A visit to the bookstore reveals that the Bible now comes packaged in a dizzying array of colors, shapes, sizes, translations, and editions. For many people, obtaining a copy of the Holy Scriptures is a simple matter. This Biblical buffet seems commonplace today, but when we consider that the Bible was not widely available for a large chunk of the Church’s history, we see that we have unprecedented access to the written Word of God. For example, during the time of the desert monks (circa 300 A.D.), much of the population was unable to read or write. The Bible was only available to them via what they heard from others and what they were able to commit to memory.
A quick thought experiment: how much of the Bible would you have access to if you had to rely solely upon your memory and what you heard when you went to church? (Note: this isn’t a guilt-trip, it is meant to help get a sense of how valued hearing and memorizing Scripture was.)
Thus, memorization was the primary means of having Scripture readily available for the individual. For the vast majority of monks, committing Scripture to memory came only as the result of prolonged recitation and meditation upon the words. Once a particular passage was memorized, it was then available to be recalled for meditation, prayer, teaching, etc. In this way, the average person’s interaction with Scripture lent itself to rumination and internalization (although it was by no means a guarantee of it).
In the modern era, we find ourselves in the unique position of having Scripture and information about Scripture at our finger tips. With the touch of a button, we can read hundreds of years of commentators and theologians, as well as a vast number of Bible translations. While we are greatly blessed to have such a wealth of information available, it can lead to an information overload.
The focal point of our time with Scripture can become the accumulation information about it and not actually taking to heart the words we have expended so much effort to learn about. Just as we must ask ourselves whether we know God or merely know about Him, we must also ask ourselves if we know Scripture or merely know about it.
The work of scholars and commentators won’t do us any good unless we let the words of Scripture take root in our lives. Information about Scripture is helpful for our understanding of it, but such information cannot penetrate beyond the intellectual level. Therefore, it cannot effect change in our hearts: that is the work of God speaking to us through Scripture. It is up to us to hold God’s words close to our heart so that He can imprint them on our heart.
It is a good thing to study Scripture, but this cannot be the only thing we do with it. It is also good to read Scripture, but this cannot be the only thing we do with it. In Christ’s parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23), only the seed which fell on the good soil bore fruit. The good soil receives the seed into it and allows it to take root. Prayer, meditation, and practice are the means by which we receive the seed into the soil and tend it while the Lord grows it.
It is an amazing thing to have access to so much Scripture and information about Scripture. However, we must use it wisely and not plant the seeds too thickly. Doing so will exhaust the soil and lead to a poor crop. Instead, we ought to take on Scripture in manageable quantities which we are able to receive into our hearts as we pray and meditate on it and put it into practice. In this way we allow it to grow in us and change us.