Meg Tepfer, a Jewish student at Taylor University contrasts differences between Christians and Jews in their treatment of God’s Holy Word. Meg writes:
It’s nine o’clock…do you know where your Bible is? If you are Christian, chances are good that it is perched in the middle of a stack of books on your desk, filled with Post-It notes, bookmarks, church programs and other papers, its pages covered in notes inked into the margins with a tattered book cover barely holding it together. Jews, your Bibles might be a little more elusive; you tend to put them away after use. Just look for the most well cared for book on your bookshelf. You know: the one with the crisp, clean pages, unmarked except for the text, a cover that has never touched the floor or had a bookmark inserted between its pages.
How do you treat your Bible? Is it an often-visited friend or a highly revered teacher?
As a Jew attending a Christian college, I have noticed some key issues with Bible treatment. The way most Christians treat their Bibles can be summed up with these words: “Jesus is my homeboy.” For Christians, the Bible is a friend to turn to in times of need. The amount of wear and tear a person’s Bible has accumulated only serves to indicate how much time one has spent reading it. Biblical study is a regular exercise thing for Christians, who prize closeness, friendship and intimacy with God. The Bible is a tool, used to know God better and to internalize what God expects from the humans He created. Note making between lines or in the margins is perfectly acceptable, making going back to re-read a Bible passage easier the next time. The text of a Christian Bible is almost always in the native language of the reader. An American Christian would usually have an English Bible, not a Hebrew or Greek one. Reading the Bible is meant to be easy and for everyone, so that as many people as possible can understand the Word of God. Folding down page corners, book-marking memorable passages and using the Bible as a place to keep papers and programs are all permissible for Christians. During some Bible studies, participants even lay their Bibles on the floor while writing in them or to gain an easier reading angle. Christians may even eat or recline while reading the Bible.
This casual friendship with God and His word is also evident in the other practices of Christians. They say God’s name aloud. They have loosely-translated versions of Scripture, like The Message Bible. They think of God as a friend.
Jews have a much different way of treating their Bibles. The Bible, for a Jew, is a respected teacher—the Word of God is a guide to human life. God, too, is respected and revered in a more formal way in Judaism. A Jewish Bible is expected to be little worn and little torn. Jews keep their Bibles neat, which, for them, means as close to new condition as possible. The better the condition of a Jewish Bible, the more respect the person who owns it is thought to have for God’s Word.
A Jew would not write in the margins of his or her Bible, nor would there be Post-It notes, bookmarks or any other papers stuck between the pages. Note taking during study of the Bible is encouraged, but a Jew believes it should only be done in notebooks. Many Jewish Bibles are in Hebrew. Many Jews go to Hebrew School for several years just to learn how to read the Bible in what they consider to be God’s Holy Language. Their Bibles usually contain either just Hebrew or Hebrew on one side of the page and their native language’s translation on the other.
Jews say special prayers in Hebrew before reading their Bibles. They do not recline or eat during Bible study. It is done formally and with much attention to tradition. The pages in a Jewish Bible are not to be written on, folded down, book-marked or otherwise abused. Jews do not put their Bibles on the floor. The Jewish Bible is always on top of a stack of books. Always.
This formal respect for God is displayed in the traditions of Jews. They treat God as a revered teacher. Jews usually lack the intimacy with God that characterizes Christians, but make up for it by respecting Him unquestioningly. They do not say God’s name aloud. They do not have flowery translations of the Bible. God may be their friend, but He is not their “homeboy.”
Neither way is necessarily better than the other. Christians and Jews each have valid reasons for treating their Bibles as they do. The way someone treats his or her Bible as a book appears to be symbolic of the way he or she maintains a relationship with God. Is God your friend, your teacher, or your “homeboy?”
Meg Tepfer is a professional writing major at Taylor University Fort Wayne and a freelance book reviewer for Church Libraries.
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