I never will forget the first time I heard the phrase “paper pope.” Frankly, it both startled and offended me. But I couldn’t figure out just why. I was still a Protestant at the time and was in a conversation with another Evangelical that was on his way out of the Protestant world. He was confronting me with the dilemma he was facing in his research into the history of Christian theology and worship and he suggested to me that we Protestants had got rid of the Pope in Rome only then to be governed by a “paper pope” of the Holy Scriptures.
It bothered me a lot so I started thinking about how I used the Bible and I came to the conclusion that my friend had a point. I was using the Bible to “prove” stuff that was really more of my private interpretation of what the Bible meant rather than giving the historical understanding of scripture interpreted through the centuries. I was trusting my own wisdom over the timeless work of the Holy Spirit in His Church. And, not surprisingly, I found out my interpretations weren’t nearly as deep and wise as the Church’s understanding of Holy Scripture. I was surprised to learn that my devotion to Holy Scripture INCREASED as I submitted to the wisdom of the Church to help me understand the Bible in the first place!
Look at our lesson in 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 4:1-4:
Timothy, my son, all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.
St. Paul starts by telling his spiritual son, Timothy, that “all scripture” is literally “God-breathed.” That’s the literal translation of the Greek word for “inspired.” But please note, the “scripture” that Paul is talking about is the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament wouldn’t be added to the Scriptures of the Christian Faith officially for many years ahead!
And because the scriptures are “God-breathed” they are used to teach, reprove (a word that isn’t very popular nowadays, but still important), correct, train, and equip the follower of Jesus Christ for “good works.”
Amazing! The purpose of knowing the scriptures, reading the scriptures, learning the scriptures, and hearing the scriptures isn’t so you’ll have more information but so you can have your life reoriented and transformed! St. John Chrysostom declares “We must thoroughly quench the darts of the devil and beat them off by continual reading of the divine Scriptures.” If you want to be able to fight off temptations, read and know the Holy Scriptures. They aren’t there for you to use to “win” debates as much as they are meant to so transform your life that no debate is necessary!
Again, St. John says “Reading the Scriptures is a great means of security against sinning. The ignorance of Scripture is a great cliff and a deep abyss; to know nothing of the divine laws is a great betrayal of salvation. This has given birth to heresies, this has introduced a corrupt way of life, this has put down the things above. For it is impossible, impossible for anyone to depart without benefit if he reads continually with attention.” Knowing the Scriptures is meant to help you know God since the Holy Scriptures reveal God to us. But this knowledge can never be reduced to “knowing about” the Holy Scriptures, but knowing as a husband “knows” his wife, as a life long friend knows his best friend.
All too often we forget that the daily reading of the Holy Scripture is “medicine” for our spiritual maturity. This is why I started these devotionals so many years ago. I wanted to stay connected to the good habit of reading the Bible every day AND adding the wisdom of the Church to my understanding so that my life would be formed by this wisdom. And I pray these devotionals help you do the same!
Today, are you disciplined in reading the Holy Scriptures? If you will allow the wisdom of the Church to transform “why” you read the Bile from simply gathering information to the actual reality that knowing the Scriptures is real medicine for your soul, you’ll find your stamina in sticking with this good discipline will grow. And this discipline will make you Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O Lord, Your words are a lamp unto my feet and a light on my path. You have preserved Your Holy Scriptures not as a weapon to fight people who disagree with me but as a weapon to fight the darkness in my own soul. Help me embrace the wisdom of Your Word, Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, by embracing the wisdom of reading the scriptures daily and allowing this wisdom to equip me to follow You all the days of my life. Amen.