|“Quit worrying about corroborating your sources–it’s not as if anyone is going to take all this literally.”|
A friend of mine, a fairly recent Orthodox Convert from Protestantism, asked me to read an article by an Orthodox scholar that discussed a certain construct for interpreting the Old Testament. My friend was struggling with “how to understand” many passages in the Old Testament, and he was wondering if he should be reading the Old Testament at all. He mentioned that recently he wasn’t even reading the New Testament that much either. He asked for my input; so, for what it’s worth, this is what I put in.
I looked briefly at the article, but I couldn’t get into it—probably because it is not a driving question for me. The Fathers looked at the OT in all sorts of ways and often contradictory ways (contradictory, from a certain categorical, western perspective). Basil the Great might interpret one passage as allegorical in one context and as factual history in another. He might focus on a moral/legal interpretation of a passage in a letter, and in a sermon refer to the same passage typologically. For us who are so steeped in a “bible as history” mentality, we may need philosophical constructs that allow us the freedom to read the Old Testament spiritually, or read it in any way different from how fundamentalist Protestants have read it for the past few hundred years. So just about any construct that gives you that freedom is good, so long as you don’t go and make an idol of the construct: that is, “Now I know THE Orthodox way to read the Old Testament.” As far as reading the Old Testament is concerned, I think everyone who can read it should, at least once in their life, under the guidance of a spiritual father or guide of some kind. The Old Testament is our Bible, but it is read in the Church, and learning how to read the Bible in the Church requires mentoring. Regarding the New Testament, I understand that Protestant converts often need a break, a time of not reading the Bible on their own to soak in the Church’s understanding of the story of our salvation, so that when they go back to the Bible they can see with new eyes. When I became Orthodox, about two years in, I had to stop reading the Bible. I realized that I kept seeing in the Bible what I had always seen as a Protestant. I needed time to take off my Protestant glasses. When I went back to reading the Bible regularly again (after a few years), I not only saw what I used to see, but I also was able to see so much more. I felt like I was experiencing that line from the Gospels where Jesus speaks about Scribes who come into the Kingdom and bring out of their treasuries things both old and new.
I am so glad you posted this. I feel so guilty lately about not reading the Scriptures, but it's so hard to shake the bad connotations I grew up with. Just this morning my mother started randomly reading a verse from the Psalms aloud, as she often does, while reading her Bible at the diningroom table; and my instant reaction was anger and withdrawal and a feeling of "Oh brother, here she goes again with that nonsense." Immediately I felt remorse for labeling the Scriptures as "nonsense," and realized that I have not yet learned to separate the Old Testament from Protestantism. I've got more work to do.