Edit* I feel, after some of the response from readers, that I should mention at the very beginning of this post that I still hold scripture in high regard. I still think that it is extremely important in helping us to 1. Understand the Divine, and 2. understand our purpose and how to be human. Scripture, in my view, is one of our most helpful tools, however, I would also argue that it is not the destination. It is not the end all be all of humanity nor the Divine. This is the argument that I am making in this blog post. I hope this stimulates your mind and helps you in your own journey of discovering the Divine.
How many of you have ever heard it said in Church on a Sunday morning, “We believe in the authority of scripture”, or “Let us hear God’s word today”, and then the pastor would read a verse from I Corinthians and say something along the lines of “And then, get this, this is what GOD says…” This grinds my gears to no end. As a student of the Bible, and of Christianity itself, hearing these kinds of phrases used in our churches drives me up a wall. In so many churches today, there is a view that the Bible is the “inerrant” word of God, meaning that it is directly from the mouth of God, almost as if humanity was dictating it, and it is also without error. Everything written in the Bible is exactly as it should be; no exceptions. Anything outside of the Bible is false and going to burn in hell (but let’s not mention the fact that the Bible never really talks about hell in the sense that we understand it today….just saying).
In light of my previous post (here), I feel as though it is necessary to speak about my views of just what The Bible is and is not. So first, let’s begin with what the Bible is not.
- The Bible is not inerrant
What I mean by this is that the Bible is not the 100% spoken word of God written down by Moses, almost like a scribe furiously scribbling down what the Divine was saying up from the clouds. The simple fact is that the Bible was written by human beings, Jewish scribes in fact. These scribes were writing down the history and stories that had been passed down to them by their ancestors because they were trying to tell a story, and maintain their culture at the same time. The Hebrew Scriptures that we have today were written in and around the time of Judah’s exile in Babylon (587BCE), now wonder they were trying to keep a hold of their traditions. Their temple (the place where God dwelled) was destroyed, (In the ancient mindset, this would be tantamount to their God being killed) and they were exiled from their homes.
Beyond that, there is evidence found in the manuscripts that there were grammatical and scribal errors found within the texts themselves. The Scribes were not dictating God’s audible voice, but were trying to tell a story of their history and culture. These stories that were written down were not meant to be historical fact; and this is just the Hebrew Scriptures! What Christians refer to as the New Testament, most definitely was not written with the intention of being labeled Scripture, but instead, it is a group of letters that were written by Jesus’ earliest followers. These letters were written to help other followers of Jesus make sense of how to live their lives as Christ followers in light of living in the oppressive Roman Empire, which, in all reality, is not terribly different from Western Culture today.
I must note, while it may be said that God inspired the scribes to write the Bible, and I am by no means saying that the Divine did not have any hand in the creation of scripture , there is no grounds whatsoever to say that the Bible is the divine word of God, word for word, 100%. That simply is not true. That’s not even how God works and interacts with people in the Bible itself! The Bible is not meant to be the inerrant word of God, but rather it is a human story meant to begin asking questions of the great mystery of who the Divine is and what humanity’s purpose in the cosmos is.
- The Bible is not an idol
Because of this view on the Bible being the authoritative, inerrant word of God, what has happened is people have begun equating Scripture with God, making claims that, since it is the 100% word of God, the Bible is actually the only way we determine what God is saying and who God is. In other words, the Bible has been made into a god itself. It has gotten to the point where churches have begun calling themselves “bible churches”, instead of “Churches as members of the Body of Christ”. Now I know what you’re saying, I’m being rather semantic about this sort of thing, but it is important to understand the impact that language has. It is not just what is written on the sign, but the implications that lie underneath that. Our view of the Bible has been warped. Instead of understanding the Bible has being written by human hands, talking about human stories, it has become, more or less, a rule book to live by, given to us by God without any sort of error or mistakes and cannot be questions or changed (sort of like many people’s views of the US constitution?). This has resulted in any questions of the bible that are asked are instantly turned away, labeled heretical, and dismissed without a second glance, because, after all, questioning the Bible is questioning God himself. In most cases, many people who rely on the Bible being inerrant also view God as only masculine, never mind the countless images of God as mother that are found within the Bible that they hold so dear. The other problem with this view is that it creates the ability for misinterpretation and using the Bible to support basically anything that you want. There are people who use the Bible to support their views for and against violence, for and against Homosexuality, for and against oppression, etc. etc. But since it is found in the Bible, it’s fine. You don’t need to understand the overarching story or the historical details and cultural differences found within this complex book. As long as it’s in the Bible, it’s good. It’s from God, so it’s totally cool to go and kill my neighbor because he’s a muslim terrorist. It’s fine to bomb Syria, because it’s for the greater good. It’s cool to turn away homeless people, they’re just being lazy and need to find their own jobs. Do you begin to see the destructive practices that people are using the Bible to support? Do you see how this can be problematic when people are equating the Bible with God? it goes from using a book to support actions to using God to support actions. This is a problem because, time and time again, once you dig deeper, through the cultural context and read more than just skin deep, the Bible time and time again speaks out against injustice. In fact, when we begin talking about what the Bible is, we’ll unpack that even more. But the simple fact is, when we equate the Bible, a human creation, with God, we begin idolizing it and missing out on the Divine, which was the purpose for the Bible in the first place.
Now, let’s focus on what the Bible is.
- The Bible is a story
As I talked about earlier, the bible is not a history book, but rather it is a story, aimed at telling a specific tale. The story these ancient scribes were trying to tell was that of a people group who had been raised in slavery, but saved by a Divine being that seeks to stand for the outcast, widow, and oppressed. However, even though they were saved by this divine being, Yahweh, they still found it hard to do as Yahweh asked them to, which was to go out and continue to serve and love and stand for the widow and the outcast and the oppressed, just as Yahweh did for them. (Does this sound like any other Bible character at all yet?) Because of this, this nation, the Israelites, fell to the sways of power, corruption and violence. Israel, who once had been oppressed themselves, became the oppressor. Eventually, bigger fish came around and swallowed the nation whole, namely the Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Persians. However, despite all this corruption Yahweh continued to call this nation back to working for justice for the oppressed and downtrodden. The Prophets talk about how life and forgiveness and mercy is found within following the path of justice. They discredit the empire that the nation tried to build through political and religious power and instead say that it is through working towards helping the weak and needy, through recommitting their lives to being LIKE Yahweh, and by seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, they will find life eternal. The Bible is not a rule book meant to be idolized, but instead it is the human story of finding freedom, tripping up, going through the hard journey of exile, and coming out of that exile a changed person, more wise and tempered to face what is coming ahead.
- The Bible describes the mystery
The human story that is told within the contents of the Bible is completely about human’s asking two big, mysterious questions. 1. Who/what is the Divine that designed the cosmos? and 2. If we are created in the image of this Divine being, what is our own purpose in the cosmos? This is the mystery of the human experience. Along with that comes things like, joy, blessing, relationship, fear, doubts, pain, suffering, and reconciliation. Throughout the entire scriptures, the undercurrent of the who/what the Divine is an undercurrent of trinitarian love, humility, and service. There is joy found in the covenantal relationship of love, humility, and service with the Divine and with each other. There is also suffering and pain found within that as well, because fear, and doubts, and pain are all part of this thing called life. On top of that, the question of what our purpose in the cosmos comes up as well. Time and time again, our purpose is to go and be like yahweh, or if your a fan of the New Testament, be like Jesus; loving and serving as the Divine loves and serves. Through the stories of the Bible, however, we see that it is not always an easy road. There is hardship and suffering. We don’t always get things right. Sometimes we fall prey to the empirical power structure of our culture. Sometimes pain and doubt clouds our minds, keeping us from making wise decisions. Sometimes we lash out in anger. Sometimes we hurt others without meaning it. Sometimes we are hurt by others. The Bible gives words and language to this mystery of finding our purpose despite all the shit that flies when it hits the fan, so to say. The Divine essence and our purpose lie in humble love and service. This is the purpose of the Bible. It is not a rule book to be followed. It is not the words of God. It is the story of humanity asking these questions of the Divine, and their encounters and experiences with It. THAT, is what the Bible is.
Grace and Peace
This is a personal blog and does not necessarily represent the views of Community Church or any groups mentioned here