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BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
The Paradigm • Episode 11
The Last Pillar: Communal Literature
63m • November 29, 2021
Are there ways to read the Bible other than a private quiet time? For most of Church history, followers of Jesus read the Bible out loud in groups and passed along its message verbally. In this episode, Tim, Jon, and Carissa talk about what it means for the Bible to be communal literature and how knowing that might just change the way we experience it today.
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QUOTE

In [modern western] traditions of Christian culture … the assumed ideal way to engage the Bible is by yourself in a quiet period, usually in the morning, on the couch, with your cup of tea and your journal—a quiet time. That has not been the case throughout most of Church history. The ability for all individuals to have their own Bible is itself only the product of the last 500 years with the invention of the printing press. For the majority of Church history, people heard their Bibles or saw their Bibles displayed graphically in their churches. It’s good for us to step back and say, “The idea of the quiet time and you and God and your Bible one-on-one is a product of our cultural setting.” That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it means there are other ways that people have engaged the Bible throughout history. And maybe there are strengths to those other ways that our cultural setting is actually missing out on.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Bible is communal literature. The Bible was designed to be read and studied within a community that is learning to live within its story.
  • At the time in history when Moses was recording Yahweh’s words and writing the Torah, the scrolls he wrote would have been viewed primarily as a record. The process of teaching and studying those Scriptures happened orally as a community.
  • Most ancient religions belonged to the elite and privileged of society, especially when it came to studying sacred texts. The public reading of Scripture as an entire people group contributed to the “democratic” nature of biblical religion—it was available and meant for all people.

The Paradigm So Far

In part one (0:00-19:15), Tim, Jon, and Carissa review what we’ve covered so far in our Paradigm series. The paradigm the Bible presents about itself is that the Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus. That paradigm consists of seven underlying assumptions, six of which we’ve already discussed.

The Bible Is Communal Literature

In part two (19:15-13:50), the team introduces the final piece of the paradigm: the Bible is communal literature. The Bible was designed to be read and studied within a community that is learning to live within its story.

In contemporary Western Christian culture, most people engage the Bible by themselves. Typically referred to as “quiet time,” there is richness and beauty to be gained from a time of personal reflection on the Scriptures. However, that method has not been the norm throughout most of Church history. The ability for all individuals to have their own Bible is itself the product of the last 500 years—thanks to the invention of the printing press. For the majority of Church history, people heard the Scriptures read aloud in a group or saw Bibles displayed graphically in their churches.

There’s nothing wrong with a daily, individual quiet time, but we have to consider the strengths of a communal approach to studying the Bible that we may be missing out on.

Communal Memory

In part three (13:50-21:30), Tim, Jon, and Carissa discuss the first times the biblical authors describe the writing process of the Bible, all of which are in communal settings.

Exodus 17:14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”

Here, Moses makes a record of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from the Amalekites in Joshua’s presence so that this event would live on in communal memory. Long before the invention of writing, this practice was undertaken through oral history.

A Shared Story

In part four (21:30-31:30), the team looks at a second example of the communal writing of the Bible.

Exodus 24:3-4 Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!” Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.

After God gives Moses the law on Mount Sinai, Moses shares the law orally with the people and then writes it down in their presence. In Deuteronomy 31:10-13, Moses institutes the practice of reading the Torah aloud as an entire nation every seven years during the feast of Sukkot. The nation of Israel was shaped by a communal experience of a common story—completely different from a privately experienced story.

Because scrolls were hard to come by during the time Moses was recording Yahweh’s words, the scrolls he wrote would have been stored as a record. The process of teaching and studying those Scriptures happened orally as a community.

Democratic Religion

In part five (31:30-47:30), Tim, Jon, and Carissa explore how the public reading of Scripture as an entire people group contributed to the “democratic” nature of Israel’s religion. Most ancient religions belonged to the elite and privileged of society, especially when it came to studying sacred texts.

Biblical religion addressed its teachings and demands to all its adherents, with few distinctions between priests and laity, and called for universal education of the citizenry in law and religion. The entire community (not only the spiritual, intellectual, or clerical elite) is seen as God’s children and consecrated to him. That makes biblical religion available to the people as a whole.

Reading the Bible aloud was foundational for the early messianic Jewish communities (e.g., Luke 4, Acts 13, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, Colossians 4:16, 1 Timothy 4:13-14). To this day, reading the Bible aloud in community is important because it’s how the Bible was written and designed to be experienced. If we only, or even primarily, read our Bibles alone, we miss out on the invitation inherent within the structure of the text to ask questions, discuss, and even debate the parts of the Bible that puzzle us. The Bible was always meant to be interpreted within a Spirit-filled community.

Staying Aware of Our Paradigms

In part six (47:30-55:30), Tim, Jon, and Carissa talk about the community of Bible interpreters that spans not only space, but time.

As important as it is to familiarize ourselves with the Bible’s paradigm, we all still bring our own paradigms with us wherever we go. Our family backgrounds, the geographic location of where we grew up, our economic status, our education––all of this combines to form a way of seeing the Bible (and the world) that is unique to each of us. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The key is awareness of both the Bible’s paradigm and our own. And reading the Bible communally helps us stay aware of the various paradigms of Spirit-filled Christians throughout history so that we might arrive at a robust, well-rounded interpretation of Scripture.

Staying Aware of Our Paradigms

In part seven (55:30-1:02:25), the team recaps our series-long conversation on the biblical paradigm and looks ahead to what’s next.

Referenced Resources

  • Early History of the Alphabet, Joseph Naveh
  • The JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy, Jeffrey H. Tigay
  • Scripture and Its Interpretation: A Global, Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible, Michael J. Gorman
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS
  • “Uncut Gems” by Mezhdunami
  • “Dreams (Instrumental)” by Xander
  • “Like the Sky, or Something Else” by Sleepy Fish
  • “Life” by KV

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel, Zach McKinley, and Frank Garza. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

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Paradigm E1  –  1hr 5m
How Do You Read the Bible?
1hr 5m
Paradigm E2  –  53m
Who Wrote the Bible?
53m
Paradigm E3  –  59m
The Bible had Editors?
59m
Paradigm E4  –  53m
How the New Testament Came To Be
53m
Paradigm E5  –  56m
Who Is the Bible About?
56m
Paradigm E6  –  56m
Literature for a Lifetime
56m
1hr 19m
Paradigm E8  –  1hr 2m
Wisdom for Life’s Complexity
1hr 2m
59m
1hr 11m
Paradigm E11  –  1hr 3m
The Last Pillar: Communal Literature
1hr 3m
Feat. Dan Kimball  –  57m
How (Not) To Read the Bible
57m
Paradigm Q+R #2  –  1hr 9m
Is the Bible Trustworthy?
1hr 9m
Movements and Links  –  58m
Applying the Paradigm
58m
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