The church and its adherents have historically treated the Bible as if it were one consistent work written by one author. This derives from the idea of inspiration which assumes that the Bible is a communication from God to mankind, using human ghost writers as the means to record His message. This concept leads to the conclusion that the various writers and their writings must each make a vital and interrelated contribution to the overall message intended by God. In this fashion, a book which is really an anthology is handled and taught as if it were a single work. In fact this approach to the Bible ignores the reality. The various books which actually comprise the total book were written by isolated authors over a long period of time and then assembled in the final document which we hold today by men who applied unknown and unknowable criteria for that selection process, making canonization a questionable process and undermining the accepted notion of infallibility and inerrancy.
The assumption that the Bible is really one integrated whole, leads to the prevalent practice of trying to link and cross reference passages of scripture from various portions, thereby establishing and proving certain doctrinal tenets. This view of the Bible makes it a puzzle to be deciphered by linking appropriate passages in the proper, logical way. Diligence in scholarship then becomes the ultimate virtue, overshadowing and even replacing any need to embrace and practice the basic principles proclaimed in the Bible.
Rather than assuming that the Bible is a source document for a consistent theology which reveals the nature of God and His will for mankind, one would be more realistic to view it as a mixture of sacred stories reflecting the picture of God which was held by various people at different times in human history. These stories were initially transmitted orally and much later committed to writing and then assembled into a codified collection, thus becoming the theological basis first for Judaism and then later for Christianity.
To recognize the Bible as recording the evolution of mankind’s understanding of God, rather than seeing it as a consistent and divinely integrated message from God to man, eliminates the need to reconcile the disparate depictions of God which Bible students have always puzzled over. Thus, emphasizing the anthological and therefore evolutionary nature of the Bible, re-directs our thinking about it. Instead of assuming a sacred text with the intended purpose of imparting a consistent theological message, one can then acknowledge that what the Bible represents is an incomplete and even at times misleading message about the divine, rather than being a divinely inspired and necessarily flawless message. Viewed in this way, the Bible can still be inspired, i.e. reflective in the final analysis of a profound, God revealed wisdom but not at all inerrant in the normally accepted Orthodox sense. In this understanding, the Bible message develops over time to arrive at the truth, rather than being a definition of spiritual reality from start to finish. The end result of divine revelation is the same, but the way the scriptures are handled and utilized becomes dramatically different, freeing the student from the requirement to accept questionable church dogma based on isolated scriptural evidence and longstanding tradition.
A different assumption about the nature and purpose of the Bible, allows for a more personal and therefore more meaningful faith in God, His nature, and our place in His ultimate plan and purpose. Releasing mankind from any obligation to see the Bible as an inerrant and integrated “roadmap” for achieving God’s acceptance through right knowledge and practice, is the essence of spiritual freedom. Thus freed, mankind can cease trying to achieve righteousness and societal transformation by using biblically recorded concepts which clearly never worked in the past and can never work in the future. The fact that people in the past, even those we read about in the Bible, understood God and His workings in a certain way, does not necessarily prove that their spiritual understanding was correct back then much less correct today.