Approached in a prayerful manner, the Bible is found to be always contemporary–not just writings composed in the distant past but a message addressed directly to me here and now. “He who is humble in his thoughts and engaged in spiritual work,” says St. Mark the Monk, “when he reads the Holy Scriptures will apply everything to himself and not to someone else.” As a book uniquely inspired by God and addressed to each of the faithful personally, the Bible possesses sacramental power, transmitting grace to the reader, bringing him to a point of meeting and decisive encounter. Critical scholarship is by no means excluded, but the true meaning of the Bible will only be apparent to those who study it with their spiritual intellect as well as their reasoning brain. ~Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, Revised edition (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladamir’s Seminary Press, 2001), p. 111.
According to the Catechism, we call the Holy Scriptures the “Word of God,” because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible. Both halves of this statement are important. The first, because it acknowledges the full humanity of the authors of the text and thereby authorizes our full engagement with relevant critical scholarship. Nevertheless, it is the second part that captures my attention. The Scriptures, it suggests, can anticipate the situation of any possible reader and convey God’s sovereign living Word of Truth. Truly they are the place of a sacramental, objective encounter with the living God for all who would engage with them. They are a means of grace and “addressed to each of the faithful personally,” and indeed to the whole world.
We need critical scholarship and traditional practices of wrestling with Scripture, both to get ourselves out of the way of God’s Word and because teachers mishandle the Word to support their personal agenda or buy into oppressive ideologies present in the text. We need a reverence for the Word, because God still speaks to us through the Bible, strong to judge, heal, and save.
Because they are a means of encounter with the living God, prayer provides a necessary key to opening the Scriptures. So too does participating in the sacraments and in the common life of the Church.