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Monday, February 21, 2011

Questioning Scripture

The numbers of folk even among Christians -- even among "evangelical" Christians -- who claim that the Bible is the Word of God, a God-breathed, inerrant, infallible text handed down to us through the centuries and protected by God for our use today is dwindling. There are a variety of views, of course, but that particular one is passing away. What other options are there?

The Bible is not applicable for today. You seem to think that this book can still be applied to the life and times of the 21st century. You think that because some 1st century guy wrote against, say, "fornication", that we shouldn't commit "fornication". Some of you nonsensical types think that just because some guy wrote, "I do not allow a woman to teach or usurp authority over a man" that it means that women shouldn't teach or usurp authority over men. Clearly that was a reference to the culture of the day and today women are much better educated and much more capable. But that's just an example. It's all over the pages of the Bible. The Bible preaches slavery and sexism and puritanical sexual morals and all sorts of obvious errors. It has been used to invade countries, repress races, kill suspected heretics and witches, and all sorts of immorality. We are much more advanced today, both in knowledge and in morality. We know that there is no difference between blacks and whites, males and females, gays and straights. The simple fact that the Bible did not seem to see this kind of obvious truth proves that it is irrelevant for today.

The Bible does not mean what it appears to say. Sure, sure, maybe the Bible is the "Word of God" (whatever you may mean by that), but, look, it's abundantly clear that it is necessarily interpreted by fallible readers. Frankly, it takes a whole lot more information than the common reader has to really understand what's going on in some of it. There are cultural issues in view that are not readily obvious and there are social issues in mind that we may not know and there are certainly language barriers to overcome and, well, it's all very difficult. It may say, for instance, that it's an abomination for a man to lie with a man as with a woman, but what does that mean? You may say that it means that it's an abomination for a man to lie with a man as with a woman, some ancient text version of "gay sex". But scholars suggest that it references illicit sexual behavior in pagan temple worship. And we're all agreed, I think, that performing pagan temple worship is against God's law. So, you see, it's a matter of private interpretation. The Bible doesn't always mean what it seems to say. And while we might agree that it is "inspired by God" (whatever you may mean by that), we will also agree that human interpretation is flawed ... at best. So certainty about meaning and texts and contexts is questionable at best and more likely unwise.

Since it's not actually written by God in any sense, it shouldn't be viewed as "inerrant" or "infallible" in any sense. The Bible is an ancient text. It was obviously written by humans -- and we all know that "to err is human". And, look, let's be honest ... you can't read the Bible with any thoroughness and not know that there are obvious errors and contradictions. Besides, it was written from the perspective of ancient cultures with outdated notions and outmoded values. Look, maybe there is some value to the book. It has nice things like "love your neighbor" which might be helpful. It has commonly understood morals like "Don't do to others what you don't want others to do to you." We're good with that. But the useful stuff is more rare than you realize and, frankly, the entire structure of the book is too weak to form opinions about what to pass as laws, what a "moral society" would look like, or whether or not my pet project should be completed (because the fact that I want it makes it "moral") or terminated (because you have some obscure belief in some dubious, ancient writings that suggest that some vague "deity" thinks -- in your highly questionable and bigoted opinion -- my pet project is "immoral"). It's a book. Get over it!

"Did God say ...?" That pretty much summarizes them all, doesn't it? If you're aware of the origin of the quote, you know that the originator used some truth, some shaded truth, and some lies to produce doubts and, ultimately, rebellion in the minds of his listeners. It isn't a new trick, then. But it sure is popular today. The fact that it's popular in the world (which we are promised will be opposed to us) isn't surprising. The fact that it is popular among those self-identifying as "Christians" and even "conservative Christians" (in some sense or another) is sad. The growing attempts at "new understanding" and revisionist interpretation is appalling. The suggestion that we, some 2000 years later, have finally come up with the truth that God Himself could never seem to get across to us in all those years is mind-boggling. But we know the source of the problem -- he who asked at the outset, "Did God say ...?" It does not bode well for Christendom and it does not bode well for those who go down that path. It's the kind of thing that I look at and say, "Thank God He is Sovereign!" But, then, that would only come from a view that answers, "Yes! God did say ...!"