Reconnecting with the Church and thereby the Bible Society and the Church working together in partnership is the need of the hour and I do hope and pray that God would bless our endeavours in this regard. Partnership is possible only when there is mutual trust and love and partnership inculcates in the partners a sense of togetherness to engage together in the cause of the Bible. As we deliberate on the larger theme of BSI and the Church in Partnership, I think a relevant topic for our consideration is Reclaiming the Bible as Scripture for our Times.
A. The need to Reclaim the Bible as Scripture for our Times
Is not the Bible Scripture? When is Bible not Scripture? Why should we reclaim the Bible as Scripture for our times? This is because of two trends which are widely visible in our churches today.
a. The first trend is a Spirituality of Withdrawal.:
Our spirituality is an other worldly spirituality. We conclude that we have nothing to do with this world. We contend that our only aim in life is to reach the other world, the Heaven as we call. Bishop Leslie New Begin, the famous missionary Bishop of the Church of South India used to talk about three different models to explain what true spirituality is. The first model is the Pilgrim Progress Model, in which the Pilgrim in the famous religious classic of John Bunyan flees from this world to the other world seeing this world as a threat. The other model is the Jonah Model, in which Jonah, though reluctant is commanded by God to go directly into Nineveh to engage in God’s mission. The third model is the Cross Model, where there is a vertical and horizontal dimension to spirituality, which is visible. Jesus is seen as completely engaged in the world in God’s mission but at the same time is withdrawn from the world in communion with the Father. Our spirituality should not be one of withdrawal but of both total identification and withdrawal in healthy tension.
b. The second trend is a distorted Interpretation of the Bible:
B. Reclaiming the Bible as Scripture for our Times
In our readings of the Bible, we commit often certain mistakes. The first is Bibliolatry. Bibliolatry is worshipping the Bible than worshipping the God of the Bible. Many a time, it is normal that we give importance to the Bible than the God of the Bible. We keep the Bible with us for safety and security and treat the Bible as a holy book without realising what matters more is the God of the Bible and His plan for His creation. The second mistake we make often is Biblicism. Biblicism is literal reading of the Bible without understanding the context of the text and the author. A third mistake we often commit is de-contextualisation. De-contextualisation is taking a text out of context and using it in an entirely different context which has no bearing at all to prove a point. Our reading and interpretation of the Bible should enable us to discover the God of the Bible, who is God who comes in search of us, a God in pain, a God who sides with the poor and the marginalized. It is this discovery which makes our life and work meaningful.
In the light of the above, there is a great need to re-read the Bible and thus to reclaim the Bible as Scripture for our times.
a. Through Bible Translation:
Translation process can be a very subjective exercise. There are definite stringent policy guidelines that are being followed by the BSI in this regard to retain the credibility and the authenticity of the biblical text. The fact of the matter is, translation work is undertaken by different agencies and at times at least certain translations project subjective notions, which harm the overall liberative emphasis of the Bible. In our translation exercises, efforts must be taken to let the liberative focus of the Bible come alive to the reader so that all would be able to experience that life in all its fullness, which our Lord had come to offer.
b. Through Bible Interpretation.:
It is important that the Bible is read, studied and interpreted in its entirety rather than adopting a proof text methodology, culling out texts from here and there to prove a position or point. In order to aid this process, the first method that could be used is what is known as the Integrated Reading of the Bible. The Bible is to be read as a whole and not in part. The fact of the matter is, the Bible contains texts which can be used to support any point of view. If one wants to support war or homosexuality etc. there are texts in the Bible. If one wants to argue against Women’s ordination, there are again texts in the Bible. But the point is, when we use such texts, we do not make an effort to know the context of the text and as to what the particular text would have meant in that particular context. When we use the texts in this fashion, we are actually abusing the Bible. The Bible should be read and interpreted as a whole. Our thrust should be on the Bible as a whole. When we confront a particular issue, the question we should raise is, what does the Bible say in its entirety? This way, the Bible could be prevented from getting distorted in the process of interpretation.
The other method that we could adopt in the reading and the interpretation of the Bible is Perspectival Reading of the Bible. It is important that we have a perspective in our reading of the Bible. The perspective I adopt is the perspective of life in all its fullness, which our Lord offers to all. In the interpretation of the text, the question that we should ask is, in what way does the particular text project the theme of life in all its fullness? In reading the Bible with a perspective, the liberative message/potential of the Bible will come through, which in turn would help the reader to live a transformed life and thereby contribute towards making the world a better place to live in.
c. Through Bible ( Scripture ) Engagement:
Bible Translation, Bible Interpretation and Bible Engagement go hand in hand. In fact, both Bible Translation and Bible Interpretation will lose their meaning if both the exercises do not lead the reader to Bible (Scripture) engagement. Bible (Scripture) engagement is the reader engaging with the Bible (Scripture). There are two dimensions to Bible engagement. The first is at a personal level. The reader engages with the biblical text critically with questions in his/her mind. Who am I? Who is the other? What is the Church? What is the Mission of God? Finding answers to such questions is not easy but then it is very important for our life and work. Personally speaking, as a result of rigorous engagement with the biblical texts, I have come to find some answers to the above questions. To the question “Who am I?” I realise that I am a unique creation of God in God’s own image intended to radiate the image of God in and through my being and action. To the second question “Who is the Other?” I realise that the Other is also a unique creation of God created in God’s own image and hence is not a threat but rather he/she is an extension of myself. The third question “What is the Church?” makes me to realise that the Church is not the Kingdom of God but rather is only an agency through which God’s reign is being established on earth. I also realise that in this process, the Church is not an exclusive club for the elite but a place for all. When I wrestle with the fourth question, I come to understand that the Mission of God is multi dimensional-Contemplation, Evangelism and Social Action. One cannot emphasise one over the other. All the three are equally important. There are other similar questions also which we can bring to the text as we engage with the text.
The second dimension of Scripture engagement is at the Community level-engaging with the actual life situation of people. The Bible Society movement around the world has realised the importance of Scripture engagement. The Bible Society of India is taking definite steps in this direction. Some of such projects the BSI is handling at the moment are Equipping Widows and Suffering Women ; Hope for inmates of Red light area; Introducing Children in Orphanages to Jesus; Purposeful life for School dropouts; God’ Word for slum dwellers; Empowering the Youth ; Hope for victims of Leprosy; Hope for the Visually challenged etc.
To conclude, one anecdote from South Africa comes to my mind. When the white man came to our country he had the Bible and we had the land. The white man said to us “let us pray”. After the prayer, the white man had the land and we had the Bible”. This anecdote points to the central position that the Bible occupies in the process of oppression and exploitation. It also reflects the paradox of the oppressor and the oppressed sharing the same Bible and the same faith. However, what is remarkable about this anecdote is that Desmond Tutu responded to it after one of its telling by stating. “And we got the better deal. This response captures something of the reality of the Bible everywhere: it plays an important role in the lives of many, particularly the weak, the poor and the marginalized. The Bible is a symbol of the presence of God of life with them and a resource in their struggle for survival, liberation and life. It is this dimension that we should keep in mind when we read and interpret the Bible. A liberative hermeneutics wherein the whole creation of God including nature and the earth occupy a central place should be the goal of Bible Translation, Biblical Interpretation and Bible (Scripture) Engagement. When this happens, we can boldly say that we have reclaimed Bible as Scripture for our times.
The Rev. Dr. M. Mani Chacko