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.

4 thoughts on “The Bible, The Idol

  1. It’s so refreshing to see young theological minds wrestling with the important issues about what the Bible is and how it makes meaning for us…and how it’s the Word of God.

    I hope you’ll continue to wrestle with these questions…and yet encounter God through the Bible.

    I wish I could remember the name of the Catholic priest who said, “I believe all the Bible is true…and some of it actually happened.”

    I wish we could encourage Christians to wrestle with these questions and not just scroll to the bottom and click “I agree.” I wish we could help people genuinely study it and be comfortable with asking questions.

    One author who’s helped me frame some of my own beliefs about the Bible is Marcus Borg who talks about the parable aspect of the Bible and how truth comes through the stories. How spending time arguing about its historicity or infallibility misses the main point of encountering God through it.

    I wish people could come to see that the argument that says either the Bible is completely historically accurate or it’s not the Word of God is a false dichotomy.

    And…I have to affirm the book “The Year of Living Biblically” where a magazine editor endeavors to live the Bible literally…following all the rules…for a year. What starts out as a silly exercise actually transforms him. Somehow, in all the strangeness of not cutting his beard and all the other codes, he experiences a mysterious connection to something more. The Bible does have power…but how?

    Keep up the good work, Rob. Good luck in your studies. You’re making this old guy awfully proud.

    Doc Newcomb

    1. Doc,

      First, I have to thank you for not only digesting what I have been writing, but also for actively engaging my thoughts. Your contributions are more valuable than you know.

      And this is, in part, due to the way you’ve made me think about that I *haven’t* said, just as much as what I *have* said. I tend to overstate my stance, if that makes sense, as a defense against the 100% errorless crowd, or whatever faction/viewpoint with which I find myself in disagreement. I need to buttress my preface of these difficult topics with a more feathery pillow of gentleness, or differing gently, as McLaren might put it… because I do love the Bible. The overarching narrative that it contains, even conceals, is compelling, it is powerful, and anyone is able to walk away from it with astute teaching and the sense that there might be something to this God. In fact, I might even say that the Bible is an anthology of works worthy of studying for a couple of years in a seminary setting!

      That said, there are these external statements ascribed to the Bible (call them X, Y, and Z) that I cannot accept at face value. It just doesn’t work for me. And that’s okay. God is big enough for that, and he’s willing (I would say, even happy) to work with that. It frees him to be encountered elsewhere, other than the Bible, taking from your language.

      With that said, I believe that your intent was more to affirm and expound on the precepts I’ve mentioned. And that, too, is so valuable. Thanks so much, Doc.

  2. (I would start my comment by referencing the monster facebook message I sent you a couple weeks ago, specifically the part about idolatrous faith in the bible itself.)

    I feel like this “perfect, inerrant, infallible” view of the bible is a pretty natural offshoot of the definition of “Faith” as “believing something despite any evidence to the contrary.” That is a faith that demands concrete certainty, and that view of the bible provides that. I would also say that kind of faith is kind of a cop out, the easy way. It’s easy to just lock the bible down and say “perfect in the original manuscripts” than get into some of these grey area discussions. (I also agree with you that “original manuscripts” is a very dubious phrase.) It’s easy and comfortable to have blind certainty in something; impervious to outside questioning and logic. I can see how that kind of faith would be comforting to some; but I would argue that is not the kind of faith Jesus is calling us to (duh).

    Because Jesus never backed down from an discussion. Likewise, we shouldn’t be afraid to look at our own scriptures and try to reconcile the Divine revealed in them with the human fingerprints all over them. A deeper faith requires us to do the work. And in so doing, I think we find that these contradictions and errancies don’t really change a whole lot. Jesus died on a thursday or a friday? Doesn’t really matter; what matters is that he conquered death, and through him so do the rest of us.

    ANYWAY, where I’m going with all this: Once you start thinking this way, it is actually easier to just come out and admit biblical errors than to plug your ears and yell “ICANTHEARYOU” whenever someone talks about them. You can move on and talk about what humanity really needs to hear, otherwise you get stuck on whether creation really took place in six 24 hour days or something.

    I usually try to err on the side of “admit and move on to the real issue.”

  3. I must say that I have been having very similar thoughts lately. So many problems, so many errors, so many questions with our “infallible” Bible. Yet, despite all of this… so much truth.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s