From the very earliest day of the life of the Church, the words of Scripture permeated every aspect of the Church’s life. This began with the Apostles themselves and all of the New Testament writers, who were reading the Old Testament Scriptures in the light of Christ, Who had finally revealed that the Scriptures testified of Him (Luke 24:25-27 et. al.). The Apostolic writings that would later come to be known as the New Testament were in many cases a meditation on the Passion of Christ through the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets of old. The earliest Christian writers such as St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaeus followed in this same Tradition.
This same emphasis on Scripture permeated the life of worship. In early days, it was common that Christians would have the entire Book of Psalms memorized, and would sing them in the fields as they worked. In Orthodox monasteries to this day, the entire Book of Psalms is prayed weekly. Every day Orthodox Christians have an Epistle and a Gospel reading as nourishment for the life of a disciple of Christ throughout the year. The primary worship event of the Church, the Divine Liturgy, contained hundreds of references to Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. It is absolutely saturated with the vision of God’s glory contained in the pages of the Prophets and the Book of Revelation, as well as the remembrance of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ for our salvation.
Because the Christian Faith, from our perspective, is about knowing God through Christ, we see the Bible in the same way. We hesitate when some Christians point to the text of the Bible as the pivotal authority, because the Word of God is a Person, not a text. That is, the text of the Bible only gains its power, authority, and inspiration in and through Christ, and read in and through Christ. To deny this can easily make the text the foundation of the faith, and can sometimes be approached as a text that we approach like any other text. But this is not the ancient Orthodox understanding of Scripture nor that which the Apostles had. Rather, only Jesus Christ gives meaning to the Bible. He is the “Word of God” that gives meaning to the Bible. The Old Testament, while we believe it does tell of historical events, is not primarily concerned with telling a chronological history. Its primary concern according to the Fathers and Tradition of the Church is to reveal Jesus Christ in His Incarnation, Ministry, Passion, and Resurrection. Every page of the Old Testament is a revelation and prophecy about Him. That means we are not reading history that doesn’t apply to us, but about a person whom we desire to know. Our perspective on the Bible is summarized by Jesus’ statement in the Gospel of John (5:39): “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them, you have eternal life. But it is they that bear witness about me.”
The Soul’s Longing: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Biblical Interpretation