The Bible Says… and Other Myths About Scripture

Time to think:

It is a commonplace, in the congregations and in the culture, to refer to “the Bible,” with very little reflection on what we actually have in mind. “The Bible says”… “the Bible teaches”… “the Bible shows”… these are quite common ways to ground arguments about a wide range of moral and political and theological issues among Christians in the United States today.

The shortcomings of such a perspective are evident once we stop to think about it. The Bible, after all (by which I mean the Christian Bible) is an eclectic combination of many books produced over an enormous span of time and an enormous geographical range. It is constituted by 39 books written primarily in Hebrew, and a number of those books (notably the Psalms and Proverbs) might be further subdivided into the poems and pithy aphorisms they contain. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians include a few more books in their Old Testaments than the Protestants do.

Then, of course, the Christian Bible also includes 27 books all written considerably later, in the Greek language and over the span of little more than a generation (somewhere between 70 and 110 CE). All this to say that figuring out “what the Bible says” on any given topic is difficult and sometimes well-nigh impossible.

Taking the Bible seriously means first taking its own history seriously, and then taking what it says seriously enough to admit the density and opacity of some of its pronouncements. “Mystery” is a word that appears with some regularity in many biblical books.

In addition to these primarily historical questions, there is another matter worthy of careful consideration when we endeavor to speak in general terms about the Bible. What kind of a book do we imagine when we speak of “the Bible”? Presumably we do not think of the long papyrus scrolls that constituted the original “books” in the Hebrew Bible. And we probably do not think of the richly-illuminated handwritten and leather-bound codices that early Christians began producing not long after the New Testament writings had been completed.

No, we are far more likely to think of the modern Bibles we know, identical books printed in massive print runs, replete with all sorts of readerly helps, from running headers at the top of the page to chapter and verse numbers below. Imagine that: the common Protestant practice of “proof-texting” (citing one verse as a way to capture the essence of biblical truth) would have been impossible before the advent of the printing press, when Bibles first began to have section breaks, chapters, and verses (none of this earlier than 1560). Prior to that, people did not speak of verses; they spoke of stories. And the Bible is chock full of stories.

Read the rest at the link above.

Personally,the bible is more than a source book – it is a book which guides us daily, but the author is right, in that too many people simply say ‘It’s in the Bible.’ We need serious bible studies in our congregations, from the original languages – where our doctrine is truly found – using good solid translations. We need men and women who teach instead of tickle, and push instead of merely parrot.

The Bible is a beautiful book, breathed out by God. It is more than the last 400 years, my friends.

What do you think?

Post By Joel L. Watts (10,125 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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