February 23, 2020

Some Thoughts Heard around the Web on…the Bible

Loving the Bible for what it is, not what I want it to be
January 2, 2012, by Rachel Held Evans

My relationship with the Bible has been a lot like that of a daughter to her parents.

I’ve been through the happy, childlike dependency stage, the one where I believed the Bible was impenetrable, the stories of Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, and Joshua and the Battle of Jericho as true and as good as my mother’s scent.

Then, as a young adult, I fumbled through an angry stage, one where I realized that after Joshua “fit the battle of Jericho,” God told him to kill every man, woman, and child in the city, and that coursing through some of my favorite Bible stories were the currents of genocide, xenophobia, patriarchy, and misogyny. I began to doubt what I’d been told about the Bible’s exclusive authority, inerrancy, perspicuity, and internal consistency. Like a teenager suddenly made aware of her parents’ flaws, I screamed and hollered and slammed doors. I sunk into quiet withdrawal, feeling angry and betrayed that the Bible wasn’t what I’d once believed it to be.

Over the past few years, however, I’ve worked up the courage to re-approach the Bible, this time with a different set of expectations, and I get the feeling that I’m in the early stages of learning how to relate to it the way that an adult child relates to her parents, a way that honors and respects the Bible for what it is, not what I want it to be.

The Bible isn’t an answer book.

It isn’t a self-help book.

It isn’t a science or history textbook.

It isn’t even a single book – but rather an ancient collection of letters and laws, prophecies and proverbs, stories and songs, spanning thousands of years and written in languages and cultures far removed from my own.

And so the question I’ve been asking lately—especially after my “year of biblical womanhood”—is how do I relate to the Bible as a grownup? How do I honor it and value it and celebrate it for what it is, not what I want it to be?

How to Read the Bible
October 07, 2011, by J. Todd Billings (seen at Christianity Today)

A wide range of voices claims that a crisis of biblical interpretation is taking place. But contrary to many pundits, the crisis does not simply involve a decline in the Bible’s authority. Even when the Bible is turned to as the authority, it’s not necessarily interpreted Christianly.

Consider, for example, a recent Christian bestseller that offers a “Bible diet.” The book claims to enable better concentration, improve appearance, increase energy, and reverse the process of “accelerated aging.” To want to improve your appearance and energy level, do you have to be interested in knowing God or Jesus? Of course not. There is nothing intrinsically Christian about the advice.

Similar trends appear in Christian books that promise biblical solutions for success in finances, relationships, and family. These books can help Christians see implications of their faith for various aspects of life, but they often communicate that the Bible is the authoritative answer book to felt needs and problems. This message centers on the individual and his or her preferences, and does not interpret the Bible in a way that calls felt needs into question or looks beyond them.

It’s not just well-meaning writers but also many biblical scholars who fail to approach the Bible as Christian Scripture. Some approach it only as ancient history, using it as a piece of evidence in answering archeological or sociological questions about the ancient world. Other scholars try to reconstruct the thought of a book or author. A scholar can write an in-depth essay about Paul’s theology without ever considering that God could be addressing the scholar’s own time through Paul’s ancient texts.

Even those who try to connect the historical-critical context of a passage to today’s world can inadvertently suggest that most of the world’s Christians cannot truly understand God’s Word because they are not scholars. After returning from a semester of teaching church leaders in Ethiopia, I heard a well-known biblical scholar argue that “historical reconstruction” behind and within the biblical text is the central way to avoid idolatrous and unfaithful biblical interpretation. I left the lecture wondering: Where does that leave Ethiopia, a country with millions of Christians and a growing church, yet with very few who could historically reconstruct the Bible?

Partly due to the inadequacies of popular and scholarly readings of the Bible, an increasing number of scholars have been advocating a “theological interpretation of Scripture.” They encourage us to read the Bible as God’s instrument of self-revelation and saving fellowship. This school of interpretation includes a wide range of practices, but all of them move us toward knowing the triune God and being formed as Christ’s disciples through Scripture.

• • •

Note to publishers: Cease and desist on the new English Bible translations and study Bibles
January 01, 2011 by Allan R. Bevere (seen at The Christian Century)

Harper One has just published The C.S. Lewis Bible (an article on the Bible is here). Bibles are big business for publishers and with the publishing industry changing faster than you can power up your Kindle, it is understandable that publishers would want to capitalize on a money-maker.

But to Christian publishers and denominations (my own UMC was behind the Common English Bible) I say enough is enough. We do not need another English version, translation, or paraphrase. Moreover, as much as I love C.S. Lewis (I am teaching a seminar on Lewis starting this next week) we do not need a study Bible with certain portions of his writing lined up with passages of Scripture. Lewis’ writings are already available. Those who desire are able to access his work quite easily.

In a western culture of excess, the plethora of English translations and study Bibles present just one more example of such excess… and all in the name of Jesus! Anyone who speaks English not only can read the Bible, they now have to wade through exactly which Bible they want to read. If indeed one is confused over which English Bible to read, perhaps that already reveals the problem.

I have an idea. Instead of publishers and denominations getting behind yet another English translation, why don’t they put their energy and money and marketing plans into publishing Bibles in other languages. They can then have a program where those of us who have more Bibles on our shelves and tables than we can count can actually purchase Bibles for poor Christians in other countries. The publishers can still make a profit (which is certainly OK with me) and those of us who are blessed with an abundance of Bibles and enough money, can bring the written Word to those who have limited access to God’s Word or do not have access to it at all.

• • •

How can we trust the Canon created by the early Church?
Dr. D.A. Carson

The following video is one of several produced by The Ehrman Project, which describes its mission like this: “Dr. Bart Ehrman is raising significant questions about the reliability of the Bible. In an engaging way, he is questioning the credibility of Christianity. His arguments are not new, which he readily admits. Numerous Biblical scholars profoundly disagree with his findings. This site provides responses to Dr. Ehrman’s provocative conclusions.”

 

Comments

  1. Heh. Last week I posted on my blog about the basics of exegesis, and today I just posted my now-annual challenge to read the entire bible in January. (I will likely be reading the 2011 edition of the NIV, myself.)

    Here’s hoping all the thinking about it will get more people to take it seriously, and read it for once.

    • One month is an awfully short time frame; at my reading speed, if I wasn’t just skimming, that’d be 2 hours of reading a day, roughly. But I do agree that it’s very important to read the Bible cover-to-cover repeatedly and often enough that the details stay fresh in your mind and you’re able to notice connections between the books. Much of our bad exegesis in the evangelical world (like the “book of answers” approach) comes from being spoon-fed only carefully selected passages and only through the lens of someone else’s interpretation.

      I also find it very helpful, each time I read the Bible, to do so with a different goal in mind (looking for echoes of Christ in the OT; getting a sense of the chronology; examining how different people relate to and experience God; looking at what the Bible says about justice and poverty; etc.) That way, I don’t get stuck in a rut of one way of looking at each passage.

      • Michael ~ have you ever used “The Chronological Bible?” I have not but a friend said it was such a wonderful way to read through the Bible in a year.

        • Kerri in AK says

          I read the One Year Bible for 2 1/2 years (started in the June readings 2007 and completed 2008 and 2009). On the one hand, I’m glad I did because now the scripture readings in the various services I attend are familiar. On the other hand, reading a chunk of OT, NT, a psalm and a proverb every day was sometimes completely out of context. It could be difficult to keep track when following an OT story and then jumping to a part of the synoptic gospels every day or, worse, into the middle of Revelations. Also, now that we read a psalm at morning and evening prayer the psalms as a whole are becoming very familiar. That being said, however, if it helps someone read through the Bible, particularly when your time is limited, then by all means get yourself one of these.

          Alternatively, I’d suggest using a Bible commentary along with your regular Bible particularly when having a “goal” in mind. My favorite is “William Neil’s One Volume Bible Commentary” but I’m sure there are others.

      • The short time frame is the point of reading the bible in a month: It’s to get a quick overview. It’s not a substitute for a regular analytical look at the scriptures. It’s to remind yourself of what’s in there by looking at all of it.

  2. I think it would help a great deal if Christians would understand a couple of principles whn it comes to Holy Scripture.

    First, that it is both a product of man..and of God. The finite contains the infinite.

    And that it contains both law, and gospel. And to understand he purposes of each of those that God intends for us. The law shows us our need of a Savior…and the gospel hands over Christ, the Savior and Redeemer.

    ____________________________________________________________________________________

    The Word of God is Bible, that’s for sure. But it is more than just Bible.

    For Lutherans it is primarily preached and proclaimed (including Sacraments)…and then Bible.

    My 2 cents.

  3. There are two great, easy to read, “primers” on scripture that we used in my Ministry Formation, both by Etienne Carpentier….one on Hebrew Scripture and one on Christian scripture. It places the stories within the context of history and invites us to remember the author, genre, audience, etc. when exploring scripture. It is a terrific way to make it through that “teenage” angst that happens when the illusion of literalism and infallibility fall away.

  4. EXCESS!! That is the AMERICAN MANTRA. I remember when I worked at the bookstore standing and wondering how to make more shelf space for the new Bibles that came in weekly. Sports Bibles with covers that looked like footballs, soccer balls, Men’s, Women’s, Teens devotional Bibles, multi-color covers, duo tone covers, Jewish, Catholic, and on and on. I gritted my teeth and waited for the ultimate book of books, “The Bob and Larry Veggietale Bible”. One of the many things that bothered me about it all was that the more we studied, highlighted, met with our study group etc. the more our culture seemed in decline. Were we being salt and light from all this excess? And then hearing my pastor speak after his return from a trip to Russia. He told about speaking at a meeting where one or two people had just a portion of one book of the Bible and the others just looked over that persons shoulder to read. And he spoke of their joy – then he swept his arm over our mega-congregation and said, “I see no joy here.” What is wrong I wondered.

    So maybe I was expecting the wrong outcome from all this study. Maybe my approach was flawed. Actually all our “approaches” are flawed. The Answer Book. Yes, I came to Christ through reading the Scriptures. The Truth and Light came to me by way of the Scriptures. Martin Luther and his insistence on the right of all people to read it and interpret it for themselves thrills me to this day. And I believe that “how we approach the Bible or what we expect of the Bible” is the outcome of Luther’s courageous stance. We have had the food put into our own hands but we each have a different recipe.

    • sarahmorgan says

      People can’t seem to get that the Bible is not the place to look for specific, detailed instructions on how to live out one’s life; to the contrary, it’s the place to learn, “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son…” and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, mind, and soul” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Love one another, as I have loved you” and “Love your enemies” and, let’s not forget, “By your love for one another, the world will know Me”.

      The churches where I live are amazingly joyless. I still ask myself, Why is the knowledge that God loves us failing to bring anyone here joy? Isn’t it good enough?

      And sacrificial, selfless love is so thoroughly antithetical to what’s being taught/modeled in American churches these days. 🙁

  5. I’m reading through Genesis and find that the patriarchs were anything but role models. Jacob loved Rachael, because she was young and pretty and Leah was not. But God chooses Leah, in spite of not being chosen by Jacob. But instead that story is turned into a love story between Jacob and Rachael.

    • But Leah was a willing participant in the deception of Jacob on his wedding night. And she had no compassion on her sister’s inability to conceive. So she was not entirely blameless in this story.

      • The Previous Dan says

        This, of course, is the wonderful thing about the bible. Its “heroes” are deeply flawed people like us who were chosen by God. A message that falls right in line with the Gospel of the NT.

      • The deception portrayed by Leah and her father is strikingly similar to that of Jacob and her mother, when Jacob stole his brother’s birth right. It could be simply a story with the moral, “What goes around comes around”, but I think there a parable woven into the story.

  6. I think this guy has some pretty good thoughts on scripture…

    https://internetmonk.com/archive/my-view-of-scripture

  7. Steve Newell says

    The entire bible can be summarized as a story of man’s sin and God’s redemption. This is just another way of saying Law & Gospel is a constant theme in both the OT and NT.

  8. My favorite view of reading the bible can be found in Slate’s “Blogging the Bible” series by David Plotz (google it, IM doesn’t like links I know).

    I know a number of atheists who have read the entire Bible. It seems a right of passage for former Christians and Jews (I guess the attitude is to give your parents’ tradition a fair shot first) before embracing atheism.

    And the truth is there is a lot of ugliness in there. Genocide is probably the worst (I mean, imperfect humans have drawn up a convention against it, but the perfect Almighty orders it? This makes sense?) Certainly misogyny. Callous disregard for people and their emotional and physical well-being (no word is ever given if Isaac needed counseling after his almost being a burnt offering). Even the Christian Scriptures aren’t immune, cursing a fig tree because there are no figs? Saying he’s come to divide families or with a sword and not peace? Then there’s the story of Sephira and Annanias who may have been tacky in bragging they were giving more than they were, but death as punishment?

    I think where Ehrman and scholars like him can help is in filing these stories down so they don’t have such sharp points by actually explaining what they mean.

    • “I think where Ehrman and scholars like him can help is in filing these stories down so they don’t have such sharp points by actually explaining what they mean.”

      But we’ve (in all traditions) been engaged in exactly that for centuries. No, of course God didn’t mean what that says – the real explanation is…

      … and we get the pointy bits filed off so they don’t prick our consciences. As I mentioned on here, the Wakefield Mystery Plays (as adapted by Tony Harrison) made better sense of the Isaac and Abraham story for me, because at the very end (when Isaac has been saved and they both go away rejoicing), God the Father comes on stage to say “But mine own Son I will not spare”. The play presents the heart-break and obedience of Abraham, his gratitude and relief that his son will not have to die, and makes an explicit connection between Abraham’s fatherhood and that of the First Person of the Trinity. So that we can see that it is as heart-breaking for God the Father to sacrifice His Son for our sakes, yet He will do it (and not intervene, though He certainly could; “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?”)

      I’m comfortable with the notion that the Bible reflects the failings, blinkers and prejudices of its human authors as well as the Divine inspiration of revelation. What I’m not comfortable with is the modern (or not so modern) rush to “file down the sharp points” by stating that naturally, we have to interpret these sayings in the light of critical theory, that we have to take into account cultural differences, that this was relevant two thousand years ago but our situation is different.

      Much too often, it’s done in the service of “Okay, so here St. Paul or Jesus or Moses seems to be saying that X is a sin, but if we dig down into the deeper meaning, we see that it’s only a sin IF condition Y applies, or indeed that for us, it’s not a sin at all!”

      • But they prick our conscience because we recognize that what the Almighty (or his surrogates) are doing is wrong. It is wrong to murder your son, I don’t care who you are and who you think ordered it. It is wrong to order or commit genocide. I don’t care who you are or who you think ordered it. It is wrong to subjugate women I don’t care by which means you justify it, it is wrong.

        How do I know these things are wrong? Well, the convention against genocide covers that one. The principle of reciprocity (treat others as you would like to be treated) applies to the murder of son and subjugation of women.

        • Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says

          Something I’ve been trying to wrestle with in my relation to the Scriptures has been allowing them to speak on their own terms rather than filtered through my various cultural, sociological, philosophical, theological, etc. assumptions. That’s really hard to do (not in the least because the idea that I ought to do it is one of those assumptions). What if some of our core values are not those of God? In the examples you list above, what if human life isn’t at the top of his priority list, but rather that there are some things that trump the sanctity of human life? I certainly don’t like that thought, but it seems to be an implication of some of those “sharp points.” Or, what if the moral conclusions we’re drawing from those stories/examples are the wrong ones? What if the part of the story we’re focusing on isn’t the real point? For example, in the Abraham/Isaac story, it seems to me that God never intended Abraham to go through with it, so the murder of the son doesn’t really come into play. BUT, that raises another prickly question: what kind of God would mess with a father like that?

          For me, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to “file down the sharp points,” nor do I want to give up all of those core values, especially when it comes to things like divinely-sanctioned killing. Heck, there’s no freakin’ way I’d believe a prophet who said they were speaking on God’s behalf that said to do some of that. In the end, I’ve just got to keep wrestling and learn to live with tension. I love the bible, even in it’s “sharp points.” But sometimes, it’s a rocky relationship.

      • David Cornwell says

        “I’m comfortable with the notion that the Bible reflects the failings, blinkers and prejudices of its human authors as well as the Divine inspiration of revelation. What I’m not comfortable with is the modern (or not so modern) rush to “file down the sharp points” …

        Absolutely. We “file them down” at great risk to the fidelity of the written word. It is what it is. Maybe this isn’t related, but the tendency to reduce Jesus down to something we do not recognize makes the story almost useless. Scholars that do this are wasting our time.

  9. David Cornwell says

    A pastor that I know (and have great respect for, by the way) has an irritating tendency to preach a series of sermons on themes such as “Nine Ways to Improve Your Marriage” which he claims are biblical. He does pick and choose some stories to support his theme. However without the thrown in biblical stories and personal illustrations, they would also just as easily be included in a “Modern Parenting” magazine (this is an example, maybe not a real magazine).

    For me, this is making the bible support something that just isn’t there. It’s hard to listen to. I wish he’d go to the lectionary, study the passages, and preach from them each week. Lectionary preaching can be interesting, informative, cover the range of scripture, and center on the Word made flesh. But it does take work that is more difficult than putting together “Ten Ways to Do…”

    • I’m curious about this preaching technique. I didn’t really experience it much in my Catholic/Episcopalian background (homilies tend to be shorter than sermons). I’ve found a varying amount of numbers used, 5,7,9,10, 12… Is the number chosen first and then the Scriptures scoured for support, or is Scripture studied first and then the number picked from the amount of material found?

      Also is there any significance to the number? Like 3 (#of patriarchs) or 12 (number of tribes)?

      • Cermak, having been an evangelical pastor and on staff at a few post-modern churches, my experience was that most of the time, the pastor would come up with an idea for a sermon series (usually in the form of a catchy title), then find scriptures that “fit”. More often than that, they would regurgitate from books written by the “hottest” pastors, found at your family friendly Lifeway store.

      • I grew up with an endless diet of sermons entitled ” ___ (insert any number here) Steps to ________________ (insert any topic of personal need or desire here).” Every now and then the actual number might be given a Biblical meaning, but more often than not, the real point of interest is the topic that is being “solved”. All I really learned from such preaching is that we are all “suckers” for a method that will guarantee our heart’s desires (more money, better marriage, better children, better friendships).

        So many people are embittered when, after executing all of the steps, they did not receive the promised results. But we still accept such teaching as the foundation for living. One time an unbeliever approached me with the story of another Christian who told him that if he would just love his wife, she would submit to him (referring, I assume, to the passage in Ephesians 5). “Is that true?” he wanted to know. I replied simply that if he were to love his wife, he would be doing the right thing, and that he would be like Jesus. I could not, sadly, predict her response with any certainty. I wish we knew how to simply preach Christ.

      • David Cornwell says

        I’ve wondered about this as well. Sometimes I think they need so many weeks to do a series, so if it fills 10 weeks, then it becomes a 10 principles series. This assists in long range sermon planning.

  10. Charles Fines says

    Two books that I would consider required reading today before dealing with how to read the Bible are “The End of Evangelism?” by David Fitch and “The Bible Made Impossible” by Christian Smith. I regard Biblicism as a growing divide that appears likely to keep growing wider.

    I used to consider D.A. Carson as the Evangelical scholar I thought best represented that tradition, and perhaps he still is. Listening to his video on Inerrancy, linked to the above, suddenly he’s sounding more like a Philadelphia lawyer carefully choosing his words to win a debate and not transgress on his academic loyalty oath. I’m afraid reading Tom Wright has spoiled me. I’m wondering what F.F. Bruce would sound like if I went back and read him, but he was a historian like Wright, and I think that brings in a necessary balance.

    • The Spreading Flame by FF Bruce is certainly a masterpiece. My only criticism of Bruce is that he can be so terribly understated at times on controversial points when he has such definitive perspective….

      Two books by Robert Capon are worth reading which indirectly deal with Biblicism; The Fingerprints of God and The Astonished Heart.

      T

  11. Jack Heron says

    For me, it’s a difficult path to tread between cold textual analysis on the one hand and interposing a wall of words between God and man on the other. The whole point of analysing, studying context and all that is to break down the text and get at what’s behind it, but it’s all too easy (and I include myself firmly in the category of people falling into this trap) to forget that and start paying too much attention to the wall itself.

    I don’t really think the Bible is God’s word. What the disciples saw sitting in the garden and what Paul saw on the road to Damascus is God’s Word and everything else (yes, even the Gospels) is commentary. But those commentaries are the best tools we have to make clear those vague echoes in our heads and souls. I take heart in the hope that when we see the Word face to face we shall have no more need of words.

  12. Matt Purdum says

    Like NT Wright, I steer clear of the “i” words like infallible and inerrant. Those are Enlightenment/rationalist/empiricist concepts that leave no room for learning or for mystery. Even IF we accept the Bible as infallible or inerrant, find me anywhere on this globe even ONE infallible, inerrant READER! Aye, there’s the rub. The ONLY infallible, inerrant “word of God” is Jesus Christ. Period.

  13. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    Orthodox Quakers say that Jesus is the word of God and the Bible is true. It is a subtle but significant difference. I used to really struggle with the whole “i” (inerrant, infallible, etc.) thing about Scripture. It was like two blocks that were rubbing up against eachother but didn’t quite fit. It was like having a brain cramp that never stopped. Then I read “Jesus is the word of God and the Bible is true” in Barclay’s Apology and something in my brain went, “CLICK!” The two blocks suddenly slid into place together, my brain uncramped, and I KNEW it was absolutely true.

    For all the different translations and goof ball marketing scemes for Bibles today how come I can’t find a Bible that has what I’m looking for in a Bible anymore. I used to have Bibles that contained the following:

    1) Leather Bound
    2) Print big enough to read without my glasses which is somehow now considered to be large print. 20 years ago it was standard print.
    3) Center Column References. I really liked those and I can’t seem to find a Bible that has them that isn’t a study Bible.
    4) Not huge. Study Bibles are huge. Huge is just awkward and difficult to handle.
    5) I like it when each verse is like it’s own little paragraph. Grammatically correct? Nope. But, it does make it easier to find things.

    I want all of the above. I want it in the 2011 version of the NIV, and I can’t seem to find it. I’ve checked the Christian books store. I’ve checked Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million. I’ve thought about looking online, but a lot of times you can’t look inside the Bible online to see if it has those above specs.

    I also wanted to add about all the different English translations: I don’t really have that big a problem with it. I used the NASB from the time I was in college up until a few years ago. Then, I discovered the Romans 16:7 and the whole Junia thing. NASB mistranslates it to make it seem that Junia is male. That just made me wonder where else did they do it? How dare they deliberately mistranslate scripture to fit their doctrinal understanding rather than adjusting their doctrine to fit scripture. I know a bunch of the guys are about to jump on this claiming it’s really not a big deal, but when you’ve spent your whole life being told that you’re inferior because you committed the unforgiveable sin of being born female – it’s huge. Anyway, I went on a search of different modern translations and have come up with the 2011 NIV. So, in this instance, I am thankful for yet another English translation.