Back to Basics – What about the Bible?

What a host of problems the Bible presents to 21st Century Western people!

What is this “holy” book that contains so much violence and killing, sexual misbehaviour, abuse of power, misogyny, etc?  You name it, it’s in the Bible.  And according to the Bible, lots of it is sanctioned and even sometimes commanded by God.

It really is a problem, and not one I can hope to unravel in these few words.  But I acknowledge these difficulties and then forge ahead.

What Is The Bible?

The Old Testament (otherwise known as the Hebrew Scriptures) are 39 distinct books (Roman Catholic and Orthodox bibles have more), and the New Testament has 27 books.  A few authors have clearly written more than one, but there are many authors among the 66 books of the Bible.  Some books even show sign of having multiple authors, either intermingled or appended, though that is never crystal clear.

There are many different forms of writing – history, myth, poetry, song, letter, prophesy, instruction, etc, often mixed within books.  One task, not always simple, is to clarify what type of reading is in front of you.

The books also first belong to the time of their writing, which is also often unclear.  Knowing about those times can help a great deal in unwrapping the authors’ meaning.

How the authors came to write, the degree to which they were “inspired by God” to write, and sometimes even their purpose in writing, is not always clear.

Despite all of this, even today it is possible to read most books in the Bible and make reasonable sense.  Of course there are some exceptions – some are really difficult!

How Is Our Modern Bible Translated?

Many claims are made about gross inaccuracies in the Bible.  It is often claimed that errors from one language and translation to the next compound in such a way that our present Bibles are useless.  This is an ignorant claim.

We don’t translate from previous translations.  The New Testament is more recent, and it was all originally written in first century Greek.  There is a literary science applied to ancient documents by which the best possible translations are created.  We translate from Greek, uncovered through archaeology.  The older the text, the higher the priority given to its content.

Similarly we translate the Old Testament from Hebrew wherever possible, though fewer fragments exist. A lot of assistance comes from the Septuagint (abbreviated LXX), a Greek rendering of the Hebrew Scriptures in the first century.

So rather than get worse, our translations of the Bible improve in accuracy as more ancient manuscripts are discovered.  It also changes because our use and understanding of the English language changes, since language always evolves.  So what might have been accurate in the King James Version is no longer accurate in meaning in the 21st century.

I hope you can see, by the methods used, that as far as it is possible with the limitations of the English language, the Bible is as accurate to the original writings as possible.

What About All the Violence?

One of the big charges against the Bible these days is that the Old Testament is packed with violence sanctioned by God.  God brings the flood and kills nearly everyone.  God tells Abraham to go and sacrifice his son, Isaac.  God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  God calls out the kings to go to war and kill the enemy, over and over again.

What is the deal with all the “religious violence?”

It is a very good question, and one it isn’t possible to dismiss or explain easily.

Child sacrifice existed in Abraham’s time, and after he calls Abraham off, it is never done again among the Hebrew people; God prohibits it.  That story may have been about ending the practice, but there is no way to know for sure.

The ancient world was a violent place; there was simply no way of escaping it.  To have a place in that world, any surviving nation would have to successfully fight to keep their place.

If God was to bring something better, he was first going to have to engage with the world as it was.

When we read the accounts of Jesus we see one who said to love your enemies and do good to those who would hurt you.  And this he put in practice in order to bring us back to God.

It seems that God’s plan was to end the violence, that through Jesus there would be a new peacemaking people who would salt the world differently.

Does the Bible contain Contradictions

I will offend some people with my answer to this question, and say that in places the Bible does contain contradictions.  However, I don’t believe they are things that are important.

The central message of God working through the centuries, through the Israelites, to Jesus, through his followers in the power of the Holy Spirit, is intact and consistent throughout.

I pray that God will come to you through the Bible, and that you will believe with all your heart that through the risen Lord Jesus, you belong to God.

A Late Addition …

I suspect you could take what I’ve said and written this week on the Bible to suggest a low view of academic learning about the Bible. Nothing could be further from my intention. I have benefited enormously from Biblical study of the academic kind, both at theological college and private reading.  Without the things I’ve learned I believe there are many misconceptions I would still hold, purely because of lack of information.  This also helps to keep me a little quiet because there are certainly lots more facts I could benefit from, should I have them.

However I have also seen learning lead people to conclusions that I believe are invalid and unhelpful.  It demonstrates to me that learning does not guarantee that you will move even one step closer to God.  You may, but you may also give away your faith altogether, depending in the “facts” and conclusion you draw.

The goal of biblical learning is to know “truth” about God more closely, and thereby look to God in a more informed way. However I will stand by what I have said this weekend: the most valuable thing that can happen when reading (or studying) the Bible is that the Holy Spirit will grab your attention and draw you closer.  No learning is more valuable than this.

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