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Readings for Reflection: June 2010
from the Committee on Ministry and Counsel

In this passage, Henry J. Cadbury reminds Friends of the value not only of reading the Bible but also of considering it as a whole. The Friends General Conference website notes that Cadbury “was one of the group scholars who made the Revised Standard Version of the Bible under the National Council of Churches, a member of the teams on the New Testament and on the Apocryhpha. For twenty years he was Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard University. He taught New Testament also at Bryn Mawr, Pendle Hill, Temple University, and Drew Theological Seminary.” Henry was also the father of the late Betty Musgrave, who was active in our Meeting from 1966 to 1992.

This passage appears, sometimes abridged, in recent editions of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s
Faith and Practice; the unabridged version below comes from the 1972 edition.


On Scripture

How much the Bible has to teach when taken as a whole, that cannot be done in snippets! There is its range over more than a thousand years giving us the perspective of religion in time, growing and changing, and leading from grace to grace. There is its clear evidence of the variety of religious experience, not the kind of strait-jacket that nearly every church, including Friends, have sometimes been tempted to substitute for the diversity in the Bible. To select from it but a single strand is to miss something of its richness. Even the uncongenial and the alien to us is happily abundant in the Bible. The needs of men today are partly to be measured by their difficulty in understanding that with which they differ. At this point, the Bible has no little service to render. It requires patient insight into the unfamiliar and provides a discipline for the imagination such as today merely on the political level is a crying need of our time. The silence is the same silence that we know in our Yearly Meeting, the testimonies are the same; the flow of feeling and thought is the same, the Spirit’s leading is the same.

Further, the Bible is a training school in discrimination among alternatives. One of the most sobering facts is that it is not on the whole a peaceful book – I mean a book of peace of mind. The Bible is the deposit of a long series of controversies between rival views of religion. The sobering thing is that in nearly every case the people shown by the Bible to be wrong had every reason to think they were in the right, and like us they did so. Complacent orthodoxy is the recurrent villain in the story from first to last, and the hero is the challenger, like Job, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul.

Henry J. Cadbury (1883-1974)
A Quaker Approach to the Bible
Ward Lecture, 1953


All Readings for Reflection
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