The other day I found myself down a rabbit hole on a thread in which a woman was shocked and dismayed when her pastor said that the Bible was written by men, as opposed to directly dictated by God. The general theme of the thread was that “the liberals” have “rejected the Bible as God’s word.”
Then, I got an email from a local Christian school wanting me to promote their program in our church, directing me to their page where they wanted to reassure me that they teach ninth graders that they “can trust that the Bible is reliable.” Reliable for what?
I think a better approach would be to teach them how to read the Bible. How do we discern which parts of the Bible are meant to be historical versus metaphorical? How do we reconcile what the Bible says with modern scientific discoveries? Unfortunately, that’s not usually the goal with schools and churches promoting the “Christian worldview.”
How can we keep our faith in God when the Bible doesn’t appear to be as reliable as we were taught? This is the question plaguing thousands who are deconstructing their faith today.
When I hear the phrase, “we believe the Bible is the word of God,” what I hear is: we worship the Bible in the place of God. They are people building faith in the specific words written in the Bible, rather than in the God who inspired those words. For many, a “high view of Scripture” often means elevating it above God.
The only thing the Bible tells us that God actually “wrote” was the Ten Commandments, and what did the people do with those? They did not display them; they placed them inside the ark of the covenant, which was placed inside the Holy of Holies.
The rest of the writings that make up the Bible were written by men, and then groups of men got together in the fourth century and voted on which should be included in what we call the “canon.” Then, in the sixteenth century, other men scrutinized the canon and removed several books. (As Protestants, we call those removed books the Apocrypha; the Catholics didn’t add the Apocrypha, rather Protestants removed them.)
What most of us read as the Bible today are translations of copies of the original texts. The translations are done by committees (mostly men and now some women) which are also influenced by other translations because the texts are really old, from different cultures and in dead languages. Hebrew is technically a resurrected language, and classical Ancient Greek is considered a dead language, similar to Biblical Aramaic, both of which have evolved over the past two millennia.
Which brings us to the question: what exactly does it mean when we say that the Bible is God’s Word?
Some believe that every word in the Bible is literally God speaking to us and that every word is literally factual in whatever it’s saying. This is the usual viewpoint held by those who teach and preach the “Christian” or “biblical” worldview and identify as “Bible believing” or “Bible based.”
The majority of Christians today, however, do not hold this view, and believe instead that the Bible is infallible when it talks about God, but accept that the people who wrote it were limited in their understanding of science and history, and their knowledge of the world around them was limited. That alternative view alarms those who hold the literal view because they see the less-than-literal view as selling out to culture and as a threat to Christianity. As a result, this majority is often dismissed and condemned as “liberals” who reject the Bible.
I think people are afraid that if we talk about the challenges of the Bible it will cause them to lose their faith, but the opposite is true. Those original stone tablets and that magnificent gold box that carried them are long gone. All original manuscripts of the biblical texts are lost.
The only thing we know of that Jesus wrote was when he bent over to write in the sand when a woman was accused of adultery. Jesus could have spent time writing down his thoughts, his messages, but he chose not to. Jesus himself is the Word of God, filled with the breath of God. When he quoted Scripture, he often changed the meaning and offended those listening.
As Christians, we are not called to be a People of the Book, but rather to be imitators of the Christ, of Jesus. Yet the Bible remains as a gift to us from those who walked with God in the past, to help us experience the living presence and mystery of God today.
“An analytical reading of the Bible is not an end in itself but a bridge that crosses the chasm from the finite world of biblical literalism to the infinite world of biblical mysticism.” (When Everything’s on Fire, p. 139)
Biblical mysticism might sound a little out there, but it is a huge part of historical Christianity and allows the Bible “to be a portal for engagement with God.” (p. 144) Ultimately it means that we become less consumed by knowing everything about God and more able to rest in the awesomeness of a God that is unknowable.
I believe that all scripture is God-breathed, and that we need to allow God to continue to breathe and whisper to us today in and through Scripture.
Read Isaiah 1:1, 2 Kings 22:1-11, Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1-5, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
- What thoughts come to mind when you hear the phrase “God’s Word”?
- What does it mean to make an idol of the Bible?
- What do you think of the idea of biblical mysticism?