Inside the Domestic Church Part 10: Praying the Bible
Unlike secular Biblical studies, in our faith we acknowledge the Scriptures as being inspired by the Holy Spirit, a gift to us from God Himself. The Fathers teach that when we read Scripture prayerfully, we will sense the presence of God. This is one reason why daily Scripture reading is a vital part of our daily prayer lives. In prayer we talk to God, and in Scripture God talks to us. Reading prayerfully goes beyond reading the Bible as one would a textbook. We should not only be attentive to what is in the page but also to listen to what the Lord is saying through them, and we should approach this reading with an open heart and a mindfulness of our relationship to God in love.
Just as the Gospel book is central to the church, a copy of the Scriptures should be central in your icon corner in the domestic church. With this in mind, what sort of Bible should one have in one’s home? Generally recommended in English by the Church are the Jerusalem Bible, the New American Bible, the New English Bible, and the Revised Standard Version. These are commonly available in both secular and religious bookstores. Be aware that some popular translations are valued for their readability, but in seeking to make the Scriptures more “accessible” to a general audience they sacrifice much of the meaning in translation.
While most people are probably aware that there is a different Bible for Catholics and Protestants, fewer people realize that there are further differences between Western Bibles and Eastern Bibles. All four distinctions revolve around which books are recognized as a part of the Old Testament.
The Early Church was predominately Greek-speaking and used the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament translated by Jewish scholars in the centuries before the birth of Christ. This version of the Bible, which In later centuries, Jewish scholars reacting to the formation of Christianity would produce their own translation, the Masoretic text, which doesn’t include several of the books which originally existed in the Greek. While the Roman Catholics share many of the books we use in our tradition originating in the Septuagint, there are several books they lack; Protestants by-and-large use only the later, abbreviated, medieval Jewish canon. Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to find Bibles, especially in English, which are targeted toward Eastern Christians and include all the books Eastern Christians consider to be canonical. Two Bibles which do include the Eastern Christian canon are the Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (Expanded Edition), and the Orthodox Study Bible.
People often ask how to start reading the Bible. Should they read it front-to-back? Which Gospels should they read? Which Epistles should they read? Generally, a useful reading plan would involve the Gospel of Luke, followed by the Acts of the Apostles. This provides the reader with an uninterrupted story of Christ and the early Church. Then, read Matthew and Mark, followed by the Epistles. The Gospel of John, with its theological richness and depth, should be the last step in the experience of the New Testament.