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The Bible Says It. I Believe It. That settles . . . Nothing

Image by Dave Bullock

Image by Dave Bullock

Even if the Bible says it, what exactly does it settle? What exactly does it say? As a woman, do I have to wear a hat when I pray? (1 Cor 11:5) The concept behind this phrase is bothersome on many levels. It speaks to the Bible simply as an authoritative rulebook, a manual, a set of mandates or commandments. There are many problems with that viewpoint. Take for example the book of Proverbs. It is not meant to be a book of mandates, yet many take it as such. Proverbs 13:24 is often spoken of as a biblical commandment to spank our children. To spank, or not to spank, isn’t the question here, rather, is this proverb meant to be a universal mandate, for all people, for all time? Is this meant to be a commandment at all?

What would happen if we regarded the entire book of Proverbs as commandments meant to be fulfilled literally by God’s people today? We would have to beat stupid people and children (10:13; 14:3; 18:6; 26:3), we must subject lazy people to forced labor (12:24), we must own many oxen if we want to have food to eat (14:4); we must cast lots in order to resolve disputes (18:8); and my favorite, we must commit suicide by slicing our throats if our appetites are too large (23:2). In other scriptures, we would have to gouge our eye or cut off our hand if it causes us to sin (Matthew 5:30).

With a “fact”-based perspective on the Bible and its authority, when Scripture comes into conflict either with itself, or with other “facts” in the world, the burden is to defend one interpretation of Scripture as verity, authors as authoritative, and teachings as certain, fixed or de-contextual. I have been challenged to ask myself, “What is the purpose and the function of the word of God, not so much, what are all the answers in the word of God.” Even now you may be hissing “heresy! Is there no absolute truth? Of course the Bible is the book of answers!?” The Bible is the Word of God, but I will be crippled as a minister and a person of faith if I spend my time in the Word of God trying to defend the “right” “facts” and “settling it” like the phrase on that bumper sticker, rather than discovering who God is, God’s purpose in the world, and who He made me to be.

Reading and applying Scriptures isn’t about cutting a clear “how-to” path to receiving the right answer from God. With this approach, and likely emphasis on the inerrency of Scripture, the historical and scientific “facts” must be 100% accurate, and the harmony and synchronism of every detail and account must fit together exactly. Problematically, if one “fact” should be questionable in any way, then the entire Bible and its authority comes crashing down.

Even the idea of “facts” in the Bible is problematic, for a fact itself is subject to change based on who is interpreting the fact, against what theory, through which linguistical insight, through which assumed historical context, and through what personal, contemporary lens.

Many presume that the key or a key thing about the Christian life is that it means having the answers to questions. The Bible is not a set of answers to every question, the Christian Life is not about having the right answers to life, rather living life as Christ-follower helps me live with the questions of life.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good stuff. So what is a constructive way to understand Biblical authority and revelation? It’s not simply a kind of fundamentalist inerrancy, which you poke holes in. There is no respite in historical-critical method, which treats the Scriptures archeologically rather than spiritually. I’m more of a narrative person myself (and I’m not just saying that because one of you has a Yale Div t-shirt on). Good thoughts.

    October 12, 2012
    • Hi “pastormack”… Sorry for the delayed response! I’ve been meaning to get back to you on this for some time now. A constructive way to understand Biblical authority and revelation… well, in my very limited experience/knowledge, in short, this is how I see it. I read with this question in mind: “What is the purpose and function of the narrative/discourse/account that I am reading?” We are a part of a very large community of brothers and sisters, I consider then how this narrative has spoken to the masses over the last 2,000 years. How has the Holy Spirit opened this text? In what ways? How has it transformed communities? I believe this is primary question in considering an account. Take for instance the story of Noah’s Ark, some conservative fundamentals would spend their time backing this up with science, geography, history, math, and so forth… (now I do believe these kinds of findings and research can be very valuable!), however, I believe the purpose of the story was not to examine the minutia of what exactly happened, how it happened, when it happened, what species were on board, how did they exist together, etc. but rather the purpose of the story was to show the faithfulness of God to his creation, the faithfulness of one man to God, the significance of responding in trust to God’s instructions, and so forth.
      Commentaries, sermons – ancient and new- help us understand how this text has been used to exhort, encourage, build up the faith communities over the course of time. This is where I believe we should be examining the text, digging deep into the course of time and the lives of other readers to see how God has powerfully used his inspired word to change communities. If the Hebrew writer was concerned with, or rather if he intended on the story to be used to show mathematically, scientifically, geographically how this happened, than God would have inspired such writing, and it would have been clear. However, that was not the purpose the Spirit had in mind when instructing and inspiring the writer… When I consider these things, I then am entering into the inspired word in a manner that allows it to truly speak to me…
      As far as inspiration and authority goes, I do not believe there is anything in the Bible that God “reads” and exclaims, Holy Cow! How on earth did THAT get in there!? Oops!” It is all intended, it is all inspired…and it is written by real people in real time with real perspectives (cultural and emotional) – and written with slanted purposes – (to tell the story of God and His people). But inspired doesn’t mean inerrant… According to some, the bible may be full of errors (contradictions in accounts, grammar, etc.), and maybe this is true to some extent, I have no problem with that, people are full of errors, but it is not full of errors or contradictions in what was INTENDED to be there: the account, the message, the central gospel story of WHO God is, WHO His people are, WHAT He requires of us, WHO we are in Christ, The Rescue plan from the dawn of time to the end of time, is all coherent, unified, consistent, purposeful…. intended.
      Sorry that THIS is not more coherent, I just wanted to get something out to you before it was really too late to converse! I wish I was more well versed, but these are my thoughts on the matter. I suggest reading Bevere Child’s “Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture and ” especially, “The New Testament as Cannon.” He has a fresh way of understanding what “cannon” means. Also Charles J. Scalise, “From Scripture to Theology – A Canonical Journey into Hermeneutics.” Scalise was my professor at Fuller Seminary, and you will see much of what I wrote here in this blog mirroring his writing, I took copious notes because I so loved what he was teaching me. So there is my disclaimer, I owe a great deal to my awesome seminary education!! Go Fuller NW! 🙂 (*There’s my shameless plug)
      Thank you SO much for your time and conversation,

      December 27, 2012
  2. I see the bible as a compass helping me to navigate my way through life not a road map that always gives the roads that I must follow.

    October 13, 2012
    • Becca #

      Terrence, I like that analogy!

      October 13, 2012
  3. brad hill #

    The Bible is more the like question to all our answers….I sometimes call myself an “inerrantist” but by that I mean God “unerringly” got written what he intended. The genre of the literature is critical to understanding the “facts”. So “don’t honk if you love Jesus.” I love that one.

    October 15, 2012
  4. Brad, I love this response. When we use words like “inerrant,” we need to define our terms. I agree that the Bible is inerrant in the things God intends to tell us. The inerrancy lies in God’s intention and not always in my interpretation.

    So when someone asks me, “Do you believe the Bible’s inerrant?” I always respond with, “Long answer: No, with a but . . . Short answer: Yes, with an except . . .”

    October 16, 2012
  5. The power of the Holy Spirit reveals the very real and very alive presence of God — who, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, is made available to us all, even me, the least of these.

    The presence of the Holy Spirit is tangible. And He does not lead us to humility and redemption by force. Force is based on fear factor. When people fear, they do not love. “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1John4:18)

    Fear and damnation are perfect indications that the Holy Spirit is not present. But a RELIGIOUS spirit is. And the religious spirit is the reason so many people have no real clue what Christianity is. Heartbreaking.

    But my response to those bumper stickers, those puffed-up superficial ideologies, those arrogant and empty people who are hurting the ones who need Christ most: prayer. I pray in the name of of Jesus and in the power of His Holy Spirit that the ungodly thoughts and attitudes invoked in me by those people and behaviors be forgiven, uprooted and bound, so that I may become a vessel loosing the love and mercy and grace of the One True God, that His presence be made real in their lives, and that it might begin first within me.

    Great post! Peace & blessings.

    October 19, 2012
    • Hi! Thank you for your reminder to PRAY for others, and against what you called the “religious spirit” – that is good, indeed.

      December 27, 2012
  6. I’ve seen that! So good!

    December 27, 2012

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