Reverence for the Word of God

Since fifth grade, when I was presented with my very own King James Version, I have often thought I would read the Bible from start to finish. That’s how I read other books, which have beginnings, middles, and ends. I have continued to make occasional attempts, but I confess that I have never succeeded.

When I read a profile in a recent New Yorker about Peter Gomes, minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church, I was impressed enough to go out and buy The Good Book. My intuition was rewarded, and I have started once again to read the Bible. I suspect Gomes may similarly affect other Bible reading. Gomes writes to counter "the crisis of biblical illiteracy," but also, I think, to convey his pleasure, enthusiasm, and profound respect for the "chief book" of his Christian faith.

The Bible should be understood to have three fundamental characteristics, says Gomes. It is first, public, "a treasure that is held in common"; second, "dynamic, living, alive, lively"; and, finally, inclusive. "Your story is written here, your sins and fears addressed, your hopes confirmed, your experiences validated, and your name known to God," he writes. Interpretation is inevitable, as is the case with any written word, and should embody these three characteristics. Of course, interpretative dangers exist, and idolatries arise—worshiping the text itself, giving the letter superiority over the spirit, and worshiping the norms of the prevailing culture and conforming the Bible to them.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1997
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