‘The Bible Clearly Says’ is Always a Seriously Misguided Statement

In my early years I had a pastor who would say, ‘Now turn over to Matthew’s writing’ or ‘Turn over to Isaiah’s writing.’ But he would also say, ‘Turn over to Hebrew’s writing’ or ‘to Act’s writing’, which seemed odd because Hebrews and Acts are books—not authors. But that pastor made an impact on me.

Statements in religious discussion often begin ‘The Bible clearly says…’ Inerrantist believers usually say this, but anyone who says it is probably reading from the idea of inerrancy whether they realize it or not. But does the Bible ‘clearly’ say anything?

In fact, the ‘Bible’ doesn’t say anything at all; the Bible is not a separate voice apart from the voices of its various human writers; it is a library. Perhaps ‘Paul says’, or ‘Jeremiah says’, or the ‘book of John says’; but the Bible is a collection of voices; the Bible itself is not a voice that speaks to us.

This might sound semantic, but those who insist that ‘The Bible clearly says…’ demonstrate a misguided view of the Bible that often results in misguided conclusions.

Bible - Pixabay2

The Character of the Bible

I used to listen to the New Testament on tape. The most popular was the beautiful recording by Alexander Scourby. It was rich, majestic, and melodious and it absolutely oozed authority. I am sure that in the minds of many people the Bible was written in the voice of Alexander Scourby.

At one time I also collected movies on the life of Christ; they presented a wide range of impressions on how Jesus lived and taught. Seeing Jesus from the perspective of others was an excellent way for me to expand on the visual images of Jesus I had developed over years of Bible reading, Sunday school, and sermons.

Some were rich and dynamic, like Jesus Christ Super Star, but at the other end was a video of Jesus walking through the streets just blandly quoting the red-letter texts from the King James Version. It was so boring! Here were the words of Jesus that give life, but there was no interaction, no inflection, no power—no life; this was no Alexander Scourby.

So the voice of the Bible in our minds is important. If the voice of the Bible to us is that of many authors from different eras and cultures with varied audiences, intentions, and points of view, then it is exciting to read as we go from author to author to discover their spirit and the distinctiveness of their contributions. It is a living book from those periods of the past.

But if we approach the Bible as the singular voice of God from start to finish, it loses that personality and character and, instead, can become a dry book of pronouncements and doctrine from God. This is what some call the ‘plain’ reading of the Bible, ignoring the richness and variety and melting it down to a single voice, a single view, and a single message, with each small segment being some eternal truth from God. Irregularities are pressed out as everything is harmonized and joined together like a jigsaw puzzle even though the pieces don’t fit together.

The Bible is not simple; it is complex. Each individual author wrote from their own era and culture, and they wrote to their own eras and cultures. We need to ask what was going on at the time? What did that author have to say and why? Who was the author talking to? Each one had an audience and it was not us. Now the Gospels were written to share who Jesus was—his life, teachings, and example–to those who did not hear Jesus themselves, and that could be said to include us by extension. But the original audiences were those of that time.

‘The Bible Clearly Says’ is Always a Seriously Misguided Statement

When we say, ‘The Bible clearly says…’, we ignore the multiple writers, their unique messages, and their varied audiences. Often we ignore the genre as well. I know that some ‘plain’ readers of the Bible recognize literary genre, but many still insist that any statement anywhere in the Bible is revealed truth from God.

But metaphor should be read as metaphor, poetry as poetry, story as story, myth as myth, wisdom as wisdom, letters as letters, and apocalyptic as apocalyptic without making them plain, literal truth from God. Even Jesus used figures of speech like parables, hyperbole, and metaphor to get his points across.

Here is a question: if the ‘plain’ reading of the Bible reveals what it ‘clearly says’, then why do ‘plain’ readers of the Bible disagree on so many beliefs. It would appear to me that reading what the Bible ‘clearly says’ would lead to almost universal agreement on important beliefs—but it doesn’t.

An extreme example is flat Earth (yes, they still exist). Then there are sharp disagreements on what the Bible ‘clearly says’ regarding election and freedom of the will, believers’ baptism by immersion vs. sprinkling of infants, baptism of the Holy Spirit with tongues, and end-times theology. I’m sure you can think of plenty of others.

I think part of the reason for this is bi-level inerrancy. Not only is the Bible considered inerrant, but the body of interpretation received through one’s particular tradition is inerrant as well.

Could it be that the Bible is not so clear?

Enjoying the Bible as It Is

The Bible is a magnificent book filled with interesting and inspiring works of all sorts—in addition to the teaching and example of Jesus. But if we try to make it conform to an imposed structure of flat, unified, ‘clear’ readings of doctrinal truth then the magic disappears; and we draw misguided conclusions from what we read.

So let’s go home and begin to enjoy the Bible as it is!

Articles in this series: Inerrantist Believers

Why Call Out Fundamentalist Views: Isn’t Everyone Entitled to Their Own Opinion?
Why Progressive Believers and Fundamentalist Believers Disagree on So Many Important Beliefs
For My Inerrantist Friends: Why Appeals to Inerrancy are Totally Ineffective in Discussion
Jesus Without Baggage Welcomes Inerrantists!
‘The Bible Clearly Says’ is Always a Seriously Misguided Statement

***

This entry was posted in Bible, inerrancy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to ‘The Bible Clearly Says’ is Always a Seriously Misguided Statement

  1. wlburnettejr says:

    For so many it’s an all or nothing thing- if one word of the Bible can be considered to be less than the direct word of God, then the whole thing must be thrown out. When I tell people I do not believe the Bible is inerrant, they look at me like I am a complete heathen. To my mind, failing to take the time to gain an understanding of the context of the writings in the Bible by learning about the history and culture during which they were written is just laziness.

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      WLB, you are so right, ‘If it is not all inerrant then throw the whole thing out.” Or, ‘If you can’t trust everything in the Bible, how can you trust anything?’ These sorts of statements are very common from inerrantists. It is like you said–all or nothing. I think ‘all or nothing’ is an unnecessary and illogical stance.

      I agree with you that we must, “take the time to gain an understanding of the context of the writings in the Bible by learning about the history and culture during which they were written.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. chaddamitz says:

    Thanks for sharing. I believe 2 Timothy 3:16 is a crucial text for this discussion: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” Being open-minded and willing to modify preexisting dogmas is essential for spiritual growth. It is also healthy to have a firm stance on doctrine, as long as that doctrine can be thoroughly defended by God’s Word. Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. rwarnell says:

    I once heard Scripture described as “The impassioned impressions of people who pondered the imponderables and absurdities of life”. In other words, the really important “stuff”.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Doug Stratton says:

    In my own study of 2 Tim 3, I have wondered if a more faithful translation is “all God breathed writings”. . . That is an acceptable translation and it changed the meaning significantly. This translation requires that we use discernment as we study to discover that which is God-breathed.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. omisarah says:

    The Sanhedrin was composed of inerrants, was it not? Their chosen “truth” was also written by the human mind, perhaps inspired by spirits inspired by God, or perhaps by spirits on a mental path (hearts of stone) rather than a heart feeling path (hearts of flesh). Did Jesus at anytime target that group of believers who had no DESIRE for God’s Truth? What was different about Nicodemus? He felt, allowed and followed his DESIRE to know Truth, no matter how it might challenge the Jewish Commentaries. I believe when Jesus returns again it will be in the same manner—speaking God’s truth to those who have the DESIRE to know it, to be changed by it, and not appealing to those mired in dogma with hearts of stone. I know a three year old who has been taught that interactions are competitions of “power over”, not opportunities to understand or learn from each other. It’s painful to watch. I’ve recently learned —in a feeling not head space—that Truth does not compromise Love, and truth offered forcibly, out of harmony with Unconditional Love, is no longer truth. I feel that dialogues with people like that 3 year old cause more harm than good, and it’s better to just send them God’s love until their desire changes. Shake the dust off your sandals without rancor.

    Liked by 4 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sarah, Good question. I think Jesus spent time with Nicodemus because Nicodemus was genuinely interested in the good news that Jesus preached. Jesus would have talked to ALL the Pharisees had they been receptive.

      I was so sad to hear of the 3-year old who was being taught that interactions are competitions of power. So many seem to think that, and it is destructive. And I really like your statement, “Truth does not compromise Love, and truth offered forcibly, out of harmony with Unconditional Love, is no longer truth.” I think this is a wonderful insight of wisdom.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. hoju1959 says:

    So many problems with the Bible just melt away when you realize it’s just the writing of men. For example, many years ago I read a book titled “Five Views and Law and Gospel.” Five theologians took turns trying to explain why the gospel seemed to say different things when it came to whether believers should follow the law. Each explanation was more tortured that the last. The reason the Bible says different things is that its books were written by people with differing/contradictory views of the law and gospel. Duh.

    Liked by 2 people

    • hoju1959 says:

      In case you’re wondering, here are the Five Views:

      -The non-theonomic reformed view
      -The theonomic reformed view
      -The law as God’s gracious guidance for the promotion of holiness
      -A dispensational view
      -A modified Lutheran view.

      To this day, I have yet to meet a modified Lutheran. I supposed I’ll know it when it happens.

      Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hoju, I agree. I think it is just that simple. Even people who are in harmony understand things a bit differently from each other, and there is no need to get into a panic about it whether it occurs in the Bible or among believers today.

      Thanks for the list of the Five Views.

      Like

  7. Pingback: Jesus Without Baggage Welcomes Inerrantists! | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. Anthony Paul says:

    I spent most of my life believing that the Bible was the word of God from Genesis to Revelation. Over time, however, I’ve discovered that in thinking about the nature of Divinity, I am most comfortable with myself and the Object of my meditations when I relax a bit and take my concerns and doubts directly to Him. The result is that I’ve started to paint a picture of God in my own mind (but inclusive of all humanity) in very broad strokes and with a pallet of many colors so as to preclude the possibility of placing Him in a well kept box.

    In the last few weeks much good and well-spoken discussion has taken place in this forum about the Bible… the question of inerrancy… must we believe this doctrine in order to derive any benefit from its teachings etc. If I may, I would like to quote a short paragraph from a book written by a young man whose work I happen to admire very much because he understands that God is for all men in all times. It is his contention that God has revealed Himself to man from the very beginning through the use of cultural myth and symbols.

    “My proposal is that you allow your chosen religious myth to inform your emotional life as though it were literally true. However, I am not suggesting that you intellectually take it to be the literal truth. Doing so is tantamount to denying transcendence altogether, since it implicitly assumes that the corresponding truths can be accurately, unambiguously and completely captured in a language narrative. Moreover, taking a religious myth to be a literal truth at an intellectual level plants the seed of fundamentalism. This has been the source of unimaginable suffering and destruction throughout history… The symbolisms of different but valid religious myths are the shadows of transcendent truths.”

    (Taken From: More Than Allegory – On Religious Myth, Truth And Belief by Bernardo Kastrup
    pp. 50-51)

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Anthony: “The result is that I’ve started to paint a picture of God in my own mind (but inclusive of all humanity) in very broad strokes and with a pallet of many colors so as to preclude the possibility of placing Him in a well kept box.”

      This is what we often try to do–putting God in a box. God is so far beyond us that we cannot possibly comprehend him/her. Jesus tells us nearly everything we know about God, and about all I take away from it is that God loves us. That’s it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Paz says:

        The way I understand it, Jesus’ core message about kindness and compassion is perhaps what is most important for us for now to try to understand, to focus on and hopefully become transformed by, God’s image or character – perfect unconditional love.

        Liked by 4 people

        • Anthony Paul says:

          Paz, I think you’re right about this. Whatever else we may believe about the Scriptures, it has been my personal experience that lives begin to be transformed only when we come to understand that we are all truly and unconditionally loved… it starts with our parents and those closest to us when we are children; but ultimately it’s God’s love that we desire and need to carry us beyond ourselves.

          Liked by 3 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Paz and Anthony, I agree!

          Like

    • newtonfinn says:

      Thanks, AP, for the helpful quote. Kastrup is an intriguing thinker whom I’ve read off and on for several years. For those unfamiliar with him, his principal contention, rather well-defended, is that the universe is composed only of consciousness–that God (so to speak) is like a stream of consciousness in which we are whirlpools and other sentient beings are eddies. Obviously, this philosophy makes him the polar opposite of materialists, who either deny consciousness altogether or view it as merely an epiphenomenon in a purely physical world. Those who want to explore Kastrup’s thinking a bit further should check out his primary website:

      http://www.bernardokastrup.com/

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Pingback: For My Inerrantist Friends: Why Appeals to Inerrancy are Totally Ineffective in Discussion | Jesus Without Baggage

  10. Pingback: Why Progressive Believers and Fundamentalist Believers Disagree on So Many Important Beliefs | Jesus Without Baggage

  11. Pingback: Why Call Out Fundamentalist Views: Isn’t Everyone Entitled to Their Own Opinion? | Jesus Without Baggage

  12. Mike Stidham says:

    There’s a slight nuance here in evangelical hermeneutics which turns that whole thought on its ear, though I suspect few of us evangelicals realize this conundrum even exists! This is most prevalent among those who hold to dispensationalism, that God’s dealings with people can be broken down into seven historical categories, or dispensations.
    There is in such hermeneutics the idea of “progressive revelation”, the idea that as we move from one dispensation to a later one, that things change a bit. (Ex. the Sabbath).
    This concept has the logical end result that on a lot of things, the Bible does not speak with one voice! We evangelicals work hard to resolve the cognitive dissonance (the idea of progressive revelation itself being one such attempt), but the result still remains!

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mike, just curious. Do you subscribe to progressive revelation through the identified dispensations?

      Like

      • Mike Stidham says:

        I don’t know that I’d necessarily hold to dispensations per se. Case in point: divorce. If you follow that topic through the Bible, in Deuteronomy it’s allowed but regulated closely. By the time of the exile, Esau was demanding that men divorce their foreign wives. Brought into the time of Jesus, the gospels tend to close those regulations to make a point about marriage being a covenant between two people. Now moving into the later NT writings, particularly 1 Corinthians, the situation at the time calls for some accommodations that allow for those who are divorced to remarry. There’s a sort of “one step forward, two steps back” sort of progression on the doctrine of marriage.
        I tend to think more of two dispensations instead of seven: the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures.

        Liked by 2 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Thanks, Mike. I was raised dispensationalist but after significant study I left dispensationalism behind around 1983 when I was about 30. I don’t even hold to the dispensational standard of ‘rightly dividing’ prophetic passages to determine whether they apply to Jew or Christians.

          However, with 7 (or so) dispensations in view I can see how one might say the Bible does not speak with one voice. But that is not what I mean when I say the Bible does not speak with one voice. I contend that each writer speaks in their own voice, though I do think their personal era and culture influences that.

          Thanks again for that perspective.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Mike Stidham says:

            That’s a whole ‘nother factor in itself contributing to that issue.
            As for the prophetic passages and “rightly dividing”, trying to figure out if they apply to Jew or Christian is just more trouble than it’s worth hermeneutically. I choose to consider that they all pretty much apply to the Christians, who all have been grafted into the Jewish vine so to speak.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Mike, I agree: “trying to figure out if they apply to Jew or Christian is just more trouble than it’s worth hermeneutically.”

            Like

  13. What seems to be largely ignored here is that you can be an inerrantist and still read the Bible in context of what kind of literature a certain passage is.
    “But metaphor should be read as metaphor, poetry as poetry, story as story, myth as myth, wisdom as wisdom, letters as letters, and apocalyptic as apocalyptic without making them plain, literal truth from God.”
    You are creating a false dichotomy, as if it has to be one or the other. If something is metaphor it can still be literal truth, poetry can still be poetry and contain literal truth from God and so one.
    Reading proverbs this morning, and it’s both wisdom literature and literally true. I don’t see any contradiction between the two.

    Liked by 1 person

    • newtonfinn says:

      “Metaphor…can still be literal truth…. “(P)oetry can still be poetry and contain literal truth….” Certainly correct, ww. No one should or could dispute these observations, assuming that “literal” truth refers to the truth of meaning. One of Aesop’s fables, for example, can convey a truth about human nature, despite the fact that the story itself never occurred nor was intended by its author to indicate that it had occurred. The interplay between fact and truth is a subtle one. To claim that a fox actually looked into a creek, saw the reflection of the grapes in its mouth, opened its mouth to grab for the reflected grapes, and thereby lost the grapes it had, says nothing about the specific behavior of a particular fox, but speaks literal truth about human greed. When it comes to the Bible, which you agree contains metaphors and poetry, the difficulty comes in knowing which parts of the great book are factual and which parts are metaphorical or poetic. It’s also sometimes difficult to ascertain the author’s intent in this regard concerning certain narratives or portions of narratives. Many liberal Christians would go further and say that even the author’s intent is not controlling–that the author may have believed that he was relating facts, while the reader might disbelieve the facts and yet fully accept the meaning the author intended to convey. While I do not buy into the position that Jesus never actually existed (nor do any well-regarded NT scholars that I’m aware of), there are those who believe that the figure of Jesus is metaphorical or poetic (mythical). Questions to you, ww, and to all readers of JWB: If such a person nevertheless was totally captivated and claimed by the figure of Jesus, loved this (to him or her) mythological character deeply and lived his or her life in accordance with his teachings, should such a person be considered a Christian? Why or why not?

      Liked by 2 people

      • No. I can tell you a nice story about a fairy that conveys truth, and you might live your life according to it’s principles, but you can’t legitimately worship a fictional character. And a fictional character certainly not forgive your sins. I have never found it all that difficult to tell what stories are meant to be history and which are parables meant to convey truth. I think a lot of people deliberately muddy the waters so that they can pick and choose which parts to take literally.

        Liked by 1 person

        • newtonfinn says:

          Now let me ask you the reverse question, hoping that other JWB readers will weigh in on the first one. Picture a person who has publicly accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, really professes to believe that he has washed away all their sins, but whose life indicates preference for or deference to the rich over the poor, lack of interest in or empathy for the exploited and marginalized, a greater emphasis on judgment and punishment than on love and mercy, and a strong attraction to aggressive violence, not necessarily physically expressed, but perhaps only exhibited in their fantasy life in the form of a gun fetish or gun collection heavy on assault weapons. Should that person be considered a Christian?

          Liked by 1 person

          • I am not qualified to say anyone who has confessed that Jesus is is Savior is disqualified because I don’t care for his behavior. However, believing on Jesus starts with believing he existed, obviously. I happen to have a gun or two myself. What is wrong with collecting firearms? Why is a person who likes guns assumed to be violent? I know many wonderful people who like guns.
            A person who is truly saved will have fruits. But, let’s say that person to start with was a foul mouthed, evil person who never helped anyone and after salvation, he still has his struggles, but he manages to do some small good deeds. The actual change in his life might be ten times what you would observe in someone who already had a great personality and already gave to charity and already was loving before his conversion. That doesn’t make one more Christian than the other.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Wild, I agree. I believe Jesus existed, and if he did not then how could I ‘follow’ him? I also agree that I am not qualified to determine whether anyone is a Christian or not. If someone says they are a Christian then I accept them as a Christian, a fellow believer, and my brother or sister in Jesus. I will take communion with any such person.

            Now I might feel that they are misguided, sometimes in serious ways, but who am I to judge another man’s servant? That is far above my pay grade.

            Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Wild, I have mentioned before that I recognize that there are different levels of sophistication among inerrantist and that I know that some inerrantists do recognize genre in the Bible. I also agree that truth can be conveyed in a metaphor without the details of the metaphor being true. I have no problem with that at all; otherwise Jesus’ parables would all be mere wasted breath (and ink).

      But I often encounter those who attribute truth to the actual details of parables, metaphors, and stories. Two examples are The Rich Man and Lazarus and The Sheep and the Goats. In the first instance, many find in The Rich Man and Lazarus actual information about the afterlife with the rich man being tortured in the flames, which is not the point of the story.

      And in the Sheep and the Goats many understand the details to be actual predictions of the future, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'” Which also is not the point of the story.

      It is difficult to address the views of all inerrantists at the same time.

      Like

      • Well I don’t see any reason to take the sheep and goats parable as non literal in the sense of what it is predicting, or the rich man and Lazarus tale. Or to say hell isn’t actually torture. Just because he used metaphorical language or fictional characters in the telling, doesn’t mean the message isn’t the obvious one.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Okay, but I do not think the ‘message’ of hell is the obvious one in either case; it is merely a detail in the story from the common literature of the culture to make a point and make it memorable.

          Like

          • newtonfinn says:

            The whole “hell” thing is a vexing subject, something Christians have struggled to wrap their minds around ever since Jesus used Gehenna references in his teachings. I’m convinced that the way we live our lives on earth is intimately connected to what happens to us in the afterlife, which seems to be Jesus’ central, overarching point. But on this side of the vale, we are allowed, it seems, no clearer picture, no more definite understanding, of how it all works out in eternity. While we all have our own speculations, I think that Christians would do well to humbly accept the limitations on our knowledge and imagination and simply focus on following Jesus as closely as possible. That is the spirit in which JWB breathes, reflecting my favorite saying of Thoreau: “One world at a time.”

            Liked by 2 people

  14. I love the “The Bible clearly says…” argument. I usually ask the person to stop for a minute because I need to ask a clarifying question. I’ll ask if they are referring to the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek? If not, then I have to ask which language and translation committee do they trust as having the unadulterated Word of God and why they trust flawed and sinful humans?

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Luther, those are some really good question! Sometimes just changing to another English translation can mess up what ‘the Bible clearly says’ in another. And I really like your question, “which language and translation committee do they trust as having the unadulterated Word of God and why they trust flawed and sinful humans?”

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: There are Clearly Two Large Groups of Believers Who Differ on Basic Beliefs; How Do We Best Define Them? | Jesus Without Baggage

  16. Pingback: If God Doesn’t Speak through the Bible then How Does God Speak? | Jesus Without Baggage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.