What’s the ideal way to study the Bible? Is it 20 minutes of reading every morning or larger blocks of time throughout the week? In this episode, join Tim, Jon, and Carissa as they discuss what it means for the Bible to be ancient Jewish meditation literature. The biblical authors intended for it to be understood over the course of a lifetime of rereading, not in one sitting.
Wherever our current level of understanding is about trying to make sense of the Bible, there’s always more. And that “more” will likely push our boundaries of what we thought was possible with literature. … Biblical literature constantly challenges our assumptions about what it is and keeps getting more awesome. So the fact that it’s meditation literature means it’s deep and complex, but it also means when we read it, we aren’t going to see everything. And that’s okay. … It’s designed not to give up all of its meaning on the first or even the fiftieth reading.
What is the paradigm through which we read and interpret the Bible? In this series, we’ve been talking about what it means for the Bible to be one unified story that leads to Jesus, breaking down that paradigm into its underlying assumptions––principles that we need to understand if we are to read the Bible in the way its original authors intended it to be read. So far, we’ve looked at the following elements.
In part one (0-19:30), Tim, Jon, and Carissa turn their attention to the next axiom of the biblical paradigm: the Bible is meditation literature.
Meditation is a contemporary buzzword often associated with the process of emptying the mind, but that is not what meditation means in the Bible. In the Bible, to meditate is to continuously dwell upon the words of Scripture. The Bible is ancient Jewish literature that is artistically designed to interpret itself and encourage a lifetime of re-reading and reflection.
Tim shares an assumption he remembers from his early years following Jesus, that the Bible was simple (like a rulebook or dictionary), and reading it would show you what to do in life. After that, all you had to do was obey. That kind of expectation can set us up for discouragement because the Bible is not meant to be understood in a quick read or a linear sequence. The Bible is meant to be understood through design patterns.
Because the Bible was designed as a collection, each part was crafted with an eye toward what comes later, precisely to anticipate and foreshadow themes and ideas that are developed later in the story. Conversely, later stories are designed to imitate and recall themes and ideas from earlier in the text. Every part of the collection assumes a thorough knowledge of all the other parts.
Every time we re-encounter a theme or design pattern, a new facet of it is highlighted and brought into greater focus. In effect, as we read and re-read the Bible, its meaning gets clearer and clearer. When we encounter a story or passage that draws on themes or words from an earlier story, we’re meant to interpret the later passage in light of the first.
In part two (19-30-32:00), the team discusses what it means to read one biblical passage in light of another. As an example, Tim reads from Psalm 1.
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
The verbs are not related in a sequential fashion, but they do conjure an image of a person getting more and more settled in the path of wickedness. The man goes from walking to making himself comfortable and taking a seat.
Just like Psalm 1 cannot be understood at a deeper level unless you sit with it for a while, it also takes time and careful re-reading of the biblical text to understand how one story is meant to influence another.
Biblical literature is intentionally dense and not simple to process. It is not designed to be fully understood on the first reading. Rather, it requires years of consistent re-reading so that the meaning of each part only makes sense in light of the whole.
In part three (32:00-46:00), Tim, Jon, and Carissa discuss the next section of Psalm 1.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates (hagah) day and night.
The Hebrew word hagah, translated “meditates” in Psalm 1, conveys the image of a person slowly, thoughtfully murmuring to themself as they mull repeatedly over an idea. The psalmist tells us this is what the blessed person does––continuously recites the Torah aloud.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.
The psalmist is saying that the wisdom and beauty of the Torah is so profound that continuous meditation upon it turns humans into sources of vitality like the tree of life itself.
Because the Bible is meditation literature, it’s deep and complex, to the point that we will never grasp every detail. And that’s okay. If we didn’t get everything on the first read, we haven’t failed. We’re reading the Bible as it’s meant to be read.
In part four (46:00-end), the team continues their own meditation on Psalm 1 by contrasting the imagery of verses 1 and 3. The wicked man sits and “settles in” with scoffers, but the righteous man is planted like a tree.
The middle lines of verse 2 make all the difference between the two kinds of people described in Psalm 1. We delight in what we meditate on, and vice versa, we meditate on what delights us. In the process, we become like the things on which we dwell.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel, and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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