Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bible Basics

Today's readings gives us an opportunity to recall some basics particularly about reading the Torah which includes only Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

First of all, let us remember that the Chapter and verse numbers are not part of the text but a much later convention we imposed and often in a fashion that does not fit the text. Our chapter numbers can be traced back to the 13th Century Archbishop of Cantebury. And the verse numbers were added in the 16th century by a French printer.

The Jewish Torah splits into Aliya which break at logical points for their lectionary. For example, we have two distinct creation stories placed back to back in Genesis. The first creation story goes from our Gen 1:1-2:3 (Aliya 1), the second story begins at our Gen 2:4. The first is from the Priestly tradition. The second is from the Yawist (J) tradition. Remember that the final Book of Genesis is three strands woven together.

How do we know this? Because, among other things, this tradition does not simply refer to God (Elohim), but adds the name of God (YHVH). As Catholics we follow the Jewish custom of not pronouncing it and we translate it as simply LORD. So you see the phrase "LORD God."

Some Christians try and pronounce the name of God and guess that it should be pronounced as Yahweh or Jehovah. In the Catholic Church in the 60's we went through our disrespectful phase of using the word Yahweh. Until the Pope clarified that we were to go back to the older tradition. Jesus told us to call God "Father", and I doubt that any of us called our father by his first name.

A second basic bible truth worth remembering, is that we know from study of the texts that these first chapters of Genesis were inspired later than much of the rest of the Torah. One of the simple indicators is that God does not reveal his name until we get to Moses (Ex. 3:13). God did not dictate the Bible in sequence, but inspired its composition and organization over a long period of time. It would make no sense to say God revealed his name to Moses but it was already known before Adam. Logically the stories that use the name of God were written after God revealed his name.

If we want to describe the writing down of God's word in human time, the history began with the call of Abraham and is brought to completion with the final book of the New Testament. Over the course of those centuries God inspired many human authors to write and edit his Word until his public revelation was complete. The process of inspiration of what we Christians call the Bible was long and complex, like the creation of the universe. We do God a great injustice when we try and reduce God's magnificent act of revelation to simple dictation or when we fail to separate the revealed word of God from the merely human printing additions like titles, chapters, and verses.

Particularly as we read a Book like Genesis we need to take the time to read each individual story, and meditate on it to find the truth that God wishes to reveal in that story. There is so much truth in each one that they never grow old.