Sjolander Road Fellowship




Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

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do i believe the bible?

10/14/12

 

The question of Bible inspiration is a complex issue, one which is largely over simplified by many preachers and fundamentalists. Many of these treat the Bible as if ever word of it was transmitted directly from the mind of God to the written page, regardless of the manifold human involvement in the accounts and the writing, canonizing, and translating of those accounts. We see this play out in how many Bible readers take the words of selected Bible characters and interpret them as being God's own. Take for example, Job 19:25-26 or John 9:31. Were these words of Job and the blind man expressions of divine truth or merely personal opinion? When God "inspired" those who recorded the original manuscript, did that mean that He equally inspired every speaker recorded by those writers, or did He just aid the writers in correctly recalling and recording the words spoken by others? This issue makes a very significant difference in how one treats and reverences each portion of the Bible text. People will quite often take John 9:31 and Job 19: 25-26 and use them to illustrate eternal truth, but is that warranted? Are the words recorded in these verses a statement of divine reality or perhaps only the thoughts and opinions of Job and the blind man, the truth of which can and should be questioned?

 

Some Bible characters speak words in the biblical text which most, if not all, would see as false. In the obvious cases, the Bible states that the person in question is lying or misguided (I Kings 13). In other cases one might be inclined to think that the Bible character's words are not really true, but how would we know if the Bible is not clear on the point?

 

In other instances we see people in the Bible questioning God (Job again, for example). Or they complain about mistreatment at the hands of enemies. Or they call for God's judgment and punishment of other people who have supposedly wronged them. In many of these cases the supplicant in the Bible account sounds merely angry and vengeful and not at all noble or spiritually minded. Are these emotional expressions in the Bible (take Psalms 22 for example) somehow divinely initiated and, therefore, serve as our instruction? Or could they be nothing more than a personal "venting" of anger, frustration, or anxiety, demonstrating our common connection with these Bible characters..

 

In Deut 23:12-13 the Bible contains instructions on battle field latrines. It is just one of many examples in the scriptures of instructions addressed to the subject of hygiene and diet. Such direction may have been helpful and needful, but does it require divine intervention to convey this type knowledge? Surely in the course of human history someone before Moses (the supposed author of Deuteronomy) had figured out what do about battlefield hygiene. To ascribe divine inspiration to this bit of instruction in the same sense as the teachings of Jesus, strikes me as a diminishment of the entire Bible. Yet many would treat instructions of this sort as being equally as inspired and binding as those words of Jesus.

 

The book of Proverbs is full of homey advice about how to conduct one's daily life. Many of these proverbs sound quite conventional with no real evidence that they contain more than commonly held human ideas about right conduct and evident truth.

 

Other popular verses from the Book of Proverbs (13:24, 19:18, 22:15, 23:13-14, and 29:15) are referenced by the church to encourage its members to utilize corporal punishment in child rearing. "Spare the rod and spoil the child" is the common paraphrase of all these verses. Inconveniently, society has come to realize that a significant portion of parents take this admonition as an excuse to literally abuse their children physically. In the process, as the psychologists tell us, these abusive parents produce a new generation of child abusers. Now, a good many of us experienced "spankings" as children and feel better off for it in our adulthood. However, at the same time we were gaining from our punishments, other children were suffering unrecognized evil at the hands of their parents. The lack of recognition was in large part attributable to the fact that the church encouraged such "evil' as God ordained and sanctioned. In our day people are not so blasé about abuse in the name of discipline, so blind adherence to the "rod" is less common. Yet we still witness obvious abuse in the name of church doctrine and biblical teachings (Warren Jeffs for example). Whatever wisdom, divine or otherwise, is conveyed in these verses, it is meaningless without the exercise of reasoned and compassionate judgment on the adult's part. Inspiration of this type is largely trivial because it leaves its application unclear and therefore uncertain. Do short pithy statements like these, providing little or no detail on how they are to be applied, suggest divine origin? They seem a bit too commonplace and uninspiring to me to be credited to supernatural wisdom, in the sense of having been transmitted directly to mankind from God. 

 

Given all the above, does it make any real sense to say things like the "Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it" (a popular fundamentalist aphorism)? Hardly. Does it seem reasonable to treat the entire Bible as if God wrote it, word for word, as many understand "inspiration" to work? Again, no. No one can possibly treat all of the Bible equally in attention and therefore understanding and application. That fact alone divides the book into the part that is inspired in the practical sense (i.e. I notice, I pay attention, I apply in my life) and that which is inspired only theoretically (It may be true; but I don't know about it, can't figure it out, or simply ignore it). 

 

When we claim to believe what is said in the Bible, what does that really mean? Do we believe that what the Bible says was said actually was said? Or does it mean that what the Bible says was said is accurately conveyed and that those conveyed words are absolutely true? I doubt anyone who thinks about it very long wants to confirm the latter statement relative to every word in the Bible. That being the case, stating without qualification that I believe the entire Bible would not be true for any of us.

 

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