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Encountering the Living God

A Journey to  the Heart of the Bible

by Virginia and Dean Kimball

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ENCOUNTERING  THE LIVING GOD

 

 

A JOURNEY

TO THE HEART OF THE BIBLE

 

By Virginia and Dean Kimball

 COPYRIGHT

Dean and Virginia Kimball

Westford, Massachusetts 01886

Spring 2011

 

The Scripture quotations contained herein are predominantly from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. In cases where another translation is quoted, the source is stated.

 

 

The system of abbreviations of the books of the Bible used herein is a mixture of that appearing in The New American Bible, Catholic World Press, 1987 and that used in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Third Edition, Oxford University Press, 2001.      

 

Warning:  This material may not be copied or sold without permission

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

            The first words to be written as part of the New Testament are: “We always give thanks to God” (1 Thessalonians 1:2.) In this spirit, the authors want to give thanks to God for inspiring and embracing us in faith throughout our marriage. We both have had the opportunity to study God’s word and now we bring together our talents to write this book so that others may feel comfortable to begin a journey in reading, studying, and finding God’s presence in the Bible. As God’s gift, we both have had the privilege of biblical education; however, both of us pursued this education on our own particular “journey.” For us and for our family, God has been with us throughout life’s most joyful moments and also in critical moments as we raised our children and when we faced serious illness.  We know that God has been with us throughout it all as a loving and caring Presence. For this reason, we have strived to live faithfully and raise our children to know God as a life-giving Being. We want to give special thanks to Richard Clifford S.J. and Daniel Harrington S.J., members of the faculty at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, William Holiday, formerly professor at Andover Newton Theological School, and Bertrand Buby SM., professor at the International Marian Research Institute. Also, we express our gratitude to all our professors who taught us to read the biblical text in theology and ministerial classes.


CONTENTS

Preface

 

Pre-Journey Briefing

Part  I

 

GETTING TO KNOW THE BIBLE

 

Stage One        The Bible – Toward Becoming a Bible User

 

Stage Two      The Four Major Canons

 

Stage Three    The Texts of the Scriptures

 

Stage Four       Translating the Texts of the Scriptures

 

Stage Five        Interpreting the Scriptures

 

Stage Six          The Scriptures as Literature

 

Stage Seven     The OT in the NT

 

PART  II

 

Reading the Scriptures Written During the Time of the Israelites

 

Stage Eight       The Historical Background of the Israelite Period

 

Stage Nine       Reading the Torah (Pentateuch)

                        [Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy]

 

Stage Ten         Reading the Deuteronomistic History

                        [Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings]

 

Stage Eleven  Reading the Psalms

                        [ Psalms, Lamentations and Ps 151]

 

Stage Twelve   Reading the Writings of the Prophets

                        [Amos, Hosea, Isaiah(Chs. 1-39) and Micah; Zephaniah, Jeremiah,

                        Nahum, Habakkuk, Ezekiel and Obadiah]

 

PART III

 

Reading the Scriptures Written During the Period of the Second Temple

 

Stage Thirteen  The Historical Background of the Second Temple Period

 

Stage Fourteen  Reading the History of the Early Second Temple Period

                        [1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles and The Prayer of Manasseh, Ezra and                                           Nehemiah, 1 Esdras]

 

Stage Fifteen  Reading the Writings of the Post-Exilic Prophets

                        [2nd Isaiah, 3rd Isaiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Joel]

 

Stage Sixteen  Reading the History of the Maccabean Period

                        [1 and 2 Maccabees]

 

Stage Seventeen  Reading the Wisdom Literature – Part A

                        [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job and Song of Songs]

           

Stage  Eighteen  Reading the Wisdom Literature – Part B

                        [Sirach, Wisdom and Daniel]

 

Stage Nineteen  Reading the Folk Literature

                        [Ruth, Esther, Jonah; Tobit, Judith, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, 3                             Maccabees]

 

PART IV

 

Reading the Scriptures Written after the Time of Christ

 

Stage Twenty  The Historical Background of the First Century

 

Stage Twenty-One  Reading the Early Letters of Paul

                        [1 and 2 Thessalonians, Galatians and Philippians]

 

Stage Twenty-Two  Reading the Corinthian Correspondence of Paul

                        [1 and 2 Corinthians]

   

Stage Twenty-Three  Reading the Letter of Paul to the Romans

                        [Romans]

 

Stage Twenty-Four  Reading the Final Letters of Paul

                        [Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians]

 

Stage Twenty-Five  Reading the Pastoral Epistles

                        [1 and 2 Timothy, Titus]

 

Stage Twenty-Six  Reading the Gospel of Mark

 

Stage Twenty-Seven  Reading the Synoptic Gospels

                        [Mark, Matthew and Luke]

 

Stage Twenty-Eight  Reading Luke-Acts

 

Stage Twenty-Nine  Reading the Gospel of John

 

Stage Thirty  Reading Hebrews

 

Stage Thirty-One  Reading the Seven General Letters

                        [James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1,2, and 3 John, Jude]

 

Stage Thirty-Two  Reading the Book of Revelation

 

PART  V

 

The Heart of the Scriptures

 

Stage Thirty-Three  The Heart of the Old Testament

 

Stage Thirty-Four  The Heart of the New Testament

           

Stage Thirty-Five  God at the Heart of the Scriptures

 

Stage Thirty-Six  The “How” of Inspiration

 

Stage Thirty-Seven  Attar of Holy Scripture

 

                                

PREFACE

 

            There are few people in the world who have not heard of the Bible. Every Christian has heard readings from it at church yet only a small percentage of those people stop and study or reflect for any significant time on the biblical readings. For this reason, many years ago Dean Kimball initiated a project to write a book that could assist people to know how to begin studying and appreciating the biblical text. And co-author Virginia Kimball, whose contribution comes as a teacher, says: “I am a dedicated mother and worked for over 20 years as a journalist. Assigned as a religion news reporter for a daily newspaper, I began to see the need for background for my job and subsequently devoted myself to the study of theology.  Eventually, I realized that all theology must have a firm biblical base as well as an experiential and spiritual foundation. I have observed that for students, the Bible is necessary in developing one’s faith and understanding.” This book has grown out of the authors’ desire to help everyone read the Scriptures.

 

            Virginia Kimball holds a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton, a pontifical academy associated with the Marianum in Rome (a Masters Degree from Andover Newton Theological School and a License in Sacred Theology from IMRI.) Virginia is president of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary USA and past president of the Mariological Society of America. Dean Kimball holds a Masters Degree in Physics from Johns Hopkins University and a Masters of Divinity Degree from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology.  

 

             Dean Kimball says: “From the earliest days of my childhood, the Bible has held a position of reverence for me. In 1969, it came to me that it was time to begin studying the Scriptures in earnest. Consequently, in 1971 I began a program of studies at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology which led to the Master of Divinity Degree in 1986.” Being a layman studying in a Catholic seminary was somewhat unusual in the early 1970s, and even more unusual was the duration of my studies; they took place at a rate of one course a semester over a period of 15 years, fitted in, as they were, between work as a research physicist and family responsibilities.” He adds: “Since that time, reading and reflecting on the biblical text has been my personal spirituality -- reading and studying some aspect of it almost every day. I endeavored to share my experience with others by teaching an adult Bible study every Tuesday night in a local Catholic parish for 18 years.”

 

            Our daughter, a professor of mathematics at Bentley College, in response to a question we posed to her about whether she has ever felt the desire to write a textbook responded by stating that there is one book that needs to be written. She explained that at the present time there is no calculus text for business a student that combines a high level of mathematics with an equally high level of examples taken from business practice. What we have tried to accomplish in this book is quite similar. We have tried to combine a high level of academic knowledge of the writings of Scripture with an equally high level of application of the Scripture to everyday Christian life.

 

            Our Journey to the Heart of the Bible falls naturally into five parts. In Part I, the Bible is shown to be a collection of inspired texts, known as a “canon,” contained in a book that also includes a lot of material, having only a human author, which we call “study stuff.”  Consideration is given to the nature and extent of the canon and to the fact that there are four major canons. There is a presentation on the generation of biblical manuscripts and their translation into modern languages. The interpretation of biblical texts is then treated since it flows naturally from the fact that a translation is an interpretation. Also, in this part it is explained that the writings of the Scriptures comprise an anthology of compositions and, therefore, are not to be read as you would read a modern story. Finally, at the end of the first part, a strong case is made for understanding that reading the OT is essential to a full understanding of the NT.  

 

            On the basis of the fundamental knowledge and understanding acquired in Part I, the actual reading of the biblical texts is undertaken in Parts II, II, and IV. In Part II, a brief outline of salvation history is established by making use of the historical summaries found in the Scriptures and adding to it a chronology. Stage one of Part II then goes on to present a sketch of the history of the First Temple Period: the time from the construction of the Temple to the fall of the divided monarchy of Israel and Judah and the Exile. The remainder of Part II guides the reader through the compositions that date to the period of the First Temple - the Torah (Pentateuch), the Deuteronomistic History, the psalms and the pre-exilic prophets. Part III begins with a brief history of the Second Temple Period, the time from the return from exile to the Bar Kochba revolt in 135 CE. The books relating to this period are then taken up: the history books of the Chronicler’s time; the post-exilic prophets; the two books of the Maccabaen history; the wisdom writings; and the folk literature. Part IV begins with a brief history of the Christian assemblies from the time of Christ to the Bar Kochba revolt. Then, the books of the New Testament are considered: first, the letters of Paul and the Pastoral Epistles, then the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles followed by Hebrews and the seven general letters. The book of Revelation completes the New Testament.

 

            In Part V the heart of the Scriptures is explored. This is the culmination of all of our efforts. After considering the heart of the OT and the heart of the NT in turn, attention is focused on the God at the heart of the Scriptures. At this point, having experienced both how the writings that make up the Scriptures came to be and their content, the “How” of inspiration is explored. Finally, the unity of the Scriptures is demonstrated by showing that a consistent account of salvation history can be extracted from this collection of diverse writings called the Bible. 

 

             We have tried to provide motivation for everyone to pick up the Bible, to open it, and to read the biblical text. This book has been written in the hope that it will enable everyone to read the Scriptures with understanding and also will enable everyone to read them with increasing understanding as time goes onward. If you participate fully in this journey, we know you will experience an encounter with the One who is the Prime Author of the text – the Living God.

                                                                                    Virginia and Dean Kimball

 

  

PRE-JOURNEY BRIEFING

 

Motivation

 

             The Bible is a unique book. It is a very long book by comparison with today's books, except perhaps for some of the longest novels or compendiums of history. The Bible, with its very thin pages, small print and total absence of illustrations is a formidable volume in comparison to the modern books that are filled with beautiful color photography of people and places or in comparison to modern magazines with their colorful fold-out advertisements. It was, however, the first book to be printed after the invention of the printing press in the 1500s – the Gutenberg Bible. Since that time it has become the best selling book of all time!

 

            For non-believing people, the Bible is just a book like any other book. Few of these people are inclined too read it. Those who do, most likely read only a small part of it as part of a college course about the world’s greatest literature.

 

            Other people who read the bible read it for a variety of reasons. These reasons include the following:

 

- Some people read it because it contains the history of a people.

- Archaeologists read it because it provides clues to archaeological sites and  interpretation.

- Still other people read it because it can provide information about

ancient religious thought.

 

            Finally, believing Christians and Jewish people read the Bible because they believe that the writings it contains are inspired by God. That is the motivation which lies behind the journey that is the subject of this book.

 

Why This is a Journey in Stages

 

            The concept of journey is very prominent in the Bible. Abraham is instructed by God to go from the land of his kinsfolk to a land that God will show him (Gen 12:1). In the books of Exodus through Joshua, the Israelites escape from Egypt (Ex 12:37-14:31) and begin a journey that takes them through the desert to the Promised Land in Palestine, a journey that took them 40 years (Num 10:11-36:13). When they are taken into exile, the Jews journey from Palestine to Babylon (2 Kgs 25:6-12). In the Gospel of Mark, as his public ministry was coming to an end, Jesus journeys from Galilee to Jerusalem, a journey that occupies the brief section: chapter 10, verse 32 to chapter 11, verse 11. In the Gospel of Luke, this journey of Jesus to Jerusalem begins in chapter 9, verse 51, but does not reach its conclusion until chapter 19, verse 44 (almost half of the Gospel!) In the Acts of the Apostles, the author Luke, who clearly liked journeys, organized the missionary activity of Paul into three distinct journeys: 1) chapters 13-14, 2) chapters 15-18, and 3) chapters 18-21. At the end of his ministry, Paul travels from Palestine to Rome (Acts 27-28).

 

            Because journey is such a prominent biblical theme, the authors have chosen to conceptualize this book in terms of a journey. The choice of journey also serves to emphasize the reality of this being an effort which is exerted over a prolonged period of time rather than being a matter of only a brief exertion. It is a marathon and not a one hundred yard dash! This book was originally written to be used in conjunction with a one semester college course: Introduction to the Bible. Used independently of such a time-constricted situation, the reader can work at whatever pace is consistent with his or her life situation.

 

At the time of the Exodus, when the Israelites escaped from Egypt, they made their way to Mt. Sinai where they stayed for a period of time. When they departed and began their long wandering in the desert, the Biblical text states:

 

In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the covenant. Then the Israelites set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai …. (Num 10:11, NRSV).

 

Just as the journey of the Israelites from Egypt took place in stages, this work is organized in stages.

           

Further Thoughts About This Journey

 

               We have not spoken of a “Journey through the Bible.” This is because the term “through” does not have an end point. A journey “to” implies that there is an end point.

               It is common to speak of “to the center of the earth.” Hence at first it would seem to be appropriate to speak of a “journey to the center of the Bible.” But the term “center” is only a place.  God is at the center of the Bible and God is life itself! Hence it is better to speak of a journey “to the heart of the Bible.”

               When one encounters the term “journey,” the concept of a journey through space immediately comes to mind. Our journey, however, is not a journey through space but, in a sense, a journey through time. The Bible is concerned only with a very limited area of the surface of the earth – just the lands surrounding the eastern Mediterranean. It is however a journey that takes place over a vast amount of time – it begins with the creation and ends with the end of time!

 

Equipment Required

 

            Only two pieces of equipment are required to make this journey: a Bible and this book! Of course, other sources are important but the bare minimum is the Bible and this journey guide.

 

            It is absolutely necessary to have a bible to participate in this journey. It can be in book form or it can be online. The most important task in the course of this journey is to read the biblical text. You must read the biblical text! One of the authors paid $50 to take a survey course in the Bible and the instructor never once opened a Bible. He merely talked about the Bible for 10 weeks. On the journey to the heart of the Bible, reading the biblical text is the most important activity.

 

            The authors of this book recommend using some edition of one of the following Bibles: New American Bible, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, or The New International Version. If you already have a Bible which is not one of these and you are not inclined to purchase another – then use it. If you desire to purchase a new Bible, then the authors recommend that you buy one for the following:

 

The New American Bible

Including Revised New Testament and Psalms

Old Testament 1970; New Testament and Psalms 1986

 

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha

Fourth Edition 2010

 

The Holy Bible Today’s New International Version

2005

 

            When you purchase a Bible be sure that you are purchasing one that has a type size that is easy to read. Today, many Bibles are being published that have an uncomfortably small type size in order to save on cost. A small type size acts as a deterrent to reading the text.

 

            This book is required because it is your leader and guide that will take you along on this journey. People who undertake to read the Scriptures on their own, without assistance, usually give up the effort before reaching the end. This book will be a guide as the  reader seeks to read the Scriptures and it will provide an opportunity to read something from every book of the Bible in the course of the Journey.

 

Equipment That is Not Required But is Useful

 

            It is very desirable to have access to the following website: www.biblemap.org.  For every verse of the Scriptures, this site gives a map or satellite image (sometimes both) appropriate to that verse along with short descriptions of the significant locations in the area. This is a very valuable source to have available.

 

            A Study Bible is a good thing to have available. The informational articles that such a Bible contains are usually well written. They provide a lot of information in a short space and they are always available wherever the Bible is read.

 

             It will be helpful to have a flat working space of suitable dimensions. In the course of this journey you will (hopefully) find yourself constantly looking up passages in the Bible and then going back to the study book. In a cramped space doing this takes longer; by having sufficient "open space" you will save considerable time.

 

            If you like to annotate, then assemble highlighters, pencils, red and black, or whatever else you use in making your notes.  If you are planning to make annotations in your Bible then you may want to use an edition of the Bible that has thicker pages (e.g. The New Jerusalem Bible, Reader’s Edition) or you may want to make use of the special highlighters for use on very thin papers that are available in Christian bookstores. You should remember if you are a student, that a clean, unmarked book will have better resale value; you may want to make notes in another way. Writing notes right into your Bible creates a feeling of real engagement in the texts.

 

            If you want to really feel like a Bible scholar, then we suggest that you have at hand a variety of colored "post-its." They are very convenient both for marking pages that you want to go back to and for making notes. This is also one way to avoid writing directly in the book. If you are taking a class, you may want to insert “post-its” for the passages you study so that you can contribute in class, refer back to the passages for your own research work, and for the exams.

 

Our Approach

 

How one begins is important to the outcome of the endeavor. For example, one can approach the Bible by attempting to read from beginning to end. Most often someone who takes this approach never makes it through the book of Genesis, the first book in the Bible. Others approach the Bible by seeking to read the New Testament by itself, totally disregarding the existence of the Old Testament. The persons who take this approach cannot fully understand what they are reading because the writings of the New Testament are firmly based upon the writings of the Old Testament. And, sometimes, a person will choose to approach reading the Bible by reading short, daily readings. Such a person may read the daily readings from the Liturgy of the Mass or perhaps follow one of the many schemes for “reading the Bible in one year.” However, such an individual will not fully understand what he or she has read because such readings are totally devoid of any context.

 

            The approach of this book is as follows. First, in Part I, attention is focused on what a Bible is and what its contents include. After establishing that a Bible contains two fundamentally different types of material, inspired texts and “study stuff,” consideration is given to the matters of canon, text, translation and interpretation. This part ends with an exposition of the importance of the OT to the writing of the NT. The writings comprising the inspired Scriptures are then treated in three groups. Part II deals with the writings pertaining to the period of the First Temple. Part III takes up the writings of the Second Temple period.  Part IV considers the writings that come from the period following the death of Jesus Christ (the NT). Finally, in Part V attention is focused on the heart of the Scriptures and the “how of inspiration.” The major advantage of this approach is that after having completed Parts I-IV the reader is prepared to read with understanding the stages in Part V which are more meaty.

 

Final Words

 

A very great volume of writings has been written about the Bible; some of this material is of great value, much is not. It is incumbent upon each individual to equip herself or himself with the learning needed to distinguish what is good from what is not. The foundation for establishing the ability to discern is familiarity with the text of scripture. The only way to acquire the necessary familiarity is to read the text! This may sound easy enough to do at first. But when you start to actually do it you will find that the writings are difficult to understand because they are full of strange names, unknown places, unfamiliar words, and unfamiliar concepts and often originating in a cultural setting that is quite different from modernity.

 

The biblical writings are quite ancient. The oldest biblical writing dates to about 1200 BCE and the most recent of the writings dates to about 110-125 CE. All of these writings are in ancient languages – Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek – which are foreign to us today and must, therefore, be translated. It is easy to overlook the fact that the texts in our Bibles are translations of ancient languages because they come to us in a modern format and printed on modern paper. Consequently, therefore, they look the same as modern writings.

 

            There is only one way to proceed. First, you must try to read the text. Then you have to read a little bit about the text in order to increase your understanding of it. Then you need to go back and read the text again after which it is time to do a little more reading about it. And so on! It has been the experience of the authors of this book that there is no other way that familiarity and understanding of the text of the Bible can be achieved. Understanding the Scriptures is necessarily an iterative process!

 

            When you have completed this journey and you look back upon what you have done, you will see that in the course of it you have learned a great deal about the Bible. At times, you may feel that what you are reading is too technical; some students have expressed this feeling. If it seems technical it is primarily because of your unfamiliarity with biblical studies. Each stage of the journey contains important input to acquiring a sound knowledge of the truths contained in the Bible.

 

            It is important to remember that not all biblical commentaries and dictionaries, bible websites, and even scholar’s opinions are necessarily the “revealed truth.” One has to develop discernment in that aspect as well. What one commentary says may be contradicted by another.  What one scholar claims may actually be false or not based on sound faith. The reader must beware!

 

            Making this journey will require time and effort. But the reward is great! It is through the informed reading of Holy Scriptures that you are brought into engagement with the Living God. Achieving this goal is surely worth whatever time and effort may be required.

 

            We invite you to begin the journey with an open heart and an active mind. Asking questions is very important. It is by asking questions and seeking the answers that you will grow in understanding. The questions you ask are the best evaluation of how well you are proceeding on this journey.

 

             Our hope is that you will persevere and complete the entire journey. Our belief is that if you do, your life will be forever changed.

 

            Now it is time to begin the journey.

 

 

 

           

 

 

Virginia M. Kimball
virginiakimball@comcast.net