At a recent bible study I was about to introduce the passage we were studying when the lady next to me asked a question I don’t think I’ve been asked before: How do you open your bible? At first I wasn’t sure I had understood her question and I asked her to clarify. What she wanted to know was: Is there a correct way to open your bible? Do you turn the pages in a certain way? Can you place your bible on the floor or is that not allowed? Basically, how do you handle the bible?
I can remember a Muslim friend of mine rebuking me for placing my bible on the floor near the couch. For Muslims, their holy book the Qur’an has a special, divine quality to it. They even say that it existed in heaven prior to Allah dictating its contents to the Prophet Muhammad. To mistreat the Qur’an then, is to mistreat Allah, and so my friend was concerned that I was not treating the bible, nor God, with the respect they deserve. But this lady at the bible study was not Muslim, and so her question surprised me.
Christians would agree that the Bible has a divine quality to it, but we would place the emphasis on the words, or the message of the Bible as the thing that sets it apart as a holy book. It is not a magic book that has dropped down to us straight from heaven. Rather, it is the inspired collection of Spirit-breathed words which communicate to us the message of God about our creation, rebellion, and redemption. The power of the Bible is in both the truth it communicates, which renews our minds, and the Spirit who works by means of the words to renew our hearts.
This is what I tried to explain to the lady and to the rest of those present at the bible study. They asked further questions and also provided some background to their questions. They told me they had been taught in the Catholic church that there was a certain way to handle your bible. Furthermore, they were taught to leave an open bible somewhere in the house so that God would bless you through it. I had noticed these open bibles in houses before and hearing the reason being explained to me clarified one of the great differences between the Catholic church and the churches of the Reformation.
Those present at the bible study had the idea that religion was about doing the right things and following certain customs and rituals. Baptize your child, go to Mass, receive the sacrament, pray to Mary, love your neighbour, keep an open bible in your home. If you do the right things, you receive God’s blessing and the gift of salvation. Now, this is not exactly what the Roman Catholic church teaches, but it was what these particular people were taught. In contrast, the churches of the Reformation recovered the biblical emphasis of every believer reading, hearing, and understanding the message of the Bible. God does his life-transforming work through the Word and our interaction with it.
Leaving your bible open on the table in your living room doesn’t actually do anything because you are not engaging with the message contained in the book. You are not hearing from God and learning about who he is and what he has done. True religion includes a living relationship with God and that cannot happen without communication. The same is true with all living relationships – I cannot truly know and love my wife if I only place a picture of her on my kitchen table and hope that in some mystical, magical way our relationship will grow and prosper.
We explained all this as best we could and we reminded them that this is why we want to study the bible together – to read God’s word so we can know God and the salvation he offers us. Our prayer is that the people we are working with begin to see the great importance of seeking to know God through his Word, and that they would learn to read and study the Bible for themselves. Only in this way will they truly experience the life-changing message of the gospel.
So, how do you open your bible? It doesn’t particularly matter. The point is that you open it in order to read the words inside and seek to know the God of whom they speak.