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Describing the Bible

October 25, 2012

This week in my church history class, we studied methods of biblical interpretation in the early church, and were given the exercise of trying out an allegorical, typological, or moral interpretation of Exodus 25:10-16. My punny co-blogger’s last post, in which he mentions in passing the question of how Christians should name the set of scriptural texts that comprise the Jewish bible, prompted me to take up this theme for my exercise.

Here is the text from the New Jerusalem Bible:

You must make me an ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits wide and one and a half cubits high. You will overlay it, inside and out, with pure gold and make a gold moulding all round it. You will cast four gold rings for it and fix them to its four supports: two rings on one side and two rings on the other. You will also make shafts of acacia wood and overlay them with gold and pass the shafts through the rings on the sides of the ark, by which to carry it. The shafts will stay in the rings of the ark and not be withdrawn. Inside the ark you will put the Testimony which I am about to give you.

And here is my allegorical interpretation, written for my Christian sisters and brothers:

In this passage, the ark represents the Bible. The acacia wood represents the Shared Scriptures. These scriptures were given by the LORD to the people of Israel, and our Jewish sisters and brothers name them the Bible, or in Hebrew the Tanakh. The gold represents the Christian Scriptures. Now both wood, and gold, come from God first, and are then worked by human hands. In the same way, the Bible is the work of human beings who were first inspired by God, and then “acted as true authors” in their writing of these sacred texts.

Just as the acacia wood is at the heart of this golden ark and provides its structure, even so are the Shared Scriptures at the heart of the Christian Scriptures, and provide their structure. And just as the gold completely covers the acacia wood, so that one cannot see the wood except through the gold, even so do Christians see the Shared Scriptures only through the Christian Scriptures, which is why we name them the Old Testament, and our own scriptures the New Testament, and together they comprise our Bible.

The four gold rings represent the four gospels, and the two rods running through them represent the two great commandments: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength, and You shall love your neighbor as yourself. For as Jesus taught us, it is from these two commandments that all the Law and the Prophets depend.

Finally, we see that the testimony of the LORD is not the ark itself, but is to be found inside the ark. In the same way, we must not confuse the Bible itself with the voice of the LORD, but rather, it is within the Bible that we can, with care and with prayer, hear the still, small voice of God.

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