The Bible (& Bibles)

Why have people throughout subsequent history– read this occasionally inaccurate book to find out what God is like, what God is doing with the world, what God wants of us?

How should we, can we still, read it for those purposes?

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19 responses

  1. With our own moral sense firmly engaged, and with the desire to see the Good in it, however strange it may seem. Knowing that it was written thousands of years ago. Praying for guidance. With love for it, and for Humanity, and for God.

    1. Okay, that sounds like the ‘how’!

      There’s still, for many people, the question of “Why?” Why do some people expect this particular anthology to be more than “some old mistakes we don’t have to make anymore” — while certain other people expect to find nothing else there for them?

  2. I’ve yet to find something in the Bible that isn’t common sense. So for me its a lack of “why” – if that makes sense? I should say that I’ve only read the New Testament and have yet to dabble in the Old Testament… I’ll get to it eventually… I hear there are some pretty cool stories!

    1. Well, they aren’t always nice stories.
      —–

      “Don’t set yourself against a man who would harm you” — is not a common-enough kind of sense.

      And certainly not “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

      & after the synoptic gospels, it gets strange. Sometimes good and strange (parts of ‘John’) and sometimes just strange (Paul.) ‘Revelation’ scared me when I was a kid.
      —–

      The Hebrew scriptures, well: The ‘New Testament’ was supposed (to the people who wrote the new books) to be a continuation of its story, the working-out of its intended purpose. These people were Jews, and when they said ‘Scriptures’, those older books were what they had in mind.

      The ‘why’ question, for me: What is God attempting to communicate — that’s taken all this time & human emotional fluids to get across, so far as it has? People have found all sorts of good (and bad) meanings in itall, but there’s something about it that really eludes human understanding, the way that most humans automatically tend to read things.

  3. Yes typology is interesting….

    What I hate and love about the “why” question is that its meaning can and has been translated into all sorts of good and bad. I think it is a wonderful book filled with food for thought for anyone. Great questions posed, situations that we may find ourselves in, how to deal with feelings… the human condition, etc. But I refuse to believe that this is the only blue print for being human.

    In answering the question posed above of “how,” I think we should read it with analytical skepticism just like any other text in a college classroom. I would like to submit a new “why” and that is to simply to understand. I read the bible simply to better understand people around me.

    1. As far as I understand the word “typology” — It seems to mean reading about people, events, situations in the Hebrew Bible as if they’d been something like divine literary allusions to Jesus and his life. Plenty of early Christians did think that way, and so it seems likely that some things in the gospels weren’t taken from his literal biography, but from scriptural passages that seemed to fit.

      That wasn’t exactly what I meant. If you look at the history of humanity as one big ongoing process… with God considering times, places, ways of intervening to establish satisfactory Divine/human relations: Then the history (& legendry) of Israel was a big part of that process. Israel served as an excellent mirror — for showing the same problems and failings our own nations would have experienced if we’d been ‘Chosen’ — and tried to live with the hopes & responsibilities that implied.

      Then Jesus was born into that setting — and was treated as our own people would have treated him, whatever our particular people might be. Misunderstood, feared, despised as God has always been in practice, because people don’t understand God, and what they don’t understand they don’t trust. Because when people read something — they typically assume it 1) means something they already know (so they ignore it) or 2) really isn’t anything they know (so they ignore it.) Communication across that kind of mindset is a bitch — and it’s a pretty universal mindset.

      Part of the “why” — is that this really was the lawbook of a state religion, for several hundred years. People read it, interpreted it, wrote new bits of it — on the assumption that it was a communication from God, about what sort of law code they were supposed to establish and follow.

      Most people really can’t see it that way anymore. But given that the book wasn’t an accident, that God really does have “something” to say to us, as people grow to receive it… Then it was intended as a communication, and should be read in that sense. As a truly ironic communication, much of the time — but meaningful.

      1. Thank you so much for your wonderful replies! I can’t say how much I appreciate being invited to this conversation/blog. I don’t have many people to talk about religion as I’d like… I’d also like to apologize if my replies seem ignorant. Simply put I don’t know a lot but am eager to discover and learn about the Bible and Christianity. I am a non-believer but have much respect for believers and only wish to understand.

        By typology I just meant that the NT writers were confirming the OT and the people after the NT writers (crusaders, Columbus, and beyond) were attempting to confirm the NT.

        I do understand the need for God to communicate to humans. But that is the simple answer no? After all it is moral education, spiritual healing, physical healing even, etc. I feel like a lot of people use the Bible to find their way when they’ve become lost. A question I would have for anyone that is lost is, what are you lost from? What are you comparing your life to? What does it mean to be not lost? I feel like the problem of being lost was created with in the Christian world and only existed when Christianity was created. In essence, the feeling of being lost or having no faith was something that didn’t exist during pre-Christian time. SO is one really lost? I’m a little wary of problems that are self-created. Did sin exist pre-Christian? Or was it only a problem after?

        1. Whoa, hey! (Great to have you here, too!)

          I’ll send you an actual invite to post; I’m just saying these are so many questions at once that I’m overwhelmed!

          I agree with you that the Christian missionary practice has been a lot like: “Sell them a disease and then peddle the cure.”

          And the NT use of the ‘OT’ writings was so loose as to appear dishonest, except that the writers were Jewish and assumed that their story did in fact fit into that ongoing history.

          But how about you make a post of the other questions & we’ll go on from there?

  4. apocalypseicons | Reply

    Dear Forrest,
    Thank you for the invitation to take part in this bible study blog. My personal experience of the Bible is one of healing physically, mentally and spiritually through regular reading of OT and NT on a daily basis. Having a little OCD for reading it helps. When I get to the end I start again. Each time I open it something new makes itself plain, even if it is a verse I have read many times.
    On one occasion I read the Gospel of John and could not see the words but felt music, the most beautiful music. It was like the words are vibrations of an eternal something. It only happened the once but it showed me the truth of increasing awareness and revelation through regular commitment and practice.
    At the beginning it is like being very tired and yawny – this ennui is the power of the mind and ego which does not want to be supplanted by the holy. but if you persevere then it gets deeper and goes further within. One responds with alternate awareness, sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, sometimes mentally and sometimes, as above in ways that are hard to describe.
    The bible is truly a Living Word as it changes in response to our changing and deepening relationship with Almighty God. That is my experience and I would not ever want to be without it in my life now.

  5. Hello Forrest!
    I feel very simple about this question: Why read the Bible? Because you want to. If you don’t want to, pLEASE don’t read it. We don’t need more resentment in the world but anything a person is moved to do by love will be for the good.

    IF someone is leaning toward wanting to but is trying to figure out if it’s worth the trouble, I would say definitely. Mostly because if you’ve grown up hearing excerpts (whether in church or just from larger society), you may be surprised. I found that reading the Old Testament was a very different experience than I had expected it to be. So many odd details are in there that you would never know and you can make your own sense of the world — and of the world of Christianity — by going to the source. When we have not read the Bible, we think we know what it will say…but we will be mistaken in numerous stories. It’s been a while since I have been reading it straight through but one thing that had struck me this way was something in the Old Testament about suffering and the role Jesus was to play in the faith, in the future…. something that I thought at the time: Why doesn’t anyone in church talk about THIS! This is radical stuff!

    Also, I remember being struck similarly by some passage — probably in the New Testament — about sin which REALLY doesn’t say what societal Christianity tells you it will. The message was not firm about what is and is not sin and was in fact saying that it may be different for everyone and you are personally accountable for what God is saying to you and what God lays on your own heart to do and not do….and that you must allow others the same latitude…. or something like that.

    It really was more of a personal revelation than I could have expected. That’s one good reason to read it, but only for those who are on that spiritual path.

    1. apocalypseicons | Reply

      Dear Olivia
      That is a very insightful comment and I have come to a similar conclusion. Personal responsibility is key but also we do not always know what God is asking us to do in a specific situation. I am learning through my Francsican experience that often we are asked to be obedient in situations others may find unpalatable for the rectification of something we may not even understand fully until much later.

      1. Thanks, friend apoca….
        hm. Are you using “personal responsibility” and obedience as references to the same thing? Can you elaborate? I wasn’t sure what you meant about personal responsibility.
        But yes, I’m sure that being a religious (isn’t that how they refer to that life in Catholicism?) brings with it many opportunities to practice blind obedience which can be a great practice of submitting the ego to God. I found it a powerful tool though I couldn’t see it through in the Catholic tradition. Have become a Quaker. Not enough direct practices for ego submission there though.

  6. Hey, Olivia! (Wow! Good to see you here!)

    Ummm? “Pass no judgement, and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so will you yourselves be judged; and whatever measure you deal out to others will be dealt back to you.” That one? Or something in Paul? — (whom I don’t know nearly as sympathetically, except that he wasn’t trying to write a new ‘Law’ for Christians, but rather to offer advice on what kind of behavior would work in a 1st Century religious community, vs what was potentially troublesome.)

    Yeah, ‘revelation’ isn’t just ‘what’s written here’ — but “What does reading this help me see?”

    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Forrest. I don’t know though. It’s funny but I specifically remember that it was a little over a full column of text and where it fell on the page but I couldn’t tell you the book of the Bible, page number, topic or anything actually helpful!

      I just remember that I read it while thinking of someone I knew who was vegetarian and I thought was not eating healthily. In reading this — in being led to this passage on sin and the individual’s role with their own conscience — I was basically being told to stop being so self righteous about how I KNEW the best diet for others, and accept that I’m offending what God actually wants in their life — that they follow as THEY are led, not as I would lead them!

      1. Hi Olivia,

        Sounds to me like you might be thinking of Romans 14: “Welcome all the Lord’s followers, even those whose faith is weak. Don’t criticize them for having beliefs that are different from yours. Some think it is all right to eat anything, while those whose faith is weak will eat only vegetables. But you should not criticize others for eating or for not eating. After all, God welcomes everyone. What right do you have to criticize someone else’s servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right, and the Lord will make sure that they do right.”

        Treegestalt is right about Paul. Sad how often he is misrepresented. Note that Paul here is not saying that everyone is right, in the larger context it is clear he regards the vegetarians as “weak”, but he is making a very important point: What we see may not be what God thinks is most important. While we can see the weaker persons vegetarianism and “know” it is wrong-headed, we cannot see their heart (where all the really serious sin lies). Who are we, then, to demand someone deals with the obvious rather than the serious? Leave that to God!

  7. Tradition has told us that the Bible is a very important read for those purposes, and has pointed to passages within it that affirm this (notably, Paul). I think that yes, it can and should still be read for those things. However, it should be pointed out that, by and large, Protestantism has placed it on a pedestal upon which it never should have been placed. Many Christians have expected perfection of it when it never aimed to be perfect. It is honest and true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect nor does that mean it’s not divinely inspired. It’s much more human than many think, but I believe that’s a good thing. In fact, I think that’s exactly what God wanted.

    1. “a pedestal upon which it should have never been placed.” Yes. Once people started thinking of “authority” as ‘authority over’, as in “My authority can whup your authority”, that pedestal — and the pedestal under the Pope — were natural developments.

      As that NT Wright piece you posted pointed out, the real authority belongs to God. And is delegated for the purpose of liberating people, not for lording it over them. Or ~”Keeping them in little boxes.”

      I think the Quakers found the natural ‘third way’ through this dilemma: relying on the Spirit directly. But since that doesn’t lend itself to the group’s ‘authority-over’, we too get people asking: ~’How can we get people to do what we think they should instead of what they think they should?’ Humans!

      “never aimed to be perfect.” Everyone who’s ever written poetry, well or badly, knows that it can come via a perfect Inspiration — but then usually needs a little editing. And I’ve thought that too: “exactly what God wanted.”

    2. Good points, Carlynn.

      My beef with those who hold to the “perfect” view of scripture is that they have such a narrow view of truth. To far too many, truth=historical fact. This is just blatantly erroneous, even for them. For instance, it makes absolutely no difference to the truth of the parable of the good Samaritan whether such a person ever existed. Nor does it matter so much whether the recorded history of Israel actually reflects real history. What was important was how they saw themselves and God, and the relationship that evolved between them.

      To me, the NT is “perfect” not because it contains everything and is 10% historically accurate, but because it shows us how a small group of people, faced with Jesus’ radical message that turned their world on its head, tried to make sense of it and work through the practical implications. Did they finish the job? No. Did they get everything right? Probably not. Did they show us how to continue the job? Absolutely.

  8. Yes, thoughtful spirituality, that sounds like probably the passage I came across right when I felt perfectly self-righteous that someone I loved who was weak needed to not be a vegetarian.

    But I make a different conclusion than you about Romans 14. I think I took it further. I felt when reading it that the message was not just that God values something other than I value (which is true) and that the weakness I see is not God’s focus, but that more than this: God is letting us know that SIN would be for that person to be a meat eater. And here I was feeling so sure of myself…

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