Four Things You Should Know Before Reading The Bible

Four Things You Should Know Before Reading The Bible January 27, 2016

The-Bible-Andy-Gill-PatheosThe other day my doctor found out that I attended seminary, she was ecstatic telling me that she had a secret passion for theology and religious studies. We chatted for a while, and had a ton in common as she also identifies as a “none” (someone who does not affiliate with any particular religion, yet has grown up with a Christian background). Half way into our conversation she paused and slowly asked me what I thought about the bible. I told her I loved it, as I could tell that although she identified as a none she still held to her old faith more deeply than I, which in my opinion is great.

I think the bible has a lot to say that still needs to be heard and thought through, but this conversation with my doctor got me thinking about a lot of the things in which I grew up being told, were not taught to all. Attending bible college and seminary was a cultural shock in the sense that I never knew, until then, how many people have gone through life believing that the bible was literally Gods divine word, as if it had been downloaded from the mind of God into their personal computers. Some, but very few, were shocked to learn the bible, in it’s “original form” actually wasn’t written in English.

Having said that, I wanted to list out some things that I find interesting, that go deeper beneath the surface and add more meaningful questions to the conversation. I think these can upset many, but are mostly widely accepted:

1. The Bible, it’s an ever changing and never finished set of manuscripts. It’s a document that’s been highly redacted and continuously edited. There’s said to be around 5, 360 manuscripts in the Greek… none are originals. We really have no clue who wrote the Pentateuch. It’s thought that Moses was the original author, but considering Deuteronomy describes Moses’ death in great detail, his authorship has been highly questioned… The bible has clearly been shaped, expanded upon, and greatly embellished at more than one point in time.

“(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)” – Moses, talking about himself [Numbers 12:3]

2. In fact, according to many textual critics, there are more variances than there are words in the New Testament. Sometimes I feel as if there are more translations (e.g. NIV, ESV, KJV, etc.) than there are words… But, these variances and incongruences exist; ignoring them does not aide one’s argument for the authority of scripture, it just discredits and shines light on one’s lack of knowledge regarding their own faith.

3. The Bible, it’s not a history book; it’s a collection of various texts over an unknown amount of time. In short, the bible is far from a reliable historical document. It consists of fictional parables, letters, poetry, song and allegorical story. Many of these stories, written by their unknown authors are not meant to be taken so literally. Although, these books can shine light on history and past culture, they have repeatedly been edited and re-shaped in order to speak their truth into their present day culture.

4. There’s a difference between tradition and divine revelation. What you and I have traditionally referred to as “dogma,” it’s really just our opinion impacted and molded by our surroundings. (Take it from Moses, it’s requires a bit of humility to admit this.) The method in which you were taught to use while interpreting various texts this is called a “hermeneutic.” This is one of those words I’d pretend to know before I stepped into Bible College. As many of us have experienced ourselves, that a single verse can mean several different things and be interpreted in various other ways. Our hermeneutic, tradition, and given epistemology all greatly impact what we’ll then label as “divine revelation.”

For me, I don’t think these factors make the bible irrelevant; I feel they simply make it that much more interesting and mysterious. It brings up various questions, shines light on nuances, and adds a depth of truth that is transcendent over the course of centuries of time.

What would you add to the list?

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