Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

What to Make of the Bible


The Bible is not a science book, and it is not a history book. To some extent most Christians probably agree with this statement. Despite that fact, however, many Christians still insist that this non- science book be scientifically accurate in every respect, despite the thousands of years that have intervened since it was written. According to the pre-supposition of the many, a divinely inspired book must perfectly reflect the way things are, even in areas beyond its real subject and intent.

In the midst of this insistence, even the casual reader can see in the stories indications of outmoded scientific understanding . Some people are able to explain away these discrepancies to their personal satisfaction, but the most obvious explanation is that the writers simply said what was generally believed, regardless of its actual scientific validity.

Historical accuracy in he Bible is even more problematic because many conclude that not all biblical accounts are historical; some are metaphorical or merely instructional but not the record of an actual event. If everything is not a historical record, then one must be able to differentiate between the two classes. Since ancient history is not well recorded and even less popularly known, challenges to the historical accuracy of the Bible are less troublesome. Nevertheless, because the message of Orthodoxy is so dependent on certain historical events, the historical accuracy of the Bible is even more critical to the church.

The very idea that the Bible must be accurate, even prescient, in recording its passing observations and comments about science and history derives from the church's understanding that a book of divine instruction must be self validating. It has to reflect a superior knowledge in all areas and on all subjects; otherwise it is too easy to dismiss as inauthentic. If it was God's intention to write a self validating book for all mankind, one can easily perceive of more dramatic ways to present that book, especially in it scientific insight. Luckily, the hyperbolic language of Bible prophesy provides the opportunity for imaginative interpreters to concoct supposed scientific foreknowledge from isolated passages. To some extent these prophetic interpretations are presented for their entertainment value (and ability to extract financial support from the faithful), but an underlying motivation to invent such scientific proofs is the need for the self validation suggested above.

If the Bible is a story with a spiritual theme (humanity's relationship with God), one related by an omniscient God, how does the transfer of knowledge from God to man take place? That is the real question concerning the "inspiration" of the Bible. How did God's message get communicated and supposedly written down.

Many insist on a definition of inspiration which says that God virtually whispered each and every word into the mind of the human writers and thereby dictated the entire book reflecting His supreme knowledge. Viewing the Bible in this way raises countless questions and creates as many problems. First among these is the obvious fact that there is so much controversy about its interpretation. Why couldn't an omniscient God communicate more effectively? Another enormous problem is the conflicting pictures of God's nature and requirements that we see. One place God visits the sins of the fathers on the third and forth generation. Then later He says each will answer for only his or her own sins. In one record God demands compliance with an elaborate sacrificial system and then later He say He has no pleasure in sacrifices. The church does its best to explain and clarify these differences, but the effort is far from satisfactory to many.

Whenever they encounter a "Thus saith the Lord" in Holy Writ, the church says end of story- no room for discussion; no need for clarification. Unacknowledged is that every such commandment has implications, especially how it squares with the rest of the Bible. When we are talking about a 2000 page book written by scores of men over thousands of years and compiled more than a millennium ago, that represents a lot of implications. The fact that it generates so much discussion and controversy is definitely no surprise; it could not be otherwise.

What if I avoid the church's assumption that the Bible must be scientifically and historically accurate and perfectly so? What if I define inspiration as God's gradual revelation of Himself to mankind over the course of human history by providing just enough insight in each generation to nudge humanity one step closer to the true picture. Obviously, once you accept that the Bible was not written all at once, the concept of gradual revelation is a given. The only question then becomes one of whether the God concept of earliest man was perfectly valid, given whatever early portion of scripture was available, if any at all, or whether man merely went with what he understood at that point and wrote down a story which reflected that level of understanding. In other words, maybe God allowed a level of misunderstanding in the God story as He worked His ultimate purpose according to His own time. Without a doubt a lot of what the Bible records is noted as missteps in man's attempt to know and relate to God.

This alternative explanation of the Bible and its purpose treats the biblical record a lot differently. Instead of the story being God's perfect revelation of Himself to man from start to finish, the book becomes a record of man's gradual climb out of spiritual darkness, not as a result of reading and heeding God's words, per se, but rather by a long term exercise of contemplation, introspection, and observation of God's creation and the human experience within it. This was a process which was God inspired, all right, but one which took place in the human mind and heart. and was largely a collective process. God's plan in this evolutionary development involved much more subtlety than merely writing a book and was therefore not confined to the limits of human language, which is in many ways woefully inadequate to convey understanding of the divine.

To be sure, this view of the Bible is not as supernaturally appealing as the old view, but it certainly alleviates the need to agonize over infallibility and inerrancy, which consumes so much of Orthodoxy's time and effort. Maybe that would allow time to actually embrace and live out the ultimate spiritual lessons of the Bible as reflected in the dramatically different ethical standards, taught and demonstrated by Christ.

The manifestation of God, in the ministry of Christ, is the true God in action. In culminating the story, those actions tell the truth of God. The rest of the Bible is subordinate to the revelation of grace and truth, in Christ, no matter what its origin or form of inspiration.