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Week Four | Reading the Bible as a “We”

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Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus Online Biblical Study
Reading Assignment – Chapters 7 & 8
Listen to the Audio version | Reading Time: 4 minutes

As a teacher, I spend a lot of my day encouraging my third graders to focus on themselves.  Quite often, they want to be involved in everything around them, from letting me know that their classmate isn’t following directions, to making sure I am aware that two other students are having a disagreement. “Remember to worry about yourself because that’s who you are in control of,” are words I say multiple times a day.  

While in this setting, I do hope to foster a sense of individualism in my students. I also don’t want to encourage them to believe that they are the center of the universe.  I never want them to lose the concern for those around them.  I never want them to value self over community.  

When it comes to reading the Bible, we have to take somewhat the same approach.  There are times when we need to understand how the Bible speaks to us as individuals, but if that is the only way we approach reading the Bible, we misunderstand the writer’s original intentions. 

Thinking as a “We”

For most of my life, I read the Bible with the sole intention of seeing how God’s Word applied to me.  In times of struggle, I would look to different verses to bring me comfort because of what truth they spoke about how God would care for and provide for me.  I was putting myself at the center of Scripture, making it as my own “Personalized Bible.”  

When we read the Bible this way, when we individualize Scripture, we lose the author’s intended meaning.  In her book, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg reminds us, “Most of the time Jesus and Paul were speaking to groups and addressing them as a whole, not as individuals.”  Pg. 132

However, it is not solely our fault for interpreting Scripture in such an individualistic way. This habit mostly comes from how we, as Americans, interpret the word “you.”  According to Lois Tverberg, 

Part of the reason we read the biblical text as if it were addressed to ‘me personally’ is because English only has one word, you, which can be either singular or plural.  Unlike Greek, Hebrew and many other languages, we cannot distinguish whether a speaker is addressing one person or a group.  As a result, English speakers have a habit of reading every ‘you’ in the Bible as if it is addressed to “me all by myself’ rather than ‘me within God’s larger community’.” 

Lois Tverberg, Pg. 132-133, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

When we work to remove ourselves from the center of Scripture and shift our focus from “me”  (individual) to “we”  (community), we begin to interact with Scripture as God fully intended for us to. 

Collective Culture

When we look at the cultural context of Scripture, we see that community lies at the forefront.  Within this collective culture, community is everything. Think about the tribes of Israel, the genealogical accounts in Scripture, or even the people of Acts coming to live and serve together. These are all examples of how Judaism is, at its core, community-focused.   So, when we look at Scripture from the perspective that “you” typically meant the author was referring to a group, it changes our interpretation of God’s Word.  

For example, Lois takes a look at a popular verse,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 
Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

Looking at that verse out of context and with ourselves in the center, we understand that we can rest in the hope that no matter what we go through, God will provide.  In fact, He already has a plan in which we will prosper, be safe from harm, and have hope for our future.  I know I have found this verse on graduation gifts, coffee mugs, and other items over the years, where it is used to declare personal validation of God’s provision in our lives.  

However, looking at this verse in its original context, we see Jeremiah speaking these words to a group of Israelites during the Babylonian exile.  These individuals had been torn from their land, surrounded by death and other horrors.  

All God’s promises seemed utterly undone.  After seeing their world collapse, Jeremiah’s words about God’s plan to give his people ‘hope and a future’ must have been absolutely breathtaking.

Lois Tverberg, Pg. 135, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

Making this shift in perspective from ourselves to the ancient people of Israel, we learn so much more about God.  We witness his “tremendous, redemptive love” and understand that He is a God who is willing and able to move mountains for His people.  

Looking back at our blog post from week two, we focused on the meaning of the word “Christ.” 

“Christ” means “the anointed one” or “God’s appointed King.”  This “implies that he rules over a kingdom, a body of people.  To “accept Christ” is to “enter his kingdom,” an inherently plural action.  The main focus of his earthly ministry was to announce what God was doing on earth to redeem an entire people for himself.”

Lois Tverberg, Pg. 153, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus

It has never and will never be just about us (individuals), friends. 
It has always been about us (community).  

1. Scripture is not meant to be individualized.
2. The word “you” in Scripture often meant the author was referring to a group of individuals. 
3. When we work to remove ourselves from the center of Scripture and shift our focus from me (individual) to we (community), we begin to interact with Scripture as God fully intended for us to.

Go back to some of your favorite verses in the Bible that speak directly to “you.”  How does your understanding of Scripture change when we view those verses with a “we” perspective instead of a “me” perspective? 

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Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus | Lois Tverberg

A 7-week study considering what it might be like to sit down beside Jesus as He explained the Bible and find fresh, practical insights for following our Rabbi’s teachings from a Jewish point of view.

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