For over a year now, I have been writing on the subject of religion, specifically on various aspects of the Bible. I grew up as a Christian in the United Methodist Church and my training in higher education has been predominantly in the Hebrew Bible, otherwise known as the Old Testament. However, I have studied the New Testament to a degree. If you are a frequent reader of this blog or have browsed some of my other posts, you no doubt have noticed that I take a particular view of the Bible, primarily from a critical perspective.
Somewhat to my embarrassment, it strikes me that I have never laid out in clear and specific terms on this website how I view the Bible, but merely provided context clues to my readers. With this post, I hope to change that and clarify my own personal view on the Bible, which hopefully will allow one to better understand my other posts. This topic will be quite personal, but I think it needs to be stated, given the fact that I discuss religion publicly. One caveat before I begin: Because I am constantly thinking about the Bible, my views can and do change. That being said, this is what I think about the Bible.
I am a Christian who views the Bible from a Jewish perspective. Perhaps you could call me a Jewish-oriented Christian. Many of my mentors are Jewish. I approach the Bible heavily from what is known as the historical-critical method (essentially, looking at the historical context and circumstances of the various books of the Bible) and I keep the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible mostly in this perspective. This view also extends to how I view the New Testament, as Jesus, his immediate followers, and many of the first-generation Christians were Jewish and thought of themselves as such. From my own personal view, this is a historically correct way to view the Bible, though it is not the only way.
Now, a word on the Word. In some Christian circles, one encounters the phrase biblical inerrancy. If one subscribes to this view, it means that he or she believes that the Bible does not contain error, nor is the Bible capable of error. Without disrespecting those who subscribe to this view, I find it preposterous. The Bible is a text and to suggest that it is incapable of error suggests that it is a living and evolving entity. The Bible is not changing, it is an ancient text. Human interpretation and understanding does change, and it is quite capable of error. Therefore to me, the whole notion and arguments for Biblical inerrancy are meaningless and counter-productive.
The trickier aspect for me comes from the idea of the Bible having been divinely inspired. This is a very popular view in many Christian circles. The debates typically range somewhere between the idea that God inspired humans to write the Bible, providing the basic ideas, to God dictating His word to the writers to copy verbatim. I completely disagree with the latter in this case. Various ancient manuscripts discredit this theory in my mind due to the varying nature of the texts themselves. I’ve already written on differences between the Gospel of Mark (some contain a longer ending, some a shorter). This applies to the Hebrew Bible, as textual variations exist in different manuscripts as well as differences between the Hebrew and Greek translations.
To answer the question more directly, there is no doubt in my mind that God has played a role in the Bible. For me personally, it comes in the form that this ancient text has survived to today, despite the ravages of time and those who sought to destroy the cultures from which the text originated. It absolutely confounds and astounds me that of all the texts produced in the last few millennia, the collection known as the Bible not only survived, but also still holds religious, political, and moral powers of persuasion. To me, that has to be the hand of God at work. That being said, although God may have helped the text survive this long, I think it is up to us humans to choose how we interpret said text, using both our hearts and minds as our guides.
Because addressing individual issues of the Bible, such as when certain books were written and by whom, would take up an enormous amount of space on the page and time to read, I decided to condense my thoughts into a short list. I present here my own “List things Andrew wants you to know about the Bible.”
- There is no “Authoritative Version” of the Bible. The King James Version was authorized by King James of England, not God. Pick a translation that suits you; just be aware of the methods used to translate it. Ideally, people would learn Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, but that will not happen.
- There are some bad translations. Please avoid paraphrased versions. The King James Version presents an interesting tension. On the one hand, the translation itself is not very good, but the poetic nature of the language is exquisite. My opinion: Use it in conjunction with another translation.
- Always ask someone for a reference when they say “the Bible says…” Beyond that, if they are quoting, question them as to what context the phrase comes from. If someone quotes a line from Paul, was Paul speaking universally or to a specific group to address specific problems?
- Remember that the Bible was not written for us in this time and age. In fact, most books of the Bible were not written in the time in which they were purported to take place (i.e. Exodus, Judges, Job, etc.). It has its own historical context and we are adapting it for our modern lives, thus enacting large amounts of interpretation.
- Remember that any reading of the Bible is an interpretation. There is no one or correct way to view the Bible. The world in which the Bible originated is long gone, thus we must impart our own meaning on the text, or use a historical method in order to attempt to discern original intent. Honestly, the former is much easier than the latter.
- There is nothing wrong with having a bias. Just be sure you can admit and identify your bias.
One might notice that I have not given my thoughts on topics such as salvation, hell, the Trinity, etc. These are questions of theology, not Biblical studies. Perhaps one day I will post on that, but for now, I will stick to the Bible alone.
If you are a frequent reader, I hope you have enjoyed this post and found it illuminating. I will add in the final caveat, again, that while I currently adopt the above as my own outlook on the Bible, my views can and do change with time and reflection. In closing, I suppose that is also my last piece of advice: If you take the Bible seriously and use it to guide your life, never stop thinking about it and never be afraid to interpret it in new lights. I very much believe in God and believe that God wants us to think and debate. Through this active process, we learn. Challenge your own view by reading different points of view. Do not shy away from debates that may “disprove” aspects of the Bible. If you have questions or comments, submit them below or shoot me an e-mail. As always, thanks for reading.