Much of the problem of baggage among those who believe in Jesus is due to an incorrect understanding of the nature of the Bible. Many Christian traditions teach that the Bible is the absolute word of God: authoritative and inerrant.
God Said It and that Settles It
Some years ago, a popular phrase, often seen on bumper stickers, stated:
‘God said it! I believe it! That settles it!’
The theory of how this works varies. Some believe God essentially dictated the words to the various biblical authors, while others believe the words are those of the authors but that God revealed the content; either way they believe the Bible is revealed knowledge. The claim is also made that the Holy Spirit somehow protected the Bible from any error.
This understanding leads to claims about the Bible expressed in such terms as biblical authority and biblical inerrancy. Biblical authority means that everything the Bible says is true and binding on us. Biblical inerrancy means that the Bible is true in every detail so that there are no contradictions between the Bible and history, between the Bible and other knowledge, or within the Bible itself.
Destructive Conclusions from Inerrancy
I believe commitment to these understandings of the Bible create terribly destructive results, such as ideas of what God is like:
• God is a god of wrath
• God ordered wars and genocide
• God demands the death penalty for a wide range of offences
• God particularly despises homosexuals
• God torments his enemies in hell for eternity
This is a god of anger, hate, and violence; I don’t think I am interested in following this god. This god also does not tally with the insight into the Father that Jesus gives us in the Gospels.
There are many more negative ramifications that arise from this commitment to the Bible as revealed knowledge throughout. In our day, one such issue results in divisive battle lines between some believers and the rest of us over creation and evolution.
Because of the first chapters of Genesis, certain Christians insist that the entire idea of evolution is a lie and a conspiracy. We are told that evolution is not science at all and that the creation was a special project of God, in which God created the species’ separately, and that mankind was also created separately.
Another issue is patriarchy, which sees a very specific biblical order for the family in which women are subject to men and cannot make their own decisions–especially spiritual ones–and cannot provide leadership; this is very demeaning to women. Children are also very restricted. Men are dominant in every area of life. This often leads to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
The Nature of the Bible
If the Bible is not revealed knowledge, then what is the nature of the Bible?
Let us consider the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the story of a people who felt they had a special relationship to God from the time of Abraham to the time of the return from Babylonian captivity—a period of about 1500 years. It is a collection of books that includes history, wisdom, poetry, and the preaching of bold prophets in times of crisis.
I do not believe the Old Testament books are fraudulent or valueless, but neither are they a collection of revealed knowledge. Instead, they are books written by people who felt strongly about their identification with God and who wrote within the limitations of their eras, their cultures, and their understandings of God.
Some things in the Old Testament are particularly difficult to accept. Do you struggle with accepting parts of the Old Testament as God’s truth? Next time, we will discuss the nature of the Old Testament.
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