How the Bible Is God’s Word [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

OK, it’s time for me to quit stalling and answer Jake’s question, which so many of you have already endeavored to answer here and here. Jake asked,

I’m having trouble with believing that the Bible is literally God’s words, God’s actually intended message to humanity. I’m also having trouble with taking the Bible as my sole authority. I always hear Christians in arguments say, “Do you have a verse for that?” or “Where in the Word-of-Gawd does it say that?” So my question is: Is the Bible really inspired, and should we take it as our sole authority?

Jake, I am teaching a class this semester at St. Cloud State University. It is a new experience for me for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve never taught undergrads before — only grad school students — so that’s been a fun, new challenge. And second, I am teaching “Introduction to the Christian Scripture.” If you know anything about theological education, you know it’s pretty rare for someone with a PhD in theology to teach courses in biblical studies, and vice versa.

Teaching about the sacred text of Christianity at a state university poses its own challenges, especially as someone like myself who trucks in having opinions on the text. I’ve had to disabuse some of the students of their preconceptions — for instance, I had to remind a couple of the students on the first week that we refer to him as “Jesus of Nazareth” in class, not “the Lord.”

The class has forced me to look (again) at the origins and composition of the New Testament. We’re using Bart Ehrman’s ur-textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, and I am listening to Ehrman’s lectures from The Teaching Company as part of my prep. Lately, as I’ve listened to Ehrman on my drive to St. Cloud, I’ve found myself yelling at him, “My god, get over it, man!” I’ve yelled that because, even in his “objective” lectures on the New Testament (unlike his trade books), Ehrman brings up over and over the contradictions between New Testament books. It’s a complete hang-up for that guy.

It isn’t for me. I don’t go into a book looking for complete coherence, and I surely don’t go into the library looking for that. And the Bible is nothing if not a library of 66 books. (One of my favorite novels, The Things They Carried, is basically a meditation on just how slippery historical narrative really is.)

Let me take your question point-by-point. You’re having trouble believing that “the Bible is literally God’s words.” The way that you’ve crafted even that sentence points to something. It’s one thing to say that the Bible is “God’s word,” it’s quite another to suggest that it’s “literally God’s words.” Those who affirm the latter statement tend to believe in a thing called “verbal, plenary inspiration,” the belief that those who wrote the Bible transcribed what God wanted them to say, word-for-word. Some even claim that writers like Paul were in a trance-like state when they wrote — that they were channeling God like a psychic might. As you might guess, this is position that’s brushed aside as ludicrous by virtually every scholar of the Bible. You’ve only got to read a couple of Paul’s letters, for instance, to see that his personality comes shining through. Paul’s fingerprints are all over the seven letters that he definitely composed. So, no, the Bible is not literally God’s words.

To your friends who ask, “Do you have a verse for that?” I’d just smile and change the subject if I were you. One of the worst thing that’s happened to the Bible is the addition of chapters and verses. To quote a single verse does an irreparable violence to the text, and I hope that all Christians will vow, with me, to stop doing that. If the Bible is in any sense God’s word, it surely isn’t that on a verse-by-verse basis. There are tens of thousands of verses in the Bible that have no edifying value and virtually no meaning outside of the book in which they reside.

To your question of whether the Bible is “really inspired,” well, the answer to that is purely a matter of faith. Depending on how one reads that question, you could say that all great literature is inspired; and, depending on your view of God, that it’s all inspired by God. And the Bible is nothing if not great literature. But, of course, your question is really whether the Bible is uniquely inspired. That is, is the Bible a unique revelation of God to humanity?

I believe that it is, and that is an article of faith for me. I will admit that I have a difficult relationship with the Bible, and it’s only become more difficult as I’ve gotten older and learned more about it. Let’s take the Book of Hebrews, for example. I don’t like it. I don’t like the anti-Jewish bias, I don’t like the talk of the necessity of blood for atonement, and I don’t like the obscure references to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews made it into the New Testament because the Church Fathers thought it was written by Paul. Based on the writing style and theology, virtually no one thinks that today.

But there it is, a strange (if beautifully written) anonymous letter in the middle of the library that is the New Testament, demanding to be reckoned with. Strangely, one of the reasons that I believe the Bible to be inspired is because it is such a difficult collection of books. It’s too real to be a hoax.

Also, I find the Bible to be resonant with my own beliefs about God. It seems very clear to me that God is intricately involved with the cosmos, and even with human affairs. This is the unequivocal testimony of the Abrahamic religions, and I think it is generally counter to the human proclivities regarding God. When humans make up religions, they tend to be Gnostic — that is, they tend to preach a God who is pure spirit, and they exhort human practices that get to that God via strange, esoteric practices. The Bible, on the other hand, depicts a God who is almost shockingly attached to creation, even by dint of God’s own self-limitation.

The orthodox Christian answer — and one with which I concur — is that the Bible is not actually God’s word. Jesus the Christ is God’s Word, and the Bible is the unique testimony to Jesus. Insofar as the Bible witnesses to God’s revelation of Godself in Jesus of Nazareth, then the Bible is the testimony to the Word of God — but the Bible in and of itself is not God’s word.

Finally, should the Bible be your sole authority? Absolutely not! For one, God gave you reason, and your reason and intellect should temper any fideist leanings that you have. For another, human beings are essentially relational beings; we’re not meant to be alone, nor to interpret this collection of books alone. And thirdly, a great host of hermeneuts has proceeded you and me in interpreting this text — whatever we think of the Bible and what it means should be put in conversation with those who’ve gone before us. They don’t get to trump our interpretations, but they do get a voice in the conversation.

Jake, how one reads the Bible is at the very core of what it means to be a Christian. Every issue that has divided Christians in the past and that divides us today (women in the church, slavery, gay marriage, etc.) comes down to interpretation of the Bible. In other words, you’ve asked the most important question there is.

  • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

    Tony,

    You wrote: “Paul’s fingerprints are all over the seven letters that he definitely composed. So, no, the Bible is not literally God’s words.”

    Of course, “Paul’s fingerprints are all over” his writings. However, your view of God is too small, too imprisoned by your own understanding. Why can’t Scripture be both – the Word of God and the word of man.

    • http://jpserrano.com jpserrano

      “the Bible is not actually God’s word. Jesus the Christ is God’s Word, and the Bible is the unique testimony to Jesus.”

      YES!

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      It is. What it is not is the literal, word-for-word transcription of God’s words.

      • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

        Tony,

        If we want to call ourselves “Christians” – followers of Christ – then we also have to follow what He had stated about Scripture. He never demeaned one world of it, instead CONSISTENTLY insisted that it ALL had to be fulfilled:

        • Matthew 5:18-19: I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

        • Jay Potter

          I would just like to point out that the book of Matthew was not written and canonized before Jesus spoke the words as quoted in the book of Matthew.

          I would also like to point out even in your quoting of Matthew 5 that Jesus seems to not be excluding from the Kingdom of Heaven those who do not follow every jot and tittle of the law. They may be the least in the Kingdom but they are not excluded from the Kingdom.

          • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

            Jay,

            But I’d like to point out that the Jesus of all the Gospels reveals a high view of Scripture – that it is God’s Word.

            For another thing, I am not asserting who is in and who is out. I’ll leave that to God. However, if we use Scripture without regarding it as the Word of God, we sit in judgment over it instead of Scripture sitting in judgment over us. In essence, we are telling God that we are in the authoritative position to exercise veto power over His Word and its teachings.

            However, Jesus demonstrated that the entire corpus of Scripture had to be our authority:

            • Matthew 4:3-4 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on EVERY WORD that comes from the mouth of God.’”

            If Jesus resorted to the simple formula “It is written” as authoritative, so too must we.

            • Jay Potter

              Thanks for going right to a quote about the tempter, since I have such a low view of scripture (read sarcasm) then it is an apt parellel for you to make between the tempter and I.

              And still Jesus of Nazareth is claiming his authority upon the Jewish Torah scriptures not what would 1600 years later become what we call “The Bible.”

              The Word of God made flesh was Jesus himself, Paul’s writings were an attempt to synthesize what he was told about the man Jesus and Judaism.

              I brought up the fact about those who were the least in the Kingdom were still in the Kingdom because your argument presupposes that Tony’s answer to the question is “not right” and I just wanted to point out that even if its “not right” then we’ll still all be together in the full presence of God in whatever happens after this earthly body is no longer animate in this reality.

              • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

                Jay,

                You wrote, “Jesus of Nazareth is claiming his authority upon the Jewish Torah scriptures.”

                Even if Jesus isn’t commenting upon the NT books, doesn’t this at least imply that the OT must be authoritative for us as God’s Word!

                Besides, when Jesus sent His Apostles out into the world, He commanded them to be about His teachings:

                • Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey EVERYTHING I HAVE COMMANDED you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

                Evidently, at this point at least, Jesus regarded His teachings as more authoritative than even the Old.

            • Mark Z.

              the Jesus of all the Gospels reveals a high view of Scripture – that it is God’s Word.

              This “high view of Scripture” language oversimplifies the issue, and is generally unhelpful. We don’t face a binary choice between a “high” and a “low” view of Scripture. We face Scripture and have to decide what to do with it.

              I don’t know what it would even mean for anything to “disappear from the Law”. Rabbinic Judaism has done a fine job of preserving the Law in meticulous detail for thousands of years–the rabbis can credibly say that not one stroke of the pen has been lost. Is that what Jesus meant? Something like “Lest you think I’m trying to abolish the Law, to do that I’d have to somehow destroy all existing copies of the Torah, and I couldn’t do that if I wanted to, so settle down.” I’m not sure.

              The fundamentalists, though, are sure. They’re certain that by “Law” Jesus means “the Bible” and by “disappear” he means “be contradicted or have its meaning or relevance or accuracy questioned in any way”, and that Jesus was speaking directly to 20th-century arguments over the supposed inerrancy of the Bible and coming down firmly on the side of the “high view of Scripture”. Perhaps ironically, Scripture does not support this interpretation.

              • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

                Mark,

                Call it what you want. However, Jesus always quoted OT Scripture as maximally authoritative, and I think that there’s a lesson in there for us.

                Regarding His remark about the Law not passing away until it’s all fulfilled – He is not talking about the manuscripts but the message. Its fulfillment of the message – the covenant – would cause it to pass away, not the destruction of the manuscripts.

                • Mark Z.

                  However, Jesus always quoted OT Scripture as maximally authoritative, and I think that there’s a lesson in there for us.

                  There’s your binary choice again. “Maximally authoritative.” Okay, so what do you do with that? What does it mean that “You must not cut off the corners of your beard” is ‘maximally authoritative’? How about “Meaningless, everything is meaningless!” Or “He browses among the lilies, and his fruit is sweet to my taste.”

                  It’s clear that Jesus had immense respect for the Hebrew scriptures. I won’t dispute that. He believed they were worth reading and studying and teaching and taking to heart. But respect does not equate to “a high view of scripture” as modern Protestant Christians use the term, and I’m tired of you putting those words in Jesus’ mouth.

                  Regarding His remark about the Law not passing away until it’s all fulfilled – He is not talking about the manuscripts but the message.

                  Really? Where did he say that? It sure sounds like he’s talking about the text itself–”the least stroke of a pen”. (Not “the manuscripts”, which mostly have not survived. The text has survived because there’s been an active tradition devoted to preserving it.)

            • Neal Rovick

              What is God’s will for us? Is it entirely clear in much of the New testament? Is it entirely clear in the Old Testament?

              From Isaiah:

              “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?”
              Says the LORD.
              “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
              And the fat of fed cattle;
              And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.

              “When you come to appear before Me,
              Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?

              “Bring your worthless offerings no longer,
              Incense is an abomination to Me.
              New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—
              I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.

              “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,
              They have become a burden to Me;
              I am weary of bearing them.

              “So when you spread out your hands in prayer,
              I will hide My eyes from you;
              Yes, even though you multiply prayers,
              I will not listen.
              Your hands are covered with blood.

              “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
              Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
              Cease to do evil,

              Learn to do good;
              Seek justice,
              Reprove the ruthless,
              Defend the orphan,
              Plead for the widow.

              “Come now, and let us reason together,”
              Says the LORD,
              “Though your sins are as scarlet,
              They will be as white as snow;
              Though they are red like crimson,
              They will be like wool.

              “If you consent and obey,
              You will eat the best of the land;

              “But if you refuse and rebel,
              You will be devoured by the sword.”
              Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

              The simplicity of God’s will is within the Bible, but it is buried among that which the writers have also deemed as pleasing.

        • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

          “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. ”

          Through Jesus, everything is accomplished.

  • http://twitter.com/jcarlostzavala Juan Carlos Torres (@jcarlostzavala)

    This is by far one of your better answers, Tony.
    I am completely satisfied with your answer.

    • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

      That’s very kind. Thank you.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jake.litteral Jake Litteral

        I am also satisfied, Tony. Thank you!

        • http://tonyj.net Tony Jones

          Wow, what have I done?!? :-)

          • Chris

            What you’ve done is you’ve actually given an answer, and I think people actually appreciate and prefer clarity before agreement.

  • Jay Potter

    I think this is the best answer you have given yet on any question in this series. In fact I want to print it out so that when people question me on this very topic, be it from the evangelical side or the non-theist side, I can just hand them this instead of saying anything myself.

    Thank you.

  • Craig

    “I believe the Bible to be inspired is because it is such a difficult collection of books. It’s too real to be a hoax.”

    Watch out for this one.

    “…and the Bible is the unique testimony to Jesus.”

    What does this mean? Don’t we have other sources of information about Jesus?

    • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

      Craig,

      You’re right! The Bible and the Gospels possess many evidences of authenticity – not the type of literature, in any regards, that we humans would create!

      • Craig

        I suppose you’re talking about “evidences” like the supposed prophesy of the virgin birth. Screw your head back on.

    • Chris

      “Don’t we have other sources of information about Jesus?”

      Very few, unless you count the Gnostic gospels.

      • Craig

        How do I know Jesus didn’t secretly change into a turquoise lizard from time to time? Not from reading the Bible, nor from the Gnostic gospels.

        • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

          What difference would it make if he did?

  • Jonnie

    I like the language of “shockingly attached to creation” Tony. Can get you to go so far as to claim a Moltmannian panentheism?

  • Ric Shewell

    Thank you for saying that adding chapters and verses to the Bible was one of the worst things that has happened to it!

    I minored in biblical languages and emphasized in NT Greek for my M. Div. In an ordination interview, I was asked to quote the NIV and give chapter and verse references. I stopped memorizing the NIV in high school, stopped reading the NIV in college, and pretty much stopped reading English translation in seminary. So, I couldn’t do what they asked me to do, and they wouldn’t ordain me, although I’ve worked hard to know the content, story, outline, and argument of all the books of the NT. Anyway, long story short, that was the final straw for me to leave a denomination that I loved, that introduced me to Christ, and had nourished me as a child. They just didn’t want me to serve in their churches.

    I’ve worked so hard to know the Scriptures, but because I didn’t know chapters and verses and the NIV, and use Scripture in a ridiculous way, my education wasn’t good enough. Ridiculous and devastating.

  • http://ionlylooktough.tumblr.com advancev21

    Tony, you know that I have a huge amount of respect for you. But, this post, and many other things I’ve come across over the past few days, isn’t making much sense to me right now. What it seems to come down to is “faith,” and later in your post you mentioned that we have “fideist leanings” which our “reason and intellect should temper.”

    I still think we all have illusions to help get us through the day, to avoid the harshness of reality. But, right now I feel like I’m at a place where:

    1. “progressive Christianity” cannot just be one illusion among many, but its adherents have a tendency to posit it as THE illusion, validated by…faith (i.e. fideism); and
    2. this illusion isn’t really working for me.

    My hope in starting a group here has been for us to figure out which illusion works for each of us. The further I dig into progressive or emergent Christianity – AND atheist/humanist collectives – the more I feel like I need to find/create a different illusion altogether.

    • http://ionlylooktough.tumblr.com Rob Davis

      And I have no idea why my comment posted as “advancev21.” Weird!

    • Ric Shewell

      When you say “illusion” do you mean “metaphor”?

      I don’t think we have access to any unmediated object or truth claim, so we have to rely on metaphor and story.

      I don’t know if that’s what you mean by illusion. But I’d rather use metaphor, it has different connotations than illusion.

      • http://ionlylooktough.tumblr.com Rob Davis

        I don’t think I mean metaphor.

        Reality is brutal. If we honestly look at all of the evidence, things are not solely or even primarily “good” or “beneficial.”

        That being the case, anything that we do other than kill ourselves is inconsistent. Those are the illusions we live into to help us cope with/escape/avoid reality. But, we all need this. So, illusions are not bad. They are necessary.

        What I’m not saying is that reality itself is an illusion. I don’t think we have “unmediated” access to “the truth.” But, my truth is mine, and not yours. And vice versa. My illusion helps me but not necessarily you. And so on.

        Right now, I don’t see how the progressive Christian “story” (illusion) fits into either THE truth – ultimate reality – OR my truth (the illusion that will best help me avoid reality).

        • Ric Shewell

          That is much clearer, thanks.

          So, essentially, a narrative that posits a Deity that creates a free-will creation and sacrifices itself to re-create that creation doesn’t quite jibe with your experience of reality?

          Haha, I don’t think I’ve ever retold the post-liberal narrative in such a simple and uninteresting way before! That does seem ridiculous. Obviously, it’s so much deeper and more satisfying to me.

          • http://ionlylooktough.tumblr.com Rob Davis

            That story might be true – i.e. maybe it helps a lot of people avoid reality. But, I have no reason to think it is True. And, I’m finding less and less reasons to think it is – or should be – true for me (an essential part of my truth).

    • http://gravatar.com/cwgmpls Curtis G.

      If it’s not working for you, try something else. If there is a God, you certainly can’t piss God off by using the brain that God gave you!

  • Lance

    Breaking it down…love it.

    Jesus is God’s Word (I do love John);

    I struggle with some of the pushback I hear:
    “Which Jesus do u believe in?” “Who’s version of Jesus?”

    Ultimately leading to the response of “the Bible”. Then the intent is to get people to believe in the absolute authority of the written Word (and most often some particular interpretation or application of it). Otherwise, how can we believe in what it says about Jesus? Then what is our belief founded upon?

    Which is so backwards. The Bible should be pointing us to Him, not the other way around so that we can land back in legalism.

    Thanks
    Lance

  • http://theendofevil.wordpress.com nietzschesdownfall

    My first thguohts reading this went to Beast Wars, and I imagined Jesus as one of them. Jesus Lizard!

    Ok, I’m done.

  • toddh

    Great answer! Takes big stands on all the controversial stuff.

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    If the Gospel accounts are a testimony to Jesus, who is believed to be the/an embodiment of God(ness), then all Scripture (“all the Law and the Prophets,” according to Jesus) is summed up in two core tenets: love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Period. That right there is the one camel that matters above all, as far as Jesus was concerned. Yet people continue to strain gnats over this issue. It’s ridiculous.

    The Greatest Commandment is the diamond that resides in the vast soil of Scripture. Yet people still seem to prefer endlessly digging in the dirt, pontificating and philosophizing about the Bible, rather than embracing and sharing the singular treasure of Love which Jesus illuminated.

    Love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s the only commandment that matters above all; the only Scripture that truly counts.

    • http://ionlylooktough.tumblr.com Rob Davis

      “In the end, we preach the christian gospel and not some form of god-ness or spirit-uality. We are the church after all.”
      - Bo Sanders

      I don’t really know exactly what this means, but if what Bo is proposing here is definitive of the movement as a whole, I might be done.

      • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

        Yeah, I tend to agree Rob. Bo’s trajectory, as far as I can detect from the flavor of it, seems to follow that old, tired path of control-oriented absolutism that has not done justice to the “Church,” or to humankind generally, for that matter. I have no idea what his sentiment is definitive of, and personally I dismiss it as utterly meaningless. But the emergent faith that’s now happening in the world will not permit that kind of “gnat-straining” narrowness. It looks backwards. To emerge is to rise above.

        • http://gravatar.com/postlukecore22 Luke Allison

          Just a little push-back, though…and you should feel honored because the stuff you say constantly cause me to reply and rethink….

          But isn’t it every bit as controlling and authoritative to say “Every narrative is utterly meaningless except for the one I’ve deemed to be NOT meaningless?”

          That is, to say that every position but yours is dangerous and bad for humanity is bad for humanity, especially when what you’re positing is fairly standard pluralistic spirituality. I’m actually a fan of standard pluralistic spirituality, but I also think it lacks guts and doesn’t provide an impetus to personal or political change. The dangerous “Christian gospel” of Jesus is inherently political; nobody got thrown to the lions for reading Gnostic tomes of spirituality, because personal spirituality doesn’t threaten powers.

          So I love your creativity and your ability to parse the faith traditions down to their core, but I hope that you would attempt to move beyond a personal feeling of connectedness (oneness, as you put it) and into a sense of “oneness” with the movement towards renewal and restoration that is at work in the midst of the shit and piss of the world.

          • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

            Hi Luke.

            You asked: “Isn’t it every bit as controlling and authoritative to say ‘Every narrative is utterly meaningless except for the one I’ve deemed to be NOT meaningless?’

            No. It’s not controlling at all. It is liberating. The position I take — that of the Greatest Commandment — does not permit control. It invites accountability, rather than compels it. In fact, to authentically love our neighbors as ourselves means we cannot control or coerce, as doing so is directly contrary to the Love espoused by Jesus.

            Conversely, the deification of Scripture by Traditionalists, and the attendant dogmatic insistence upon scriptural literalism, is utterly controlling, because they compel belief for fear of divine consequence.

            As such, when we boldly and confidently raise the Greatest Commandment over and against dogmatism and scriptural deification, we are openly exposing the vile nature of control. And in that way, yes, we are being appropriately authoritative, by virtue of the liberating authority of the Law of Love. It’s how Jesus did it, according to the Gospel stories. To imagine that diamond alone — the Greatest Commandment — is insufficient for faith is to miss the point entirely. It would be to strain the gnat and swallow the camel.

            So the Traditionalists can have their dogmatism. Their day has come and gone. As Jesus said to the Traditionalists of his day, “Your house is abandoned to you.” So it is today. Those of us who are moved to emerge upward have more worthy and important things to be concerned with.

            • http://gravatar.com/postlukecore22 Luke Allison

              Understood, and I’m right there with you when it comes to “the deification of Scripture” and “the attendant dogmatic insistence upon Scriptural literalism.” I’m trying to figure out what a “cruciform hermeneutic” looks like, or in NT Wright’s words (paraphrased): When we see a young Jewish man dying on a cross, instead of trying to figure out how that fits into our picture of God, we should be trying to shove our entire picture of God into that.

              I also agree that the Greatest Commandment is truly the underappreciated center of the Scripture. But, I feel it’s slightly disingenuous to hold up one part of a multi-layered text like the synoptics and proclaim it as the unfettered truth while simultaneously batting down all the other texts trying to clamber up to its level. The Greatest Commandment discourse has to fit into the larger picture; that of the kingdom of God, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the story of Israel finding its climax in the most unlikely of places, etc. This may be a difference in opinion you and I will have to live with.

              I do find an unwillingness to believe in the story of Jesus as an exclusive and definitive story (I hate the word exclusive but it suffices) to be problematic. Crossand and Borg are both fairly clear that they don’t believe in the uniqueness of the story because to do so would mean, well, that one story was unique. This is a pluralistic concern masked as scholarship. How can the two coexist in a healthy fashion? Both men are brilliant and believers in their own right (and I certainly would never claim that either is not a ‘Christian’ even if they don’t match historical definitions of that term…which is of course a very debatable point), but their desire to remain inclusive hamstrings their ultimate conclusions. If the story one deems exclusive happens to be far more inclusive than its inclusive doppelgangers, then let’s all be exclusive.

              I’ll end with this: I think that you underestimate the authoritative nature of what you’re saying. Decrying traditionalists may be in the spirit of Jesus, but his reasons for rebuking them were also wrapped up in his greater kingdom message. Rebuking traditionalists as a ship that has sailed is all well and good, just so long as the ship we’re calling others to board isn’t leaky, or is at least prepared to go somewhere. I find that the kingdom of God message that Jesus brings (centered on himself, his death, and retroactively his resurrection) is such a ship. That’s where the tolerance and inclusivity finds its full voice. Thats where people learn to live and think and feel differently. That’s where love (God) finds fertile ground to flourish.

              Anyway, thanks for the engagement. You always make me think and reexamine and even feel some warm and fuzzies.

    • http://prophet615.com lee robertson

      I just stumbled across this website reading of all things “about Thelema and Alister Crowley. Born and raised Protestant (Church of Christ) and was really captivated by what I read here today. There is a lot to be said for seeking the truth and that is what you find if you go into it with an open mind. So many Christians today (my parents included) can’t open their minds wide enough to take anything but their own clouded “illusions” of reality and the openness that Jesus preached as he gave us God’s Words in the flesh. Religion condemns men, Jesus frees them (not from the Law but its advesary (the oppressor) SATAN (as Jesus pointed out to the Rabbi’s). At times the bible, God, Jesus, his message and the ethical way to live one’s life appear so simple, direct, pure, that only a child could wrap their little heads around it. Men, Religion, Legalism, Bias, Prejudice, all have a way of polluting the message. I have read some very thoughtful responses and the commentary I found today was less hate inspired than most places. Everybody hates a Christian, everyone hates the Jew. Without Jesus’ message, God’s Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness, and the Promise of Salvation … isn’t that what we all seek in this life. Peace comes from within. I stand firm is my belief that Jesus Christ was, is, and forever will be the “The Word” come to life, in the flesh, God among us. Faith, Hope, and Love… and the greatest of these is Love. Without it all hope is lost and all faith is hopeless.

  • Dean Chang

    I agree with some of the other folks here, this is one the best answers so far. I think the key to challenging the fundamentalists is really to hammer this point home, would love to hear someone present a good counterpoint, unfortunately, Mr. Mann above does not seem to be up to the task.

  • Neal Rovick

    To me, first of all, the Bible is a record of times and places in reference to a particular view of God and humanity. It is a book written by fallible humans who try to organize and rationalize the mysterious into meaning.

    However, it is entirely clear to me that a key part of Jesus’s message is that the then-current interpretation of God’s wishes was not what God wanted. The complexity of ritual and the organization of religion could be stripped down to, “Love God, and love people”. And because he came to fulfill the law, not to replace it–that essential basic message had always been the intent but had been buried in the human constructs of the religion

    Just as the ritual, complexity and detail that was the Temple culture of the time served a human need, modern Christianity has created their own rituals, complexity and detail that obscure the essential, “Love God, and love people.”

    The parables within the New Testament have, at their heart, that your immediate dogmatic reaction to people and situations is probably wrong, and that there is a different and better way to look at the situation. Who is the neighbor? Who served their master better? Who used their gifts in the better way?

    The Bible of the New Testament is not a recipe book (unlike the Old)–it’s more a instruction to analyse the situation with respect to the basic tenets and then react to to the situation and people. The more we have moved into dogma and fixed ideas of what the “right” answer is, the further we move from the dynamic reality that is the world (as God truly knows it is).

    So, the Bible contains God’s words and ideas, but there are a lot of different people speaking in it also.

    • http://www.mannsword.blogspot.com Daniel Mann

      Neal, I’m afraid that you are doing the very thing that you write against by placing the NT into a box, sealed by a single formula of usage.

      To borrow your analogy, the NT also represents a “dynamic reality.” One size does not fit all! Some of it is a matter of flexible principles expressed figuratively, while other passages leave us no wiggle room. For instance, Jesus wrote:

      • Matthew 5:28-32 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. ..But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

      Every passage must be interpreted on its own merit and not according to a single formula.

      • Neal Rovick

        This was not to say that any action can be right. There is a code of beliefs that ultimately can be reduced to the two principles. Is lustfully regarding a woman acting in accordance with the two principles? Is adultery?

        Jesus was perhaps more interested in what happens after that point of human failing, weakness and sin. Do we stone the adulterer? Do we banish them? Are they still worthy of being part of society? On what basis do we decide what to do in our interactions after that point? Are we too holy and pure to consort with such people? If we fulfil our ritual obligations and follow the law ourselves, isn’t that sufficient?

        It’s relatively easy to describe and point to a failing. The real question is, “what then?”

  • http://benbaughman.com Ben Baughman

    Tony, Your “thinking person’s” answer is thoughtful and thorough. Very thought-provoking. The premise for going forward into a new era may need to be an open sourced and thoughtful discussion. If “sola scriptura” or papacy are not provided for “the buck stops here”, what will it be. It appears historically that we will need clarity so we’ll have common ground. Without something to go to as final authority, there will be a free for all until the biggest group wins. Let’s open the discussion before that happens.

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ Jesus Without Baggage

    I too appreciate the comment about chapter and verse. Many people seem to treat each verse as a separate ‘propositional truth’. One common quote that I find interesting is, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”.

    It’s not even a sentence or a complete thought and is obviously part of a larger statement, yet it is properly quoted with the ‘for’ which adds no meaning to the rest of the verse, while the preceding words are ignored. Also ignored are the words following the comma, which are “and all are justified freely by his grace.”

  • http://gravatar.com/jayseidler jay

    Good reflections on a complex issue. Unfortunately, so many assume that the Book they have in their hand or possibly the now non existent original texts that later became that book are word by word or phrase by phrase the Word of God. Later some of these people sadly completely loose their faith not only in this Book but also in God because their original assumption is seriously challenged. In addition, I certainly don’t think the fingerprints of Paul or any other author of the 66 books in our Bible library make the words any less inspired by God.

  • http://www.lara-thinkingoutloud.blogspot.com Lara

    I agree with Jay Potter. I want to print this out and hand it to people who want me to let the Bible have full authority over my life. Well said. Thank you.

  • ME

    That’s one of the best posts I’ve read here. Bravo.

  • http://biomystic.org Steve Lewis

    The Bible cannot be used for spiritual authority because the authors of the Torah/Tanakh/NT created fables to set themselves up as a religious priesthood to rule over others. First the Hebrew priesthood, then the Church Father/RCC priesthood. No one can derive spiritual authority from lies and liars. You really have to keep that fact uppermost in mind when you read the Bible–that you are reading Scripts written to mold your mind into accepting a way of thinking that establishes ancient dead men’s power to rule people from their graves. I am not saying there is not spiritual wisdom to be found in the Bible stories, there most certainly is, but as spiritual authority in and of itself, the Bible is toast now, Armageddon has literally come with the Megiddo discoveries by Israeli archeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman.

    The Bible Unearthed, their book and video

    (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t440bxhn1qA&feature=share&list=FLmu6OgSAiAyyTMaLjpE1O1A)

    shows convincing evidence to me as a former anthropology major that the Hebrew writers of the Bible told fibs, big ones, ones carried into the world by Pauline Christianity’s immense political and cultural power, add to that now Islam too, both Bible based theologies. But how can one get spiritual authority from a book of mythical people and events pawned off to gullible believers by perhaps more gullible priesthoods who in religious mesmerization dare not look behind the curtain at the Great Oz.

    I was an atheist until age 35 when God came out of nowhere and put me through my own personal three “Road to Damascus” religious conversion experience, which did the trick–I’ve been on the Christian pathway for 34 years now but not as a traditional Christian. Right from the start because God came to me through a non-stop series of mental epiphanies whose very words in my head appeared within minutes, or hours out of the mouths of my family or the TV sit-coms, or any magazine I was reading, these synchronicity events happening one right after the other for three solid days and no way for my atheist science-explains-all brain to explain what was happening to me. It just wasn’t possible I would be getting religious ideas all of a sudden completely out of nowhere when I hadn’t even ever read the Bible before. Except for a handful of visits by my missionary aunt hauling us kids off to church when she visited I grew up in a secular household and just got the doses of Bible stuff everyone gets from our American culture. I give this history to prove that one doesn’t need the Bible for God to reach you or vice-versa. I came to God and the Spirit of Christ via Gnosis, gnostic epiphanies that brought me “knowledge of God” because no way could I toss away critical thinking in order to believe in God’s reality. But here’s the rub: God directed me to the Bible right off the bat because the Bible is about the best reference book around for containing spiritual wisdom of the ancients and the New Testament Gospels, especially John’s Gospel, which I consider the most spiritually truthful and relevant book in the world, excel at providing spiritual wisdom of God. But the New Testament, being based on the Old Testament, is therefore fatally flawed, because the writers are not telling us the truth but deliberately deceiving readers. So to the priesthoods who may or may not have been the original authors. As a religious visionary myself and a writer, I cannot tell if there were ancient visionaries whose visions were later “edited” by priesthoods or priests created the visions themselves as writers do, only when priests do it, the writings become Scripture. Us Gnostic Christians have always been much freer to write Gospels and I have done so. Because the Bible isn’t where God or the Spirit of Christ is to be found for intellectuals like me who look at Bible believers as mesmerized people, people addicted to a tradition like little children needing their security blankets.

    The Bible security blanket has been chewed to ribbons and it cannot provide security for growing children. What can then?

    My answer is that which brought me to God but that was destiny in my case, assignment as prophesy bearer, so I can’t generalize my experience to others as I got put on point duty right away, a receiver of spiritual visions and revelations. Gnosis experiences, and many of them periodically coming to me through the intervening years since God first came as as an overwhelming spiritual experience and not through seeking out God in the Bible which is there as allegorical reference and Sign confirmation, as the Bible stories and theologies are pack horses for carrying the Knowledge of God through the generations, each one hopefully enlarging it for the next, as we learn more and more how to transform human beings into humane beings, the essence of God’s Plan. The Bible is only one book in the Library. Look to the stars for God’s Sign-Nature because that’s where God’s put the permanent guidance markers that earthly religions and their Books are ultimately based upon. Celestial Torah Christianity, (http://biomystic.org/celestialtorah.htm) because Pauline Christianity is in its End Times along with all Abrahamic religions.

  • steve press

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. I see too many literalists squirm on the contradictions of fact, let alone theology. I urge everyone who seeks to evangelist to quote the only, the Ultimate Gospel: their own.

  • Pingback: Zombie Scripture and Anthological Fallacy | The Musings of Casey G. Blevins

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000463393027 Casey Blevins

    I love this and actually linked to it in my latest blog. :)


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