beliefs 7 – the bible…

One of the things that has changed the most over the last few years is the way in which I’ve approached and read the bible.

I was brought up within a church context where the position on the Christian canon was that it was divinely inspired – a position that suggested a literal interpretation as the authors had been overtaken by the spirit of God whilst writing. This meant the bible became the literal word of God. In fairness, this was always a little murky as we didn’t spend too much time thinking about these kind of things.

As such this places my upbringing firmly within the Evangelical Protestant tradition, holding on to Luther’s ‘sola scriptura’. The word was the Word – and as such was the loudest voice that we listened to in all matters of faith and practice.

Sometimes this can leave us with a view of the bible as being a bit of a magic book – with power waiting to be unleashed by the reader – as long as they read it in the right way, of course (defined by a select few, of course). It might even leave us worshiping the word more than the Word…and wanting the bible to be something that it simply doesn’t appear to have been created to be. It might also consign the dynamic movement of God to the pages of history, with nothing new being revealed to his people today.

Over the past few years I’ve come to view the bible as a very different thing entirely.

I believe that the bible is a revelation of God – it is a way in which we can see him, hear from him and learn about him. Primarily, though, I think it’s a collection of books full of people trying to make sense of exactly the same kinds of questions and experiences we have today.

People searching for identity, purpose, meaning. People wrestling with evil, injustice, events over which they have no control. People experiencing incredible things and trying to name them, to make sense of them.

So when we read the bible, we see how ordinary men, women and children have made sense of the God story. We see them making terrible mistakes, we see them getting it really right. We gain some of the most beautiful poetry and prose ever written.

The power of the bible is found in this – for me, a sense of permission being granted to us to figure out who God is and what he’s up to today, so that we might join in. We build that exploration on the foundations laid for us by those who have gone before us – both in through bible and the history of the church.

This all means that to me, whether parts of the bible are literally factually true or not (the creation accounts, Jonah, Job etc.) doesn’t remove the great power of the story. Truth does not just stem from fact. Far from it. Some of the greatest truths we hold are derived from the fiction section of our bookshops.

But how do we decide what is fact or ‘story’? I guess that’s a tricky question to which I’m not entirely sure that I have an answer to yet. My instinct is that we need to have a more relaxed understanding of whether something proven and evidenced is more powerful that something that isn’t – my reflections on doubt earlier in this series try to explain this. That might then negate what that question is inferring.

Incidentally, I do think that most of the bible accounts actually happened. I just think we need to ask what they might be saying in a slightly different light.

Doesn’t that lead us to a pick-and-choose approach to the bible? I don’t think so – it allows the scriptures to be what they were written to be – a record of how people have journeyed with God. That might well mean that there is inconsistency within the bible itself – there’s certainly plenty of inconsistency in today’s church! Our job today is to carry on what the church has been doing since day one – sifting through the evidence we have and trying to make sense of the God story.

Some aspects of the bible we’ve already chosen to leave behind or at least reinterpret because of what Jesus did to change our understanding of and relationship with God. But why have we stopped doing that today, resting on the work of the reformation and evangelical scholarship in the 19th century?

I believe that we’re called to constantly reinterpret the scriptures based on our best idea of what they were written to be in the first place – how the first readers would have read them. Those deep truths are what we’re looking for, that then frame our theological reflection on the challenges we face as Jesus followers today. We build on what the church has discovered over the ages, continuing the work of the bible in recording the history of the journey of the people of God.

I believe that God is constantly revealing more of himself everyday – and that may mean that our understanding of him changes, and of how he expects us to live. I think that means we have to listen faithfully when approaching new and difficult challenges – not presuming that we’ve already got the answers sewn up.

The bible is still hugely important to me. It’s the story of my people. I’m not going to throw it away. But I am going to try and let it live and breathe as I think it might have been intended in the first place. I’m also going to try to let the Spirit reveal more to us of where God might be today.

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12 thoughts on “beliefs 7 – the bible…

  1. The idea of reading the whole book as a story really transformed where I was (a few years back)

    Trying to read it as a collection of laws without considering their place in the overall story or taking isolating passages of scripture out of context and applying the “blessings” promised to ourselves in not helpful. Worse still, IMO, we could reading the Bible arbitrarily, so that we see in the Bible what we want to see; or use it like we put together a puzzle, making all the pieces fit into a system, even though all the pieces don’t fit so neatly.

    Oh, and I like the blog makeover…
    peace Bro

  2. I think the Bible is living and breathing, and I think you touch on that, but I think that it is breathing with the “breath of God”, i.e. the Holy Spirit. We do have to treat it reverently, because it’s from Him, but at the same time it shouldn’t become an idol.

    We need to understand the big picture, not just a passage here and a passage there. The muslims and the jews get this right by helping their children to learn their holy books from a young age. I know many many Christians, myself included, who have never read the whole Bible. I’m working my way through it, about 37% through, and that’s taken me a year so far. Pitiful really.

    Once you’ve got the whole picture, you can start to do the all important analysis and reflection. You’re right, our understanding of God is changing, but at the same time He’s unchanging. The Bible is a snapshot of human understanding of God, I guess.

    With regards to the “difficult” passages like creation, Jonah, Job, my viewpoint is that all of this is possible through God. He could create the universe in 6 days if He wanted to. If I start picking apart at the Bible trying to determine what is true and what is not, then I risk discarding something important. Rather I choose to believe the Bible in it’s entirety and let the Spirit speak into my heart the lessons that I should be learning.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, David. Enjoying this little online dialogue!

      I think the main thing that I would say is that I do view the whole of the bible as truthful, but that truthful doesn’t always imply factual, if that makes sense.

      Part of our history as God’s people is making sense of what we’ve experienced, and I think that’s a process we carry on with today.

      Indeed, I might even go as far as to say perhaps the canon should never have been closed. God continues to reveal himself everyday – perhaps in shocking ways from time to time.

      Peace,
      M

      1. Ah, interesting point you make, and probably worthy of discussion just on it’s own. If a group of men had not canonised (is that the right word?) the Bible, it wouldn’t be limited to the books we have today. It was men (whether led by God or not) that have structured the Bible as it is, and we shouldn’t be too hasty to think that is all God has to say.

        Of all the letters and writings and poetry and historical books we have today, what would people use to create a single canon now? Would it look the same as the one created in the 3rd/4th century, whenever it was?

        Gotta love these deep conversations!

      2. I think the canon is living…because we are the living canon…if that makes sense!

        If we view the scriptures as the story of the people of God, then it’s our story, one we’re active participants in. We’re part of shaping that story. In other words, the story didn’t end at the end of Acts.

        What I’ve read is that the main decider in what went into the New Testament was that it reflected the reality of the resurrected Lord. Anything else (like the other so called Gospels) didn’t do this, and wasn’t worthy of keeping.

        Interesting challenge to us in how we live out our faiths as the people of God! If we’re not living the resurrection, then we’re not doing the business!

  3. “With regards to the “difficult” passages like creation, Jonah, Job, my viewpoint is that all of this is possible through God. He could create the universe in 6 days if He wanted to. If I start picking apart at the Bible trying to determine what is true and what is not, then I risk discarding something important. Rather I choose to believe the Bible in it’s entirety and let the Spirit speak into my heart the lessons that I should be learning.”

    Leads to putting the Bible on man’s terms. That is what man (myself included) tries to do w/ all things when you get down to it. The Bible and the Christian walk is not on man’s terms but God’s. Too many times we rely on commentaries and book stores, taking those words as “the” truth, but when trials and troubles in life hit it is God’s word that offers truth….and hope. The true hope in salvation and all that comes with it. Sadly it takes thoses rough times more than not to regain focus and clarity of our true purpose and to reaffirm the promises givin to us through the Bible. As I battled through a health situation Job 42:2 was and is today my focus

    “I know that you can do all things;
    no plan of yours can be thwarted.

    That is the Truth right there for me. Can’t see the reasons for things but there is a plan….on God’s term not mine….and thank heaven not mine.

    Sorry to bother but there you go,

    Greg

    1. Hi Greg,

      Thanks for stopping by and adding your view in this part of my beliefs series.

      I’m not sure why you say ‘sorry to bother’ – it really isn’t a problem. I’m really open to hearing what others might have to say about these issues. I’m on a real journey with all of of this and appreciate any input anyone wants to make.

      The only comment I would make is that I don’t think we can ever just ‘read’ the bible, that is unless you’re fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and have a Jewish BC or first century Christian worldview. We bring to the text all that we are, all that we’ve ever heard preaches or sung. The truth is still there, but it’s forever being interpreted and commented on.

      Job is immensely powerful in what it has to say to us about suffering – and that there isn’t always reason behind it. He ‘accuses’ God of something akin to abandonment, and yet God doesn’t smite him – he answers in an incredible way that says, basically, ‘who are you to ask me what I’m doing’.

      I want to read the bible as a living, breathing organic testament of the people of Yahweh trying to understand what they’ve experienced, often getting it badly wrong (in both testaments) yet still experiencing the faithfulness of God.

      You’re quite right – God is powerful enough to create what he wants to create how he wants to. I just think he’s also powerful enough to create a big bang and the process of evolution, making order out of chaos.

      Thanks for your comment – it’s really appreciated.

      Martin

  4. Very true about the supplimental material being quite valuable to increase understanding. Right now I am working through the book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” by Kenneth Bailey. It is a very interesting perspective into the cultue of the area and times of Jesus. But any book I read it will always be supplimental.

    I’ve always liked the statement from God to Job befroe he starts his where were you’s. Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me. You’re right not a smite but I am sure Job was quaking a good bit.

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