The Bible is Not God

The Bible is Not God November 24, 2014

The Bible is not God Gomes quote

“The Bible is not God, nor is it a substitute for God, and to treat it as if it were God or a surrogate of God is to treat it in the very way that it itself condemns over and over again.”

— Peter J. Gomes, The Good Book: Discovering The Bible’s Place In Our Lives, p.40.

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  • Gomes takes things too far; it’s not even a good book.

  • joriss

    If I say: this is my sister’s letter, I know this for certain, because I recognise every word in it speaks of her: this is my sister and nobody else. So in a way this letter is my sister, it’s her heart, it’s het charm, it’s her in every way. This letter reveals her to me. And as her brother, I feel my love for her raising in me, when I read “her”.

    So for instance when Jesus says: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”, is that not God in the same way as the letter of my sister is my sister? And will my love not raise in me and say: this is my God and I love Him?

    • OK, but that seems a problematic analogy. Setting aside the question of whether Jesus is God, we still don’t have works written by Jesus. And so you could use the analogy of someone who sends you a letter claiming to quote your sister. But even then, the analogy seems to me to be likely to break down.

      • joriss

        “And so you could use the analogy of someone who sends you a letter claiming to quote your sister.”

        All right. But I would recognise the quote to be my sister’s, if it was really hers, because she would say things nobody else would say, and in a way nobody else would do.
        So don’t the sheep recognise the voice of the shepherd as Jesus said? Why do so many people recognise the voice of God in the bible, if it should not be God speaking to them?

        • The analogy breaks down again, since on this scenario you don’t have some other access to your sister’s words than in these quotes, and so you have nothing to compare them with to say that they are authentic.

          As for sensing that God is addressing one through the Bible, that is fine as far as it goes, as long as one is willing to acknowledge that people have the experience of God speaking to them through nature, through dreams, through the Qur’an, through the Book of Mormon, and so on.

          • joriss

            From an objective point of view, you are right ofcourse, but when Jesus says: I know my sheep, like they know me, and: they will run away of the stranger, because they don’t recognise him by his voice, is then Jesus speaking from an objective point of view? Or does He simply say, beyond all objectivity and all subjectivity: my sheep will recognise me? And again when He says every one that is of the truth hears my voice, is that an objective point of view? I don’t think so. It’s a direct claim Jesus is expressing that his sheep can distinguish his voice from other’s in a direct way, because they recognise the truth.
            So if one thinks to hear the voice of God, that need not be true. When sheep hear the shepherd’s voice, they feel good and trust him. So if someone doesn’t listen to the words of Jesus, or even hates his words and runs away from Him, then we can say it’s not his sheep, can’t we? Jesus puts it very simply.
            Now the Qur’an says God has no son, Jesus was not crucified, and didn’t sacrifice himself to God to wipe out our sins. So from an objective point of view one could say: OK, if one hears God’s voice in the Qur’an, fine, why couldn’t it be true? Moslims say so, christians say it’s in the Bible. Is there truth after all? Is Jesus claim: ‘I am the truth, and: ‘every one that is of the truth hears my voice’, really true.? If I understand you right, one can not know.
            *We don’t know for sure whether Jesus is really quoted here
            *If He is really quoted, He could be wrong, as truth may also be in the Qur’an, that withspeaks the words of Jesus.

            So i.m.o. by this uncertainty Jesus’ words that say his sheep can really know him by recognising his voice are very much jeopardised.

          • You seem to be jumping to the conclusion you want to reach. Given the historical issues with the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, why would you treat the words attributed to Jesus, “My sheep know my voice,” as something that Jesus actually said?

          • joriss

            Well, words attributed to Jesus, can very well have actually been said by Him. Perhaps not in the very same syntax, but that is of secondary importance. But to know that He really said these things is of primary importance.

            The first reason to believe this, is that many christians all over
            the world have indeed recognised these words of the good shepherd. When you read e.g. the chapters 14-17 of John you get an impression of the precious intimacy between Jesus and his disciples. Everybody who loves Jesus will long to be part of that same intimate relationship. Ofcourse this is not a rational argument to believe the words in John are Jesus’ words, it is an argument of faith. And faith is not fully rational after all. When Jesus said we would recognise his voice He didn’t appeal to our rationality in the first place, but to our, let’s say, antenne for truth. We know things unseen, by faith, as Hebrews says.
            And the first letter of John says that we have an anointing of God that teaches us about all things and which is true, not a lie. Even by this we can know what is true or not.

            A second, more rational argument is that Jesus said we should build our lives on his words. What an impossible advice if we don’t even know for sure what his words are!

            When the words “whoever comes to me I will not reject” were not said by Jesus, a murderer or a person who thinks he is too bad to come to Jesus will miss a very encouraging invitation to come in spite of his sinfulness and find God’s forgiveness and peace for his conscience.

            The words “who loves me will keep
            my words and will be loved by my father and I will love him and reveal myself to him and we wiil come and dwell with him” is one of the most wonderful things Jesus said that makes us yearn for the loving fellowship of Jesus and God. If we don’t know if this is a real promise, it will not invite us at all.

            Also the sermon on the mountain in Matthew will loose it’s stimulating power. Do the meek really inherit the earth? We don’t see it up till now, after 2000 years. There is every reason to NOT believe that the meek will inherit the earth if we look around in the world. Unless this word is a word, a promise of God, we can throw it away with other garbage.

            Paul says: put on the armour of God: …the belt of Truth…..the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
            So not knowing what these words are makes us hopelessly defeatable.

            “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”.

            So to know whether a word is of God is crucial for us. And to know that a promise of Jesus has the same value as a promise of God is crucial for us. So to know whether a word has actually been spoken by Jesus is of the highest importance.

            So would God, who sent us Jesus 2000 years ago, have permitted his children to be misled by very special words which speak of truth, love, resurrection of the good and the evil persons , eternal life and fellowship with God and the unity of all God’s children because He never spoke these words?

            If you read Jesus’ prayer in John 17, you get an inside look in Jesus’ loving priesthood, and care for us. If Jesus had not said this, but someone would have put these words in his mouth, what a shame that would be!
            I am fully convinced that nobody in this world could have prayed this prayer.

            If the words attributed to Jesus are not Jesus’ words, then John is highly misleading and deceptive. He first says Jesus is God and then dares to put Him words in the mouth! Very, very unlikely, impossible indeed. And if ever the Bible speaks of Truth it’s the gospel and epistles of John.

          • Again, I have no objection to your choosing to respond to your experience of encountering God through Scripture in this way, as long as you recognize that others have a comparable experience through other Scriptures, and make similar assumptions about the authenticity of the voice they believe they are hearing to the assumptions you articulate in your comment.

          • joriss

            You are taking a very objective and neutral position. What I am wondering is this: what,, if there is anything, do you consider to be a word, or words, or t h e Word of God?

          • I am convinced that the reality that human words like “God” point to transcends anything that human words can articulate, and so I don’t think that anything can be considered ‘the Word of God’ except in a symbolic or metaphorical sense. And I think that mistaking the human words of the Bible for the words of God causes a great many problems. But one can view the Bible as a sacrament – something human which nonetheless helps turn our minds and attention towards the transcendent.

          • joriss

            You say: “I am convinced that the reality that human words like “God” point to transcends anything that human words can articulate”

            So far I think you are totally right. But doesn’t Paul express the same, when he says:
            “Who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see.”
            Or Isaiah:
            “To whom can you liken God? With what likeness can you confront him? ”
            “To whom can you liken me as an equal?
            “If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house which I have built!”
            “Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?
            If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.”
            “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach.”

            And many other bible authors say things like that. So in this respect you find them on your side.
            But then you continue:
            “so I don’t think that anything can be considered ‘the Word of God’ except in a symbolic or metaphorical sense”.
            But that does not follow from what you said first and you will find none of the bible authors on your side this time.
            If the unseen Being, the Reality that transcends anything that human words can articulate whishes to communicate with us He has every right to do so, just because it pleases Him. Even if this is the very and only reason why He created us, to have pleasure in us and to find a way to communicate with us, we have no right to ignore his wish, because so we deny him the pleasure He wants to have in us.

            All authors of the bible describe this Being as a Person who takes the initiative to communicate with us. The fact that He is that great and ungraspable by any mind, has nothing to do with the fact that He is able to communicate with us and is doing so as well. If we think He will not do so, He will not be pleased, because we deny Him the right to have the ultimate pleasure in us, namely being a Father for us, that has accepted us in Christ as his sons and daughters. And a father will communicate with his children.

          • I think it does follow from the Bible, (1) inasmuch as the very notion of “word of God” has to be metaphorical if God is thought of as a spiritual reality that does not have a physical mouth and vocal chords, among other things; and (2) inasmuch as the Bible uses the “Word of God” as a way of referring to Jesus, suggesting that the reality of who God is can be better expressed in a human life than as words on a page; and (3) inasmuch as the Bible warns us about idolatry, and images made of words can be as hard and fast, and as problematic, as images made of stone or metal.

          • joriss

            You are right that God has no physical mouth and vocal cords, but does He need them to speak? Does He need tympanic membranes to hear or a retina to see? Ofcourse his speaking, hearing and seeing is so far beyond the functions we use and call so, that some way you could speak of metaphores. But nevertheless God sees and hears and knows everything, even the very words we are going to speak according to psalm 139.
            So the way in which God speaks to us, we may not understand, but it reaches us with a clear message. It is very real. God spoke to Ananias and told him to go there and there and lay his hands on Paul, that he might see again. How did He speak? In his mind with a soft voice? A clear voice, speaking aloud in the room, as He did with Samuel in Eli’s house? By a vision, or an urge inside Ananias? We don’t know, but the result was that Ananias clearly knew what God meant, so that he even could respond and first make some objections against God’s order. So the best word that indicates this message that comes to us is: word or words of God. All the bible writers use this noun: word.
            The word of the Lord came to……The Lord spoke to…..And the Lord said….
            Although the phrase “word of God” has been contaminated a lot in our days, and misused for all kinds of reasons, to dominate, to manipulate, to get a woman in your bed or whatever wickedness, this should not withhold us to use it frankly and sincerely, with deep respect, because God is a speaking God, who wants to share his thoughts with his children.
            Misusing “the word of God” is of all times, just read 1 Kings 22 where many prophets use “the word of God” to say lies to please the king. The only one who really receives and speaks the word of God is beaten by one of the liars.

            Yes, Jesus is the ultimate “Word of God”. All God wants to say to us is expressed in Jesus, in his life and death. Beyond this no higher word of God for us exists. So every other word of God is serving in the context of the person of Jesus Christ. When God spoke to Ananias, to Peter, to Paul, it was all to make the name of Jesus known in this world.

            So to avoid idolatry, I think we should not avoid the expression “word of God”, for He really wants to communicate with us. When we stay close to him, idolatry in whatever form won’t catch us.

          • The Biblical literature makes abundantly clear, I think, that those who believed that “the Word of God came to” them, nonetheless wrote in their own styles and in ways that reflected their own human perspectives and cultural-historical horizons. And so I don’t see how the evidence is supposed to get us to the point of thinking that we have some access to a Word of God that is not mediated through the medium of frail humanity with all its shortcomings and capacity to distort.

          • joriss

            I would change your first sentence into:

            The Biblical literature makes abundantly clear, that those to whom the Word of God came, nonetheless wrote in their own styles and in ways that reflected their own human perspectives and cultural-historical horizons.
            Said in this way, I would agree.

            And I believe we have really access to God’s words, although these words are rendered to us in a timebound and culturebound way.

            For e v e r y word is timebound and culturebound. So the point is not if we express our thoughts in our culture and our time, but if God did so. I believe He can and He did.
            Even words of a frail human being can survive for millenniums because they pass the boundaries of their own time and culture. Greek philosophers for example. Wouldn’t God be able to inspire ordinary people to say and write words that are expressed in time and culture and that nevertheless pass all times and cultures and that will never loose their value? As Jesus said in Luke that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. He said that in a culturebound situation but yet claimed his words to be of eternal value. I believe that although words of God are expressed in a way that in itself is bound to time and culture, they will not be distorted by that and the Holy Spirit will explain their meaning to us if we open our hearts to Him. So we will experience that his words are “spirit and life” and that we will live not on broad alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
            How could we ever live on “every word” if we cannot even be sure of any of these words or if they are distorted? How can we believe, if believing is from hearing and hearing is through the word of God?
            I don’t know what to say more about this subject. I suppose you will not agree with me. But that will not refrain me from wishing you a good Sunday!

    • Linda Harms

      Hi Joriss, do you have a facebook or a blog? I’d like to check it out. I like what you had to say in this thread. Thanks.