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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

The Bible as a Community Book

The Bible is the churches' or the synagogues' book. It is a community book, was formed in ancient communities of faith, and was shaped to be read in community.

The recent tendency of most Westerners to think of the Bible as the book they should read privately and studiously if they are really serious about their faith makes for distance in thought pattern between them and those who passed along these texts. Moderns might even ask why the Bible is read aloud in community as a central part of worship. The priest or pastor might, instead, simply ask the people to read quietly and privately a particular passage or passages from Bibles provided in pew racks or brought to service individually. But, until the advent of widespread literacy in the last two centuries, the private alternative to communal reading was limited. Interestingly, the common Hebrew word for Scripture, Miqra, is not based on the verb “to write” (as is “scripture” from Latin) but on the Hebrew verb “to read aloud” or “to call out.” The few literate members of a community would, whether in worship or study sessions, read Scripture aloud in manageable portions, in the hearing of the whole congregation, for interpretation and common understanding.

A good case in point might be Luke's congregation in the first century for whom he first gathered his sources for study of the work of God in Christ (the Gospel) and in the early churches (Acts of the Apostles). It is very clear from even a cursory reading of Luke and Acts that Luke and his largely gentile congregation must have been quite familiar with Hebrew Scripture in its early Greek translation (the Septuagint), since Luke constantly presupposes quite an in-depth knowledge of large portions of this material. In fact Scripture was just as important to the formation of Luke's two volumes as the Christian sectarian sources (Mark and the sayings source “Q”) he undoubtedly also had available. Many of his most telling and subtle points are scored only if one knows Scripture quite well indeed. In our contemporary world, people are astonished by such evidence of comprehensive knowledge of the content of Scripture in a period prior to extensive literacy. Moreover, the shared reading-hearing of Scripture was critical to the individual's sense of identity and group membership.

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