I feel like many people within Christianity feel trapped by the church's concept of biblical inspiration. On the one hand these individuals have inherited a sense that the Bible is God's verbally inspired word from cover to cover, but yet they find many aspects of the Bible story as decidedly uninspiring and even repugnant. They feel a need for a solid foundation for their faith, but they shudder at having to embrace teachings which violate their conscience and appear so ego driven. The long term effect of this view of the Bible is a sense of spiritual resignation and even paralysis. I don't want to believe this, but I must. I'll just keep my troubled spirit to myself and avoid all spiritually oriented discussion.
One thing that should result from these misgivings is an effort to better understand the origin of the scriptures and the process by which they have been transmitted to us. Unfortunately, the sole instrument of that transmission, the institutional church, has no interest in developing that understanding. It is too easy and self serving to just proclaim the sanctity of the scriptures as an established fact, when the church's very existence and influence depends on that fact.
Despite the church's position, most should be able to see that the bible cannot be a divinely inspired instruction book, teaching how to escape eternal damnation. It is just too convoluted and confusing in that regard. Every church's description of the salvation process grabs random passages here, there, and everywhere, to arrive at their list of requirements. No rational being operates that way, especially not an Omniscient One.
Those sensitive and thoughtful souls who find themselves in this conflicted state of mind need, perhaps, to consider a different view of the Bible and its proper role in our spiritual lives. They can endlessly agonize over supposedly being forced to embrace and practice mean spiritedness in the name of God, or they can alternatively consider a new possibility to explain the Bible and forever eliminate its negative impacts.
Before I consider my proposed alternative understanding of inspiration, I'll spend a brief moment highlighting my understanding of how many apparently view the Bible and its origin. Under this concept of inspiration, God dictated the sacred text word for word to several dozen human "ghost writers" who copied God's words down, creating sixty plus separate documents. Then, other men, out of extreme reverence, maintained the accuracy of those individual documents through long centuries of transcription. Finally, at the appropriate time, after all God's message was complete, another group of men, under the auspices of the institutional church, correctly determined which of all the many competing books or documents were authentically divine in origin and thus sanctioned the compilation of the separate books we now know as the Bible. Of course, along the way the Bible has undergone numerous efforts to convert it to other languages, hopefully in a way that maintained the original message and intent.
Under this traditional paradigm, the evidence of the divine nature of this completed compilation is its assumed continuity, consistency, foresight, historical accuracy, and its transcendence and profoundness. In reality much more attention has been focused by traditionalists on the foresight and historical accuracy of the Bible as proof of its divine origin than on its consistency and profound nature. It has proven much easier to "fudge" the data on those points than to maintain the appearance of consistency and transcendence throughout. The apparent fascination of many with fanciful interpretations of prophecy and constant re-interpretations of history demonstrates this expediency.
Well, given the above synopsis of the traditional view, what is the alternative? In response, I'd suggest that one can consider the Bible as a compendium of various documents generated by men at differing periods of time and reflecting the religious thinking and convictions of that age. The documents were inspired in the same sense that many writing efforts are. Men felt driven to share their most intimate thoughts and to record their oral traditions through the written page. Many of these oral traditions, which had been handed down for long periods of time, were attempts to explain what we observe in the universe.
Not infrequently, even in the earliest documents, particularly profound insights were revealed, but in the main the documents represent mankind's primitive concept of a reality which exists outside our normal realm of sensory observation. These writings were an attempt to answer the essential life questions and provide meaning to our physical existence and experiences. Those special insights, which often seem to jump from the page as extreme anomalies, can be easily seen as supernatural in origin. All such human creative thought is mysterious in its origin and therefore evokes the idea of divine influence.
As time passed, the concept of the divine reality evolved and new writers saw additional glimpses of Truth which defied man's normal assumptions and thinking. Finally, with the advent of Christ, the underlying message, occasionally noted in the earlier writings, was much more fully formulated and transmitted to the human consciousness through the writings of the New Testament authors. Using His mode of living as the ultimate example, Christ taught a completely counter intuitive concept of Truth, one which was at odds with much that was recorded in the previous books.
Even in the transitional period of Christ, the records of Him and His followers were not devoid of relapses into the thinking and beliefs of the earlier, less enlightened age. Humankind's slow transition to a new mindset could not happen instantaneously. It had to evolve through the process of passing generations. Thus all that has happened since Christ and the completion of the Bible has continued a process of relentless and yet vacillating change in religious thought. The institutional church has served the purpose preventing mankind from focusing exclusively on physical reality, as advancement in technology and human institutions, in general, commanded much of mankind's attention.
Under this alternative paradigm, the continuity, consistency, and even foresightedness of the Bible is the product of many human interventions as current writers drew on the storyline of previous ones along with common oral traditions, in developing their own thoughts and writings. This understanding allows for any number of editors to add to or modify the various books as they are handed down from generation to generation.
As mentioned earlier, this assumed process for creating the Bible recognizes an element of inspiration in the completed product but nothing like that proposed and demanded by many. Under this assumption, mankind can be drawn to a profound Truth by the Bible without accepting the idea that the thoughts, beliefs, and actions as recorded in every part of the Bible serve as an example to be rigidly followed even today.
Thus, the logical conundrum of trying to reconcile patently unethical conduct, such as genocide and eternal torment with the marvelously transcendent message of love professed by Jesus, is eliminated. This solves, for me, the most obvious problem with the biblical account. It's just too contradictory and illogical in light of current observation and knowledge.
Undoubtedly, many will recoil from the idea that the Bible is not our guide in its entirety, noting the problem of picking out the real guidance from the extraneous material. Many fail to recognize that we already live with that issue. The very inconsistencies and illogical conclusions of the Bible force everyone to select some passages as essential and others as troublesome and therefore largely ignored. Now, obviously, different people reach widely varying opinions based on this process, differences which depend primarily on the presuppositions they bring to the Bible. Therefore, accepting a new definition of inspiration does not create a new problem of different interpretations but instead eliminates many other problems.
In the final analysis, people will only internalize biblical teaching which actually inspires them to behave accordingly. What my proposed new "inspiration" does is allow those many, who a seek spiritual awakening, an opportunity to embrace a personal truth, one that inspires life transformation and promotes peace and joy, without feeling a compulsion to justify their personal faith by reconciling it with every last word in the Bible. That is a burden well worth lifting from the minds and hearts of countless honest and sincere people.