tell Jesus what to do. I'm going to kill Jesus. I want to be

like Herod."

Jon: Wow. He's taking control.

Tim: He's being honest. He's being honest but he's using the biblical story to express

what he feels. And he can tell this is a moment where I don't want to follow Jesus. I

want to tell him what to do. In fact, I want to eliminate any opposition to my will.

And Herod is what came to his mind.

Jon: It becomes the language that we use to describe our experience.

Tim: Totally.

Jon: And that's another beautiful thing, then, is that as a community, you have a common

set of ideas and images, and pictures to express yourself and to interpret things. It

bonds you too as well.

Tim: I mean, I wasn't pleased with how he was treating me in that moment so we had to

work through the consequences of his words and behavior.

Jon: But imagine what he does that someday because of some profound truth or a

moment of expressing his gratitude for something and he's using the biblical

imagination to express it?

Tim: Correct. I didn't teach him. We just read the story of Luke at dinner during the

Christmas season and he watched the Luke video. Now that's the framework for

helping him understand his experience.

Jon: That insight by - what's his name? Burger?

Tim: Peter Burger.

Jon: ...that we both create these structures and then the structures create us is such a

great insight when it comes to how we're going to live our lives. I feel like the people

I read as outside of Christianity, who are talking about business and different things,

startup culture, entrepreneurial culture, a lot of it is just about habits and psyche and

things to just make yourself a better person - more productive, happier, and all

these different things. A lot of self-help kind of stuff.

Just that insight of when you create structure in your life, that structure is then going

to recreate you on anything and then specifically thinking of it as why I want to

follow Jesus, then putting structure in your life where you listen to the Bible being

read is going to create who you are.

Tim: It's one piece of a larger set of habits that historically played a really important role

in shaping God's people.

Jon: The Lord's Supper being another one.

Tim: Then here we go out into the whole Christian spiritual tradition. It's really amazing in

orthodox, Catholic and Protestant expressions of spiritual practices of what a

hospitality and generosity of silence and solitude of having building these rhythms

in your life that sustain a healthy follower of Jesus for over the long haul. Historically,

hearing the scriptures read aloud has this intangible effect on the human


Jon: It's basically the saying, "You are what you eat," right?

Tim: Yeah. Or you are what you listen.

Jon: Yeah, you become what you listen to.

Tim: That's a fairly simple and profound way of putting it.


Tim: A number of years ago, there's one of the few rock star theologians living today who

now an outside of nerdy theology circles, a guy named NT Wright wrote this really

interesting essay called "How is the Bible Authoritative." He begins by saying, "The

Bible is fundamentally a long narrative, not a law book. And what does it mean for a

long narrative have to be a divine authority in your life."

In the conclusion of the essay, he has this great statement. He says, "This I think is

one of the reasons why God has given us so much story, so much narrative in

Scripture because story authority is the authority that really works because stories

determine how we see ourselves, others, and the world, and how we experience


If you throw a rulebook at someone's head or offer them a list of doctrines, they can

duck or avoid it or simply disagree in one go away. But you tell them a story, you

invite them into a community of people living by that story, and you're inviting them

into a different world, you invite them to share a whole new worldview.

When someone enters into the Gospel story and finds how compelling it is, it begins

to quietly shatter that worldview that they were in beforehand. Then there's no

telling what can happen when God Himself breathes new lives and new worlds into

being through His Word." It's kind of combining this Peter Berger observation with

this ancient practice of scripture reading and the story of the gospel.

There's actually a really formative essays for me many, many years ago, where I

resonated deeply with that because that was my experience. Even if going to this

outreach ministry, the skateboarders and just hearing the stories of Jesus talked

about or read aloud, the teachings, they quietly worked on me for year.

Jon: Yeah, they are quietly working on you.

Tim: Just like the story of Luke has been quietly working on my son's imagination.

Jon: I think that perspective is what was lost for me. What I think I picked up on being

lost in my tradition was the way we did sermons and lessons and everything, it's

always about a very quick razor sharp, "Here's what's you got to believe, and do it,

make the decision make the change."

It's very decisive, very quick instead of the slow burn of it forming your imagination

slowly and appreciating that. It still would happen that way but there was no space

to just let that be and to appreciate that. It was always about what's the next very

decisive doctrine or application.

I wrote an essay about how story is powerful and the metaphor that came to mind

was the difference between a knife and a sun. A knife is sharp and decisive and you

can really clearly articulate something or systematize something quickly.

But the power of a sun it's very different. Slowly it takes millions of years to form, but

once it gets heated up, it gets so hot and radiate and it just starts to affect

everything. Then it has its own gravity that everything gets attracted to it. It's a

different kind of power. It's not fast and it's not so decisive, but it's much more

powerful in a way.

Tim: It's more permeating.

Jon: The energy is permeating. It also has a gravitational force that pulls things to itself.

The same way a good story, it creates a world where everything gets pulled into that

way of looking at things.

Tim: It gives you this framework that you cannot fit all your experiences into this


Jon: I could quickly give you a bunch of doctrines or rules and it's quick, it's decisive, it

might make a change right now. But if it hasn't really like formed your imagination

and your value and your identity—

Tim: Theologian James Smith, "Desiring the Kingdom," then he wrote another book called

"You Are What You Love" more recently, his whole point is that Christian discipleship

is about taking an active role in shaping what you love.

He focuses not just on the imagination, but on your affections - what you desire,

what you want, what you want out of life, what gets you most excited, what you'll

make sacrifices for those. You do this for things that you love. And he thinks a

Christian discipleship is about creating environments and communities that through

habits begin reshaping what we love.

Jon: There are Christian traditions that do that well, I'm sure.

Tim: Yeah, totally. Transcends, the Sunday gathering. The Sunday gathering can play a

role, but it's just one role in a much larger way of life. The scriptures have a huge

role to play in that too.

Jon: It's freeing for me to value that because the measurement of success is a lot more

obscured. Like, when the sun is being successful? It's like, you know when a knife has

been working well and it's made a good cut or something. But a sun is just you get

all these trillions and trillions of these particles coming together and then as it gets

so packed in, it ignites, and it turns into a new...But just this slow formation of your

affections, your imagination. It's harder to measure.

Tim: To bring back to something earlier, in this case, it changes the role of the Scriptures

from being this thing that we act upon to something that acts upon us. You have to

read it but then metaphorically speaking, it also is reading you right and you find

yourself addressed by this word, this ancient word. And it's why - this is true to my

own experience - when the scriptures are read aloud, when I'm with a gathering of

followers of Jesus, I'm more compelled on a personal level than when I'm sitting by

myself reading. That's just my experience.

When I'm by myself, I'm compelled in a different way. It's usually very different. But

there's something about standing or sitting next to a bunch of other people in my

community, and I'm like, "We're trying to follow Jesus together." It actually makes it

more believable to me. Because when you're by yourself - at least this is kind of our

inner skeptics speaking - but you’re like, "Okay, that's really challenging. Well, God

did that and that story or what?" It's kind of weird, like the Bible's weird. But then

when we're a group together we're like, "Yeah, this is our story and we're going to

live by the story.

The church is creation of an environment that then begins to create us. I find the

Christian worldview more believable when I'm with other Christians. And the

scriptures play a role in that and that's important, I think, to recognize.

Jon: I'm imagining someone really skeptical listening to this conversation and going,

"Well, it sounds like what you're talking about is just brainwashing?" I guess you

have to start with, "Are you going to follow Jesus and you believe that the Bible has

some sort of divine authority in your life?" You kind of have to get there first before

you can say that is important to let it work on you.

Tim: But even underneath that it is a form of identity formation called brainwashing. But

the point is, is that the person poking holes in that is themselves exposing

themselves constantly to a different form of brainwashing of just a different story

about the world. Of course, the question is, which of those stories offers a better

account of the human experience and of reality? You can use uncharitable terms like

brainwashing, but it's the social construction of reality which is just—

Jon: And it happens with everything.

Tim: It happens with everything. The modern Western story is also a construction of


Jon: I really loved about that book "Sapiens." I think I brought up before, is guy who

wrote that...his name's escaping me. He talks about how many of our normal cultural

practices are constructs of nothing but money. Money doesn't actually exist. Like

what is money?

Tim: Sure, sure. It's a construct.

Jon: It's a total construct. We just all believe in it, but it's make-believe.

Tim: Perceived value.

Jon: It's absolute make-believe.

Tim: Abstract perceived believe.

Jon: And we're totally fine with it. So we've been brainwashed. It's a belief that it's

valuable. Same thing with democracy or different things. It's like—

Tim: Or a social position like social capital where I have achieved these credentials, or I

had this position and now there's a value and a weight and an authority that I can

use to my benefit or whatever.

Jon: These are all based off of essentially the myths that we believe in—

Tim: About what's valuable.

Jon: About what matters.

Tim: I just had breakfast with somebody who grew up in South Africa this morning and he

was talking about veterans, how in South Africa everybody's serves. It's just a part of

everybody's story there. Like many countries, you get out of high school and you

serve in the military. But he was talking about when he moved to America that was

one of the things we noticed was—

Jon: Some people did, some people didn't.

Tim: Yeah. But how veterans who volunteered it becomes this social honor. Anyway, that's

a different narrative, a different mythology about military that creates value.

Jon: So the question becomes, what is actually reality? That's the tricky—

Tim: And you can describe it in terms of Math and chemistry, but even that, itself, is just

one aspect of reality. So humans by nature - this is Genesis one. Rule the earth,

subdue it, create, shape the creation, take the raw potential within it, and then make

new creation out of it that you will then inhabit.

Jon: Think about what money as a construct has done to then shape us as people. If you

go back to the Burger insight, we've created this thing that didn't exist and now it

works on us, and it shapes us. All to say reading scripture aloud as identity

formation, the work you have to do is show up and then let it work on you.

Tim: That's right. You can put a lot of energy into a church worship gathering and

architecting that to bring people to an encounter with Jesus through the scriptures

and the bread and the cup, but there's another way that you can do in addition

that's much simpler. And that's what we're interested in.

Jon: Thanks for listening to The Bible Project podcast. If you've been enjoying these

podcast episodes, one way you can help us a lot is by giving us a review on iTunes.

Another way you could help is go to our website, thebibleproject.com, and just

check out all the other stuff we've got going on. We've got free videos and

resources, and we have a growing number of supporters who make this whole

project possible. So thank you.

If you're encouraged to maybe try to bring some people together to do some

reading of scripture in a group, we'd love to know how it goes. Remember, you

don't have to do a sermon, it doesn't even have to be sharing time, just get some

people together and read through a book of the Bible - it could be a short one, to

begin with - and let the slow burn of those words work on your hearts and minds.

We love to hear stories. If you do it, you can email us at

support@jointhebibleproject.com. And we're on Twitter @JoinBibleProj and we're on

Facebook, facebook.com/thebibleproject. Thanks for being a part of this with us.

40 Episodes

Episode 40
The Obvious and Extravagant Claim of the Gospel
All four gospels are pointing toward the same simple yet profound claim. As we read the Gospels, how should we understand discrepancies and variations to see the point of it all?
52m • Sep 30, 2019
Episode 39
Why Are There Four Accounts of the Gospel?
Each of the four gospels begin differently—and for a reason. Learn more about the unique opening chapters of each gospel and discover new ways to read these accounts and understand their claims.
1hr 8m • Sep 23, 2019
Episode 38
The Gospel Is More Than You Think
Where does the word "gospel" come from, and are we using it right? Learn the history of this word and dive into how the biblical authors talked about the Gospel.
55m • Sep 16, 2019
Episode 37
What Does the Word "Gospel" Mean?
Explore the history of the word, "gospel," how modern Western Christians often use the word different than the biblical authors. What is the gospel? The answer is far more exciting and complex than we've been led to believe.
1hr 11m • Sep 9, 2019
Episode 36
Wisdom Q+R
Enjoy our Q+R episode on the wisdom literature in the Bible.
1hr 12m • Jul 29, 2019
Episode 35
Solomon the Cynic and the Job You Never Knew
Welcome to our final episode discussing wisdom literature in the Bible. In this episode, Tim and Jon cover two books, Ecclesiastes and Job.
1hr 5m • Jul 15, 2019
Episode 34
Song of Songs: Semi-Erotic Love Poetry
Welcome to episode 5 in our series on How to Read Biblical Wisdom Literature! In this episode, Tim and Jon discuss Song of Songs.
1hr 4m • Jul 8, 2019
Episode 33
Proverbs: Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly
Welcome to episode four in our series on how to read the wisdom literature of the Bible. Today, Tim and Jon dive into the book of Proverbs.
45m • Jul 1, 2019
Episode 32
Solomon: The Wisest of the Fools
Welcome to our third episode discussing the theme of Wisdom in the Bible.
1hr • Jun 24, 2019
Episode 31
The Quest for Wisdom
Welcome to our new series on how to read the wisdom books in biblical literature!
46m • Jun 10, 2019
Episode 30
Law Q+R
Listen to our audience's questions about how to read biblical law.
56m • Jun 3, 2019
Episode 29
Jesus Fulfills the Law
Welcome to another episode exploring how to read biblical law. This is the final part of this discussion before our Q+R episode for this series.
48m • May 27, 2019
Episode 28
God's Wisdom in the Law
Welcome to our fourth episode on how to read biblical law!
51m • May 20, 2019
Episode 27
The Law as a Revolution
Welcome to our third episode on how to read biblical law!
1hr 2m • May 13, 2019
Episode 26
The Law as a Covenantal Partnership
Welcome to our second episode on how to read biblical law!
1hr 13m • May 6, 2019
Episode 25
The Purpose of the Law
Listen in as we begin our disccusion on the laws in the Bible.
1hr 13m • Apr 29, 2019
Episode 24
Prophets as Provokers
Welcome to episode two in our series on How to Read the Prophets.
56m • Apr 22, 2019
Episode 23
What Prophecy Is for
Welcome to episode one in our miniseries on how to read the Prophets.
58m • Apr 15, 2019
Episode 22
Poetry Q+R
Here is our question and response episode where we answer our listeners' questions about poetry and metaphor in the Bible.
48m • Jul 2, 2018
Episode 21
Chaotic Waters
In the last episode of our Metaphor series, Jon and Tim discuss how water is often displayed as rambunctious and dangerous in the Bible.
1hr 11m • Jun 25, 2018
Episode 20
The Mountain Garden and the Human Ideal
This is our second episode in our series on metaphors in the Bible.
46m • Jun 18, 2018
Episode 19
Metaphor and Our Imagination
This is our first episode in our three-part series on the use of metaphor in the Bible.
59m • Jun 12, 2018
Episode 18
God Speaks in Poetry
This is the 2nd episode in our Art of Biblical Poetry podcast where we explore how God speaks in poetic language.
44m • Jun 4, 2018
Episode 17
The Thunder of God
This is episode 1 in our series on Biblical Poetry!
1hr 18m • May 28, 2018
Episode 16
Chaotic Waters and Baptism
Tim and Jon continue to recap key stories in Genesis and the Old Testament. The key themes in these stories are the chaotic waters and salvation through them.
1hr 2m • Apr 23, 2018
Episode 15
Crossing the Chaotic Waters
Tim and Jon discuss literary design patterns in the Bible.
51m • Apr 16, 2018
Episode 14
Live from Milpitas! Part 2
This is part 2 in our live conversation from Milpitas California! Tim and Jon continue their discussion on design patterns in the Bible.
1hr 18m • Apr 9, 2018
Episode 13
Live from Milpitas! Part 1
Tim and Jon discuss literature design patterns in the Bible to a live audience and answer questions from the audience.
1hr 16m • Apr 2, 2018
Episode 12
Setting in Biblical Narrative
Tim and Jon discuss the importance of understanding “Setting” in Bible stories.
35m • Mar 25, 2018
Episode 11
Character in Biblical Narrative
In this episode Tim and Jon discuss character design in the Bible.
49m • Jan 15, 2018
Episode 10
Plot in Biblical Narrative
Tim and Jon discuss how understanding the unique ways plot and narrative are used by the Hebrew authors to write Bible stories can impact how we read the Bible.
51m • Oct 2, 2017
Episode 9
The Bible as Jewish Meditation Literature: Jewish Scripture Meditation vs. Modern Meditation
In this episode, Tim and Jon continue their conversation about Cain and Abel and why it is a good example of Jewish meditation literature.
40m • Aug 11, 2017
Episode 8
Why Isn't There More Detail in Bible Stories?
Maybe, like us, you've asked yourself this questions or found yourself confused while reading the Bible. We don't know why a character did what they did, or what they looked like, or even what the moral of the story is. How do we make sense of this?
44m • Aug 4, 2017
Episode 7
Poetry, Narrative, and Prose Discourse
Jon and Tim discuss the different literary styles used in the Bible.
45m • Jun 23, 2017
Episode 6
Literary Genres and the Stories We Tell Ourselves
Tim and Jon discuss the three literary styles used in the Bible: narrative, poetry, and prose discourse.
1hr 1m • Jun 19, 2017
Episode 5
Is Reading the Bible Together Just a Form of Groupthink?
A jam-packed episode where Tim and Jon discuss the ancient Hebrew practice of reading the Bible aloud, the sociology of both creating environments and being created by environments in Christianity, and the different kind of power between stories and facts.
48m • Jun 9, 2017
Episode 4
Ancient vs. Modern Ways of Reading Scripture
Tim and Jon discuss the differences in ancient and modern ways of reading scripture, including why the Hebrew people would read scripture together as a group. The guys also talk about how challenging it can be to read the Bible by yourself.
59m • Jun 2, 2017
Episode 3
What Is the Story of the Bible?
In this episode Tim and Jon discuss the big narrative arcs of the Bible. What is the Bible really talking about?
59m • May 26, 2017
Episode 2
What's in Your Bible?
In this episode, Tim and Jon give an overview of the entire Bible with a focus on the Hebrew Scriptures.
1hr 10m • Feb 14, 2017
Episode 1
The Bible as Divine Literary Art
Why are the books of the Bible ordered the way they are? Is there a value in reading the Bible in any other order?
1hr 3m • Feb 8, 2017
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