Eating God’s Word

Olga Fabrikant-Burke, Lecturer in Old Testament
June 13, 2024

The most common biblical image for reading the Bible is eating. Our guts are involved. Ezekiel is commanded to eat the scroll he receives from God (Ezekiel 3:1–3). And so the prophet obediently munches his way through the written divine word, and it tastes as sweet as honey in his mouth. In the book of Revelation, the scroll turns the seer’s stomach sour (Revelation 10:9–10). Jeremiah, too, feasts on the words of God (Jeremiah 15:16). “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” the book of Deuteronomy famously declares (Deuteronomy 8:3).

But what exactly does it mean to eat God’s Word? Frankly, eating a leather or papyrus scroll is not exactly my idea of a great meal!

This all-pervasive gastronomic imagery, it seems to me, points to the way the total person, the entire self, rather than just a small fragment of us, is involved in reading the Bible.

We often read the Bible with our heads, for information, scouring its pages in search of the right ideas or abstract truths to fill our minds with. Sometimes our engagement with the Bible shifts to a more devotional register as we feel our hearts strangely warmed. But as important as our intellects and our deepest emotions are, the Word of God reaches deeper still. Not only does the Bible engage our heads and our hearts, but it grabs us by something even more fundamental—something that underpins our very being—namely, the gut. Reading the Bible is not simply a matter of thinking, nor is it only a matter of feeling or even doing. It is a matter of being.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, Jesus prays Psalm 22. At this moment of unimaginable pain, in the midst of intense suffering, when for most of us nothing but inchoate groans are even remotely possible, Jesus reaches for the Scriptures. Scripture—what we now call “the Old Testament” but for Jesus was the only Bible he ever knew—is woven into the very fabric of his being. Jesus knows, in his bones, the grooves and tracks of Scripture. He sees the world around him, in all its glory and all its horror, through a scripture-shaped lens. The Word of God sustains him, even in the depths of pain and grief, and shapes his way of being in the world.

To eat the scroll, to read the Bible with our guts, is to cultivate a scripture-centred way of thinking, doing, and being in the world. Through the scriptural lenses, we see the world and our place within it all the more clearly.

But the gut imagery highlights another crucial dimension of our engagement with the Bible. Just as we wholly rely on food for sustenance and do not consciously control our digestion, so does the Word of God elude our controlling grasp. Scripture, the Word of God, is active; it is living; it is powerful. “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29) The Letter to the Hebrews famously calls the Word of God “a two-edged sword,” “dividing asunder soul and spirit, joints and marrows,” and “discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). In other words, “the Word of God” denotes not just divine revelation, but also the mode of God’s action in the world. The Scriptures are, in some mysterious way, not just divine speech, but divine action. The Word of God shapes human lives. It shapes our lives.

At Ridley, we introduce our students to the cutting edge of biblical scholarship and equip them to become attentive and insightful readers, teachers, and preachers of the Bible. But we also desire to have a transformative encounter with Scripture that involves our entire being. No, we don’t serve leather scrolls for lunch in the Dining Hall. But we do recognise that the Bible reads us as much as we read it.


If you want to explore the idea of “reading the Bible with our guts” more, a good place to start is Enjoying the Bible: Literary Approaches to Loving the Scriptures by Matthew Mullins (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021).

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