The Bible, The Idol

As it turns out, we don’t even need a golden calf or figurines to set on our mantle tops. All we needed was a collection of some two millennia of writings.

More on that in a while.

For now, it suffices to write that I’ve kept busy with reading and other assignments for classes at the School of Theology. It demands my time so much that it’s difficult to dedicate half-hour blocks for blog entries. While I figured this would happen eventually – especially when thesis-writing becomes prudent – I didn’t suspect that it would happen on the third week! In fact, I’m not even supposed to have time to write right now – I had allotted this time frame to studying for tomorrow morning’s 8 a.m. exam, the first of my graduate career. However, I forgot the books I needed at home in Indianapolis. Great job, Rob.

But alas, such is life. Since I last blogged, I became the lucky owner of a part-time job at a not-for-profit organization near campus. It turns out that I can help the plight of the world – and make a few bucks for the family – while spending a few years in seminary. Who knew?

Back to my original topic. Though I know I wrote at some length about my views on the Bible within my Theology page, this topic continually implodes in my brain throughout everyday life. I need to preface this with the statement that the Bible contains a vast wealth of history, poetry, powerful narratives, characteristics of God, and much, much more – it is an invaluable resource. But consider the fact that just about every Christian organization, not to mention every church, swears up and down that the Bible is without flaw and “divinely inspired” by God. I will not argue the latter point, because I, too, ascribe some level of inspiration to the Biblical authors. However, the inaccuracies, contradictions, and outright errors found in the Bible are too numerous to count. Briefly, did Jesus die on a Thursday (Gospel of John) or a Friday (Synoptic Gospels)? Did Jesus go around mainly proclaiming whom he was (Gospel of John) or whom God was (Synoptics)?

The other day, I saw and retweeted a very apt and accurate tweet on Twitter concerning modern Christians and the Bible. Think about it for a second:

@jasmcfarland “To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom and click ‘I agree.'”

This ignorance or refusal to care may be the kind of mindset that inspires claims of Biblical infallibility. Let’s look, for example, at the statement of faith of a Christian organization that doesn’t require naming, because it essentially agrees with a multitude of others:

The Bible is the first and final authority because it is the Word of God. We believe all the books in the Bible constitute the Holy Scriptures, inspired and infallibly written, fully inerrant in their original manuscripts…

I add the ellipses because there is more, but there is plenty to chew on here.  Let’s work backwards.

First of all, the concept of “original manuscripts” is really a moot point, as for all 66 books of the common Bible, the “original manuscripts” – those that date back to the original human author or scribe (by mode of dictation) – no longer exist. In fact, they haven’t existed for many centuries, and we have no way of knowing what exactly these “original manuscripts” said. In many cases, textual critics can narrow down the variations in the these manuscripts to the most likely (authentic and original) passages. However, people of faith don’t necessarily like the results that these scholars produce.

With a deep look at the statement of faith above, it seems to stress not that the Bible we have today is inerrant, but that it was written without initial flaw. Not many Christians with orthodox beliefs make this distinction, and in the end, it is a matter of faith. But that brings about the obvious question: why would God go to such great and immaculate lengths to inspire a perfect text if he wouldn’t do the same to preserve it?

And, how can the organization behind this faith statement contend that the books that appear in their Bible are the only ones of inerrant truth? Something tell me they haven’t examined apocryphal texts for their contents and are, again, believing what they’re taught.

One final point on the faith statement. The organization holds that the Bible is the final authority on… life, morality, faith, beliefs? On what exactly, it does not say. But what about difficult modern questions, ones that either the Bible itself never comes close to addressing, or addresses only through an Old Testament frame of mind without the presupposition of Jesus and his message? Does this organization allow room for God to and through speak to today’s believers?

With such a firm grip that some Christians hold on the Bible, it’s a wonder how we, as a body of Christ, are able to effectively minister to the people that need Jesus’ message the most. His message consisted of a lot of things, but it is summed up in his reading from the scroll of Isaiah: sight to the blind, freedom for the captives and loosing of the slaves… not the need to shoulder unnecessary amounts of dogma.

As Jesus sings in Godspell…

Alas, alas, for you
Lawyers and pharisees
Hypocrites that you are
Sure that the kingdom of Heaven awaits you
You will not venture half so far
Other men that might enter the gates you
Keep from passing through!
Drag them down with you!

Consider it the believer’s dilemma. Are we holding onto the Bible so tightly that we drag others down and away from the narrow gates? Is the Bible getting in the way of our personal and professional ministries? Have we made for ourselves an idol that replaces, or at least finds equality with, the living God?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. My words are by no means the last word on the subject. Thanks for reading, friends.