Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Lattanzi Ten - 3/5/15

On this delightful snow day (we got about 7.5 inches out there), I figured we'd change gears just a little bit. Most people who know me know my background is in theology and I have taught both the Old and New Testaments at the high school level for several years now. I present today's Ten - the ten books of the Bible that absolutely should be read. The caveat, of course, is that the entire Bible ought to be read, but if you are looking to get the basics, these ten are a great starting point to gain an understanding how Christianity came to be. I prefer to read the Revised Standard Version (RSV), but the Catholic Church in North America has used the New American Bible for the past forty years or so; it is also the version I use when teaching -- J.L.

1. Genesis

Seems fairly obvious, right? Might as well start at the beginning and see the path of humanity's descent. It is a very entertaining book in so many ways; it also is essential to understanding why Christ came, even though it details events hundreds and thousands of years prior to his arrival.

2. Exodus

The great release of Israel from the iron fist of the Pharaoh of Egypt. Ok, that's the laconic version. Exodus in some ways is a companion to Genesis in the sense that we learn how Israel was formed and how they truly became the Chosen People. Also included are some instances of growing pains and the first of many mistakes the rebellious people made in the desert. We also see Moses giving the fifteen ten commandments! Finally, one of the most important things to see is how Passover started, and when you consider that connection to Jesus' suffering and death, it takes on an even greater significance.

3. The First Book of Samuel

The rise of the monarchy in Israel has implications that would go on for centuries. It even influenced the Apostles as Jesus was about the ascend to heaven. This book also chronicles the introduction and rise of David, who would long be acknowledged as the greatest of all Israelite kings. 

4. Job

A lot of time is spend hand-wringing over the fact that God and Satan (the name means "The Adversary" - sort of an otherworldly prosecutor) have a "bet" over whether Job will be faithful to God and not curse him. This tends to miss the point of the book and is a classic example of missing the forest for the trees (similar to arguing whether Genesis supports scientific claims).

The real genius of the book is that for the first time, there is a long-form attempt to counter the long-standing belief with Jewish thought for several centuries that reward and punishment here on earth were a direct result of one's actions. That is, if you were sick or ill (or poor), you obviously did something to deserve that state. Likewise, if you were wealthy, it obviously meant you were such a good person and God was smiling upon you with prosperity. Yes, Joel Osteen was alive and well even 2,500 years ago. Job didn't stop people from thinking this way, but it at least showed that sometimes, it just happensand there is not an explanation. 

5. Psalms

The Psalms is the great songbook of the Old Testament, and still in heavy rotation in the Church today. Some are more frequently used than others, and some take on extremely important significance in terms of fulfillment with Jesus, such as Psalms 22 and 118 (among others).

6. Daniel

If you have ever read the Book of Revelation, the stylistic format owes a huge debt to Daniel. If you remember Jesus' words to the High Priest at his trial, he was quoting from chapter 7 of Daniel.  

7. The Gospel of John

It was a tough battle to decide whether this or the Gospel of Matthew should be here, but after consideration, the eyewitness touch of John wins the tiebreaker. When I have taught the Gospels to my students, the analogy I offer (since most of them are sports fans) is that the first three (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are like highlight reels of a game: this is what happened, this is what was said, this is who was there, this is when and where it occurred. The Gospel of John is more akin to an NFL Films production: it is more dramatic and has the sense of looking back and understanding the why of what happened, even as it shows who, what, where, and when.

8. The Acts of the Apostles

Aside from the story of Jesus himself, the most fascinating story (in my opinion) of the New Testament is the transformation of the Apostles from cowardly, hesitant individuals into fiery and fearless defenders of the Faith. Of course, one can pin "blame" on the Holy Spirit for that, but all of them (except John) went to their deaths in an unnatural way because of their fearless witnessing to Christ. Acts chronicles some of these stories, but mostly it revolves around of the most important individuals: Peter and Paul. 

9. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians

This is easily my favorite epistle of Paul. Corinth was a hellhole 2,000 years ago, and while many Christians there were converted for want of something more than their empty pagan lives, they nevertheless had to be instructed in an almost-nonstop fashion to stop acting like the former pagans they once were. 1st Corinthians has a little bit of everything in it, and while it has much to say in its own time, it still has much to say to us now in the year 2015.

10. Revelation

Because 666! Actually, this book is probably the most referenced and quoted while being the least understood. Sort of a Law of Inverse Understanding, similar to how many people will quote Matthew 7:1 ("judge not lest ye be judged") without knowing what it actually means. Revelation is a book of hope and courage under the veneer of monsters, horns, beasts, and destruction. When you consider the time period (immense persecution of Christianity), hope and courage should make a little more sense. Unfortunately, too many people look to see how Hitler, Stalin, Bush, or Obama fulfill the signs. They need to try a little harder.

Bonus. The Letter to the Hebrews

This is the forgotten letter (which isn't really a letter when you look at the form) of the New Testament, but is a treasure trove of explaining the connection of the New Covenant forged through Christ's death and resurrection to the Old Covenant made with Israel. Lots of Old Testament references and the best explanation in the distinctions of faith within the two covenants.

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