Reading Ancient Classics
Rod Dreher is reading Dante, or rather a commentary on Dante. He comments on now this particular book helps him read Dante. I remember taking a class in college on Dante and I understood very little of it.
The experience of reading older works of literature is informative to the wonder we should possess that millions upon millions of people read a far older book and think nothing of it, the Bible.
Go ahead and try reading Chaucer, or Dante, or Shakespeare or how many other dead poets. Even reading CS Lewis’ work from the mid 20th century (like The Great Divorce) can sometimes give you an appreciation for the short shelf-life of much of what we read.
Then consider how much more vastly foreign the Bible is to all of its contemporary readers. The uneducated, the over-educated, the homeless, the blue collar, the busy, the most historically unconscious readers imaginable regularly read the Bible and think not a thing of it.
Of course reading the Bible today for many is nothing like reading Chaucer or Dante or Shakespeare. There are actually a host of helper that help most audiences engage the text.
The church of course has created a community and a tradition for understanding the text. The church is like a stream that carries us along, helping to make the text intelligible. Sermons, Sunday School classes, Bible studies, etc. It is tempting in the church to sometimes abandon regular Bible study and instruction but this is one of the most important functions of the church.
Modern Scholarship of course is another aid. In my Sunday School classes I regular remind people that a huge amount of work went into that volume they hold in their hand that refers to “the Bible”. They are armed with a myriad of footnotes, study Bibles and other materials to help them understand and read the ancient text in some manner of context.
The Holy Spirit also helps the reader says the Christian church. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would remind them of what Jesus had to say, and the Holy Spirit still does through the church, the tools mentioned before and in other ways.
Take a moment next time you pick up your Bible to ponder how amazing it is. Try sticking your nose into Dante or Shakespeare and see how difficult it is to understand, how foreign it sounds and then consider the ease with which you read your Bible.
Remember those who have not benefited from all that you have and be patient with them as they pick up this strange book and try to understand it.
Be thankful for the church, the scholars and the Holy Spirit that has made what should be strange intelligible to you.