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Bible for Thinkers

Liberals love the Bible, too. We just look at it differently. This is a place to discuss the Bible where you don't have to check your brain at the door. There are many ways to see it, and many ways to have it come to life.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Bible is true?

When you boil down most of the disagreements in and between Christians these days, they tend to end up at the question of how we should be reading the Bible. What does it mean to say that the Bible is true?

I have no trouble saying "The Bible is true." What I mean by that, however, is vastly different than what my brothers and sisters on the Christian Right mean when they say it. Having been a staunch fundamentalist in my younger years, I know what that looks like. The fundamentalist believes the Bible is true in all ways that truth is possible. For them it contains no errors of scientific errors, no historical errors, no mathematical errors, no social errors, no chronological errors, and so forth. There is also little room here for literary difference. Everything is treated as if it were factual information. To suggest that there may be a fable or folktale included in its ranks is tantamount to heresy, and certainly there is no room for human additions in what is seen as the Word direct from the mouth of God.

I mean hardly any of that, when I say the Bible is true. I believe the Bible is true in that it conveys the truth about the nature of God, the nature of Creation, and the intended relationship between the two. It is a book of religious truth. There may be things on its pages that are historically accurate, but the facts of history are not guaranteed just because they are on the pages of Scripture. Hebrew religious literature, especially, has always felt free to adjust the facts so that the religious truth might become more obvious. That was never seen as falsifying anything. It was seen as making the account more true, because religious truth...the truth about God...was the truth it meant to teach. It is only since the 20th century that we have come to equate truth with all kinds of truth at once.

Think about it. Are Aesop's fables true? They are not historical accounts. In the fable that gave us the term "sour grapes," we were never meant to believe that there was an actual fox who tried to get some grapes, couldn't reach them, and thus determined they were sour. It is not historically true. And who knows whether a fox has such reasoning power and self-deceiving tendencies. But the fable is absolutely true in what it tells us about human nature...which is the purpose of a fable.

Jesus, himself, uses stories and folktales in the Gospels. We call them parables. Take the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus at the end of Luke 16. Those aren't historical events and they are not meant to be an accurate picture of the geography of heaven and hell. There is a whole rabbinic tradition of Lazarus stories...much as modern culture has a tradition of St. Peter at the Gates stories and jokes. Jesus pulls from his own Jewish, rabbinic tradition and tells a story to make a point.

So if Jesus does it, why can't his Hebrew forbears do so? The book of Job, in Hebrew, has all the literary marks of a folktale. So why is it heresy to suggest that its author might be trying to teach in the same way that Jesus tried to teach...through story? When I suggest that Job is a folktale, irate people come to me saying, " don't believe the Bible is true!" Nonsense. I just believe it is giving us something deeper than surface truth.

I think that when we try to force the Bible to be a textbook for all disciplines, we are doing an extreme injustice to both the Bible and those who have used their God-given gifts in the disciplines of science, history, and sociology. The Bible is a living collection of sacred writings, spanning thousands of years. I believe God inspired it and I believe God has preserved it for us. But I don't for the first minute believe that God intended for us to use it to teach science or history or to be used to justify our own social norms and preferences.


At 5:52 AM, Johan Jordaan said...

To a degree I can agree with you however I think this can become a really dangerous trail of thought or rather pattern of thought. I noticed in you one post that you attempt to speak of God in a Gender non specific way which seems to have become the modern thing to do. That is very cool because it helps me illustrate my point. F you look at the Old Testament and 99% of the new it’s not important whether God is male or female but in one thing, namely God being the father of the child to whom the Virgin Mary gave birth. You change that and you can very well change the meaning of who Christ is in its whole.
You go about that to freely and you end up with a form of Godliness which lacks the power thereof. Christianity becomes just another one of many “spiritual paths” to “enlightenment” which basically boils down to a moral code and nothing more.

At 5:55 AM, Johan Jordaan said...

Sorry for the continued commend
I was actually told this morning that Jesus saying that He is the Truth the Way and the Life is probably just a translation error cause that would disqualify all other religions

At 2:17 PM, Anne Robertson said...


I think that any one idea can become dangerous if you run with it without regard to all the other ideas needed to balance it out. That's how I think we got into a lot of this mess in the first place. We always need the bigger picture.

As for God and gender, a couple of points. Maybe I haven't heard you right, but it seems you're saying that we must keep God as "Father" because it protects the doctrine of Jesus' divinity. If that's true, then none of the rest of us have any business calling God "Father." And I can't go there.

The issue of God and gender is a frustrating one for me, and one that I've dealt with in my book coming out in April. I don't have any issues with calling God "Father," as long as it is balanced with other images. I had a good, loving father and I don't bring any baggage to it.

For many, however, their experience of their own fathers has been so horrendous that putting the title on God becomes such an impenetrable wall that they cannot break through to a relationship with God. Since "Father" is not the only image for God in the Bible (after all, if Jesus is God, then we've got God as lion, lamb, shepherd, vine, gate, hen, etc.) and since each of the others gives us insight into different aspects of God, I think we lose out if we limit ourselves to "Father."

What bugs me in the whole business is that English does not have a gender-neutral pronoun. Having been a language major in college, it makes me crazy that we have to make some ridiculous sentence constructions in order to keep God personally related to us but without identifying God by gender.

In addition to that, I don't think that God is gender-neutral. I think of God as gender-complete. I think men and women both represent characteristics that are part of God. In other words, I think God is fully both genders. There is no way to convey that in an English pronoun.

Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

At 2:13 PM, Tinhorse said...

I really enjoyed what you had to say in your post. I have long claimed myself that though the bible is a great foundation of teaching to build a life upon, it isn't necessarily a blue-print. I know a lot of Christians strongly disagree with me on that point and will say that i am teetering close to my own damnation. I know in my heart of hearts that I am saved and that my beliefs and interpretation of the bible will keep me in the good graces of the Lord. I do believe however that much of the bible was written at times of passionate fear. People were afraid of plagues, politics, starvation, drought and any number of fearful experiences but lacked the ability to comprehend the reasoning behind it. It is on this fear the bible was a tremendous strength. Unfortunately so much of the bible was also written in times where certain things in life were acceptable, slavery for instance. I think back to leviticus which is perhaps the most targeted chapter for the bible nay-sayers where even to eat shell fish is an abomination. I would imagine this came in to its written form as a testament to someone suffering a serious allergic reaction to shell fish and that it must be a sign that no man shall eat shell fish.
Furthermore, it should also be added that fundamentalist have a tendancy to rally behind the bible for some specific cause, take the dispicable Fred Phelps of Westboro Babtist Church who leads his followers to picket funerals of our fallen soldiers with their "america is doomed", "thank god for IED's", "god hates fag's", and "god hates america" picket signs. First and foremost I strongly disagree that our government is in many ways supportive of homosexual activity in the USA. Homosexual are not a protected class of individuals to any capacity. They are not protected under fair housing laws, right to work laws or even in most places even given hate crime protection, and it is the current government in place that has made several attempts of legislation to amend the constitution to prevent homosexual marriage, yet it is this government that is the gay supporting element that is the reason God is at war with America. This man is an abomination.
I have many times pondered what would happen if we did all follow the bible as a blue-print. Life would be more chaotic today if we did, take for example the following letter which is rather amusing, I don't know how real it is as far as if it really was sent to Dr Laura, but it makes a strong point against being a fundamentalist, observe:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have
learned a great deal from your radio show, and I try to share that knowledge
with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual
lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly
states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from
you, however, regarding some of the specific Bible laws and how to follow

a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a
pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors bitch to
the zoning people. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I
smite them?

b) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus
21:7. What do you think would be a fair price for her? She's 18 and starting
college. Will the slave buyer be required to continue to pay for her
education by law ?

c) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her
period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I
tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense and threaten to call
Human Resources.

d) Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female,
provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine
claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify?
....Why can't I own Canadians? Is there something wrong with them due to the

e) I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2
clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him
myself, or should this be a neighborhood improvement project ? What is a
good day to start? Should we begin with small stones? Kind of lead up to it?

f) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an
abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than
homosexuality. I don't agree. I mean, a shrimp just isn't the same as a
you-know-what. Can you settle this?

g) Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a
defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading
glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
Would contact lenses fall within some exception?

h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around
their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How
should they die? The Mafia once took out Albert Anastasia in a barbershop,
but I'm not Catholic; is this ecumenical thing a sign that it's ok?

I) I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me
unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

j) My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different
crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing
garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He
also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really
necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together
to stone them? (Lev.24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a
private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws?
(Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can
help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan

OK, you see my point??? I didn't show you this letter to try to take away from the bible the strengths the bible does provide for us in our quest for salvation. I just wanted to show you that it does contain some once acceptable and now dated ideas.
When i am in bible study and questioned on what a person should take with them from the bible i will commonly compare the bible to an atlas. If you are looking to go from here to there and are using a map to get there, the road on the map is commonly a blue line 1/16th of an inch wide on the page and has number and dots that are your waypoints. If you haven't developed an understanding of the "legend" and what everythign means you will never be able to find that 1/16th inch line on the road you are traveling, nor the dots, nor any other way points the atlas shows you.
To understand the bible, first you must formulate a "legend" which provides the catalyst to get the written work off the paper and into your heart. Good luck with your bible interpretations.


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