During the pandemic, the members of a book club in Charlottesville, Virginia challenged themselves to read the Bible like they read novels - and were amazed by what they discovered.
According to Jenny Rough of the WORLD Radio, the group was started by Hannah Hadley, in her desire to gain new friends as a new settler in the city.
The members would meet monthly, taking on novels and books, such as Delia Owens' "Where the Crawdads Sing" and Aldo Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac," respectively.
But when the pandemic hit, the gathering took a break. During that time, Hadley happened to remember reading the Bible but noted that though she tried to read the whole book, she could only read half of it. Then, her neighbor suggested to use the Bible in the book club's reading session "as a work of literature."
The suggestion gained mixed reactions from other members, saying that the idea is daunting and controversial.
However, some who were intrigued joined the reading sessions. Their goal is just to read the text and not to interpret the Scriptures.
Brian Parker, a pastor in Grace Community Church in Arlington, Virginia, said that Bible studies can sometimes lead to being stuck on little details, losing the whole context. But he shared some ways to avoid such scenario.
Parker said that club members can opt to read only a portion instead of the whole Bible.
"...just read a book. Read it through. And just try to get your mind wrapped around the structure of it, the flow of it," he suggested.
He recommended reading the book of Mark which can be taken up in just 35 minutes.
The pastor recalled about a student who read the book daily in five days, saying that by doing so, she was struck by its narrative.
Holly Britt, one of the book club members, revealed that she only understood the meaning of communion after reading the entire book of Leviticus, which she rarely looked at prior to the pandemic, during their session.
"The mystery became real. So to see how Jesus became all of those things, in that, you know, there was the bread of the presence. I never understood, I am the body, I am the blood. I think that when I realized that the entire Jewish people, their communion with God was based on ritual," Britt said. "Then seeing how Jesus flipped the ritual to fulfill it Himself. I was like that's why we do this!"
However, Parker warned against reading the Bible without digging deeper into its appropriate interpretation.
"We wouldn't go to a love letter between a husband and wife and read it as a contract. That would make no sense. Same with if we go to an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, we're not going to read it for a strictly historical account of an event," the pastor explained.
"But yet when we get to the Bible, we read it and say it's monolithic. And to do that actually does incredible injustice to the text itself," he continued.
He added that the Bible contains poetry, parables, law, didactic and teaching narratives which are using different literary techniques "to communicate what they are doing."
Song Cho, a professor at Hampton University who tackles about Biblical allusions in literature, said that discovering Biblical allusions in Jane Austen's books can help people interpret the author's writings "differently." Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," for example, drew on the book of Proverbs, Cho noted.
Cho also cited a scenario in Charles Dickens' book, "A Christmas Carol," wherein the old business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge showed up as a ghost in chains. He said that such description was taken from the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus healed a man in chains who was possessed by an evil spirit.
He said that Amanda Gorman, a young poet who delivered her poem during Joe Biden's inauguration, is a modern example of writers who use Biblical allusions. In the "The Hill We Climb," Gorman referenced the Book of Micah by stating "everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid."
The professor remembered that high school students were given homework based on that poem.
"But I thought, wow, this would have been a golden opportunity for students to think about, you know, what's with that Micah reference?" he further said.
Cho stated that literature should be repeatedly read, just like Hamlet wherein people are learning "new things" every time they read it.
Parker said that like literature as Cho had mentioned, the Bible also works the same.
"It's not read once and it's conquered. There are things we have to dig a lot deeper into. And as we engage with that we're kind of mending this heaven and earth divide and realizing a little bit more about who God is and who He's created us to be," the pastor concluded.