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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What The Bible Is NOT: Good News From Christianity

There is a lot of misinformation about the 66 books of the library that comprise the Bible. It comes from a variety of sources who will not be named here ... but really should know better, at least some of them. 

The Bible spans many centuries of writing from c. 1400 B.C. and the last roughly toward the end of the first century A.D. Those writers were inspired by God but wrote in the language of and with the understanding of their times to the people of their times. These writers cover individuals living in a range of situations from accounts of people largely tribal and most often on the move to settled in towns and cities. Needless to say, such differences in life experience lead to a variety of perspectives and understandings that evolve over time, as is clearly seen. 

It is the hubris of the modern age that looks back on these works, which include stories passed down through even earlier oral traditions, and brush them off as irrelevant artifacts of an earlier age. The most common complaint used against these authors, and there are many, is that there are "inconsistencies" between their accounts. Let's take a moment to ponder that. Google Abraham Lincoln biographies. How many have been written across how many years? Go ahead, I'll wait. Now discount the writings of rank amateurs ... I'll let you decide who is who. Now, among the rest, each writing from a different perspective, with different experience, different education, and different historical tools for analysis by decade, would you expect them to see everything the same way or to write from the same point of view? No, you would not. If they did, there would be no point in having all those books, would there? So, the "inconsistencies" most often referred to come from the different perspectives of the writers and the slant they choose to take to most effectively reach their own readership. 

Much misunderstanding comes from the quaint idea that the Bible is simple and easily understood by all. This is a pleasant and democratic idea, but not consistent to a library this vast covering so many peoples and so many centuries. Take a look at several works of Victorian fiction. How many references and passages are mysterious to you? That's relatively recent history. Now extend that back through all the centuries of the books of the Bible. Writers, inspired by God, still used the language, the slang, the shortcuts, and all the writing genres of their own day. They referred to texts we do not have access to and spoke of things which were common understanding back in the day but are lost to us now. This leads to some astounding misunderstandings. Approach these texts with care. 

As for the argument that the Bible uses other genres, other stories, from other cultures ... have you ever known any writer worth his or her salt who did not? No culture, no person within a culture, lives in a bubble, uninfluenced and having no influence on surrounding cultures.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The Bible is overall the story of God's love for humanity and of God's promises kept to humanity no matter how many times we have resisted or rebelled against the free gift of God's love for all. It is also the story of grace, mercy, and redemption for us. Further, it is the story of all we are responsible for toward each other. Those who ask "why would a loving God allow such-and-such to happen," the question most often should be "why did WE let that happen, given the scope of our responsibilities to creation and each other?" That's a hard and scary question, but one well worth asking in turbulent times like right now. 

Our understanding of the texts of the Bible continue to grow and to change, just as does the understanding of science. Scholars continue to study and to learn. So do we all, when we are not caught up in ridiculous arguments that so often boil down to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. 

The books of the Bible are the study of many lifetimes ... and we have not come anywhere near a complete understanding yet. They should be treated with respect and approached with great care, humility, and boundless questions, not with foolish and often profoundly ignorant dismissals that would have astonished the original authors with the amazing lack of understanding they reflect.

Wishing you well this Christmas and always.

For information on resources you can use for further research into the Bible and various aspects of the Christian faith, see:

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