When Bible texts are like mountaintops

By Melissa Miller

Any spectacular mountains in your travels this summer? Many of us feel awe and wonder when we survey such “lofty mountain grandeur.”

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How about a closer look at the “mountains” in scripture? Do they inspire us in a similar way? Let me explain.

Bible professors have been known to assign students the task of identifying key passages. It’s a different task than identifying one’s favorite scriptures. It’s a way to sort and sift through the whole Bible to determine the passages that speak to the heart of the biblical witness to God and God’s relationship with people and with the earth.

“Think of these texts as like mountaintops,” the professor will explain. “They rise to the top in our vision and in our understanding of scripture. We look at other sections of the Bible within the peaks of these mountains.”

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As a child of the mountains, I resonate with the teaching metaphor. It’s a visual way to help us understand that some scriptures dominate our interpretation, in the same way that mountains dominate the environment. The mountaintop reminds us that we don’t hold all the words of scripture with exactly the same weight. Even if we agree with the apostle Paul that all scripture is “God-breathed and useful one way or another” (2 Timothy 3:16 The Message).

What scriptures are our mountaintop scriptures? Is it the story of the exodus? Do we include Isaiah’s eloquent description of the suffering servant? Is the Golden Rule shining on the mountain? How about Paul’s joyful word to the Philippians of Jesus’ self-giving love? Is there a chance that Mennonites could agree about the key scriptures, even while recognizing favorites for some individuals or subgroups?

MennoMedia paired with two denominations, Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA, to create a list of key scriptures. First we had to agree on the terms; the leaders wanted to include passages from different parts of the Bible and to give due attention to the treasured scriptures that have guided Anabaptists for centuries. At the end, thirteen core scriptures were selected.

A resource was then created, including a video with scholars and lovers of the Bible reflecting on the meaning and message of the passage. Called Dig In: 13 Scriptures to Help us Know the Way, it draws us back to our Reformation roots of digging into life-giving biblical passages while helping us navigate the turbulent waters of today. Reading through these scriptures, as I’ve done several times, I am deeply moved by the power of scripture to comfort, guide and challenge us.

As a pastor, I am excited about bringing this resource to my congregation in Manitoba. I am planning to use it in an integrated worship-Sunday School series this fall. Even the awesomely flat landscape of the prairies can be the setting for mountaintop experiences in scripture.

Do you have ideas or creative ways of Bible study as a congregation? Here’s what some are doing. We’d love to hear what you’ve done or are planning.

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Melissa Miller, MennoMedia Board President

(Photos courtesy of Tanya Sparks, first, and Melodie Davis second.)

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