I believe that a significant number of people realize that the Bible can be understood on more than one level, each succeeding different level representing a progression in insight. At the most basic level the scriptures are seen as historical narrative designed to teach mankind about God’s nature and requirements. Naturally, this is where we always start with the young children, familiarizing them early on with the same stories we were taught as kids.
As we grow older, a more active and mature intellect requires that we evaluate these same stories in terms of their total ethical and moral implications, drawing conclusions that may be different from what we concluded at an earlier stage. An appreciation of how we received the English Bible in our hands, through the human transmission process, will likely raise additional questions in an inquiring mind. As individuals grow in maturity, they come to understand the cultural background which produced the Bible and its use of metaphorical and apocalyptic language which so characterized the eastern form of expression. As one progresses even further in dealing with the Bible, I believe you leave behind the need and therefore the desire to scrutinize every word, as if it, by itself, was pregnant with vital meaning. The overall big picture behind the Bible becomes the important consideration, not the “jots and tittles” of isolated passages.
Gradually you come to accept that the concept of God and the eternal are likely too big and awesome to ever lend themselves to verbal description, either oral or written. Therefore, there is no point in trying to find and appreciate God strictly from within a book, no matter what its history and origin. The best the Bible or any book could ever convey is a very limited picture of spiritual reality.
Any effort to bind a literal, historical interpretation on all of the Bible account is simply a demand that we stay at the introductory level of understanding, the same one we developed in Sunday school as children. This approach to the Bible insures that so called Bible study is nothing more than the reinforcement of the church’s past misrepresentations. I suggest the word “misrepresentations” in describing the understanding of the past because these early attempts to explain God were woefully inadequate.
By assuming the literal, historical nature of the OT accounts, people come to believe the OT depiction of God is designed to demonstrate the absolute truth about God and His nature. This leads to the further conclusion that God is still operating in relation to mankind as described in the OT. It strikes me that it is instead possible that these accounts are designed to show what mankind already assumed about God at that time and to intimate that man’s understanding of God was very erroneous and eventually would be corrected through God’s intervention. This would force one to question the historical validity of the narrative portions of scripture, accepting instead the idea that the descriptions of events were the product of man’s first, feeble attempts to define God through the art of storytelling. This would explain why the OT god seems so very similar in many respects to those of other pagan civilizations. In that way He would not represent the truth but only man’s earliest perception of it.
Relinquishing the Orthodox assumption that the Bible is mostly historical narrative inspired word for word by God and considering the possibility of a book which combines elements of the truly divine along with merely human perceptions of the divine provides an alternative for reconciling the apparent differences between the God of the OT and that of the NT. It also allows the Bible student the freedom to make deep inquiries into the nature and message of the Bible without being bound by unproven presumptions which falsely claim that man’s level of understanding in the past is the truth standard for all eternity.