Liquid Footprints

All or Nothing: Considering the Bible

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The glass is neither half full or half emptyI have ran across many fellow Christians who argue the Bible is either the Word of God or it isn’t when faced with how historically inaccurate the text is. They view it as all or nothing with no in between.

First, let’s consider one of the historical inaccuracies and contradictions of the Bible as an illustration. There are many others (and there are many accuracies too), but let us examine Jesus’s birth and Luke’s census. Matthew has Jesus born during the reign of Herod (Matt 2: 1). Luke has Jesus born during a census around 6 or 7 B.C.E, 9 years after Herod’s death. (Luke 2:1-2). It was Roman custom during census to only count Roman citizens, unless it was for taxation purposes. They didn’t require anyone to move to their hometown. Such would only increase resistance. People actually revolted against census in those days.

Likely Luke confused his oral sources or made up the entire story  to reconcile Jewish prophecy concerning the Messiah being born in Bethlehem and the fact Mark (the oldest gospel) states He was from Nazareth. (Mark 1: 9).Nine years is a significant difference in age for Jesus as well.

Basically, the history we have from Roman documents, Josephus, and other sources doesn’t match what the Bible says. Most Christians just discard the many sources and hold to the Bible, afraid that any contradiction or error would nullify the Word of God.

All or Nothing.

There is an in-between. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing; there are 2 faces to every coin, and there is an edge that holds them together.

Is the Bible the Word of God? No, not in the way people view it. Most people view the “Word” inerrant, perfect, and complete. Just a careful and honest reading of the Bible tells us otherwise. Just outline the crucifixion chapters in each of the gospels. Some of the gospels have Jesus dying on different days.

Cyprus BibleThe Bible itself has changed and evolved over time. The Bible we have is a product of several centuries of work. If various political and ideological winds shifted, our Bible could have contained the Gospel of Mary, the infancy Gospel of James, the Gospel of Thomas, or the Letters of Clement. All of which were candidates  or even part of the canon at various times.

So no. The Bible isn’t the Word of God in the perfect, complete, and inerrant sense.

So the Bible is a fallacy, a fairytale, a myth! Nope. The Bible is too important a document to dismiss out of hand. It also gets as much right as it does wrong.

It is God’s inspired Word.

The Bible is a human effort to understand God. It isn’t God dictating His will verbatim to some writer in a cave. It is a collection of stories and ideas about how various people from different time periods and cultures understand and view God. God goes from ordering genocide to ordering us to love our enemies because human morality and understanding is maturing. As human morality and understanding matures, we can understand more about God than we could when we were infants fighting over strips of land. (Unfortunately we often regress back to infancy.) The Bible contains the lessons God wants us to learn as we continue to mature spiritually.

Yes, the Koran also falls into this category. It too is a document that illustrations a continuing effort to understand God.

Humanity is very young. It only makes sense that our efforts to understand God has to develop just as a child has to develop their understanding of the world around them.

Many Christians argue that it isn’t possible to evolve and grow morally and spiritually. We are just too sinful and evil…That view is what prevents us from growing closer to God. When we assume we are evil and can’t be anything else, there is no reason to strive. We can only beg forgiveness and harbor a guilt complex that rots the soul.

The Bible is an anthology of people striving to learn and be better. Certainly we need forgiveness for our wrongs, but we are naturally compassionate and gentle. It is an insult to God to view the crowning achievement of Creation as sinful and evil. We were created in His image: the image of compassion, love, tolerance, and patience. That is where we get our natural tendencies.

The Bible is made by humans for humans. God didn’t write it. He doesn’t need to write anything that isn’t already embedded in the natural human soul and His universe. The Bible is full of errors and mistakes, but it is no less than the inspired Word of God. It traces just a small snapshot of the collective human effort to understand God and the godly nature of love He instilled in all of us. The Bible’s stories warn us what happens when we don’t allow love and tolerance to rule us.

I expect not many agree with my view. Most still cling as I did to the All or Nothing dualism taught by mainstream churches. We can only properly understand the Bible if we view it from all sides: the spiritual/religious side, the scholarly historical side, and the edge that encompasses both. If we remain in the dualist spiritual side or the scholarly historical side, we do the Bible a disservice. We are failing to grow in knowledge as God would have us grow. The Bible can only be understood in the context of history. The Bible can only be believed in its spiritual context. Pulling the Bible into the modern world and literally applying it isn’t proper understanding. Pulling the Bible out of the realm of spirit and literally applying it isn’t a proper understanding.

Above all, the Bible must be read and applied with a godly mindset: one of compassion, mercy and peace.

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Author: Chris

Wanders the world of Japanese culture and library nerdiness.

2 thoughts on “All or Nothing: Considering the Bible

  1. How would you say Jesus’ use of the old testament in his teaching fits into this understanding of the Bible?

    • Jesus used the Torah and the Prophets to illustrate His lessons on how to cultivate love for God and compassion. He used what His listeners knew and understood (such as the illustration of the mustard seed). Also, some of the references were added by the gospel writers who had specific audiences in mind. Matthew, for example, focused on Jewish christians more than Mark or Luke. That is why Matthew has different Torah references and other tie-ins.

      In all the gospels Jesus took the Jewish teachings a step further. He wanted to progress our understandings of God beyond what was understood at the time.

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