The Bible Was Made For Humans

The Bible Was Made For Humans May 25, 2018

Chris Glaser recently wrote, “as Jesus said of the Sabbath and the fundamentalism of his day, the Bible was made for humankind, not humankind for the Bible.” That comparison seems quite apt to me. Fundamentalists think that pointing to the Bible as though it were God or at least the Word of God incarnate inlibrate, it will make things better. But biblical inerrantism is a burden, because the Bible itself resists this straightjacket and pushes against it, to say nothing of other sources of information that do likewise. In much the same way that sabbath observance can be turned into a restrictive burden rather than a restorative and refreshing rest, the same can be done with the Bible.

The Bible was made for humans, and not humans for the Bible. 

And of course, one reason for that is that the Bible – and individual things in it like the sabbath – were likewise made by humans. That is not to say that the effort for social justice and healthy balance embodied in the sabbath cannot also be a pointer to the divine, a sacrament of the transcendent. But failing to recognize the humanness or the intended humaneness of the sabbath, or the Bible, turns them into something that undermines the very things (such as justice, freedom, and rest) that they are supposed to help bring about in human lives.

As I wrote in another post of mine, about inerrancy:

In addition to Biblical inerrantists ignoring the most obvious and reasonable explanation of what is in the Bible, they are actually ignoring the most Biblical explanation. The contradictions, discrepancies, and difficulties are there within the Bible, because human beings have put these texts with their differences into the collection we call the Bible. The only way to claim that the collection is inerrant is to allow one’s doctrine about the Bible, brought into the picture from outside the Bible, to tell the Bible that it isn’t allowed to say two different things, but can only mean one of them, or something complex that combines the two.

Inerrancy is all about paying lip-service to the Bible, while actually working hard against it, in order to prevent what it actually says from undermining one’s extrabiblical doctrine about what the Bible is.

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  • The Mouse Avenger

    I do agree with the overall sentiment of your post, & I thank you for sharing it with us. 🙂

    To be absolutely fair, though, I thought I ought to let it be known that some of the supposed contradictions & discrepancies in the Bible can be easily explained or cleared up (IMO, at least):
    http://www.comereason.org/bible-contradictions-explained.asp
    https://answersingenesis.org/contradictions-in-the-bible/isnt-the-bible-full-of-contradictions/
    https://zondervanacademic.com/blog/bible-contradictions-explained/
    http://www.debate.org.uk/debate-topics/apologetic/contrads/
    https://christiananswers.net/q-comfort/contradictions-bible.html
    http://defendinginerrancy.com/bible-difficulties/
    http://www.biblicalcatholic.com/apologetics/bible.htm
    https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2013/09/how-do-you-explain-discrepancies-in-the-bible-insight-from-r-c-sproul/
    https://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/20
    http://www.biblecenter.de/bibel/contradictions.php
    http://www.genesispark.com/essays/contradictions/answered/
    https://redeeminggod.com/6-ways-explain-bible-contradictions/
    https://warrenapologetics.org/articles-the-bible/2017/2/27/answering-alleged-contradictions-in-the-bible
    http://gluefox.com/min/contrad.htm
    http://atheismexposed.tripod.com/bible_contradictions.htm

    (Disclaimer: The theologies expressed in some of these websites definitely does not reflect my own, thank goodness! I’m only presenting these sites to the table for the sake of argument.)

    Nevertheless, it was lovely to read this article, & hear what you had to say. 🙂 And as I previously established, I do agree with your overall idea. ^_^

    • John MacDonald

      What do you think of the apparent contradictions pointed out by The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible that sometimes lying is okay in the bible, and sometimes it isn’t? See: https://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/lie.html

      • My feelings about this is that some contradictions are genuine and some are resolvable. Some can be resolved easily and some only with ridiculous contortions. And so I am not sure that either inerrantists or anti-theists do themselves a service by lumping these together in a way that does no justice to the different kinds of tensions and contradictions found in the Bible.

        • John MacDonald

          My personal approach is if I see something interesting or controversial online relating to religious studies (like the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, or Doherty’s website, or whatever), I now always refer to what the experts (yourself, Dr. Ehrman, etc.) have to say about it. For instance, in terms of the example I gave above, regarding justified lying in the bible, which is quickly dismissed by apologists, you write:

          “I found myself wondering whether Jesus might have been viewed by the Gospel author as, like God, above such ethical matters, just as God could be depicted as sending a lying spirit to deceive a king (1 Kings 22:22). I also wondered whether Jesus might be an example of the appropriateness of deception in order to preserve oneself in a context of persecution.” see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2016/08/snts-third-main-paper-and-simultaneous-short-papers.html

          By appealing to experts regarding my internet biblical literacy, I find that I make better choices than I used to (as opposed to the mythicism I used to espouse).

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    The example of the humane-ness of the Sabbath is a really good one.

    Coming up in a conservative, traditionally Reformed denomination, the Sabbath is something Christians are still supposed to observe, just on Sunday. If you go through the Westminster catechisms, for example, you will discover a host of sins on the Sabbath that you probably did not know were sins, along with the rest of the Decalogue.

    This is a view of the Sabbath that comes from the assumption that God feels very strongly about the Sabbath in and of itself, and it’s our responsibility to to obey Him in honoring this day He cares about so much. He has made the Sabbath a special day and put special regulations around it, and it’s our job to comply with the Law.

    But it completely overlooks the humane-ness of the Sabbath – the reason for its existence, according to Jesus anyway, is for man’s benefit. It’s not like God carries a special torch for Saturday. Or Sunday for that matter. And this is where Jesus as rabbinical commentator is very useful. He seems to be trying to displace the ethic of “here are the rules, they’re more or less arbitrary as far as you’re concerned, but I’m God, so keep them” with an ethic of recovering the Law as an expression of love of God and neighbor.

    • John MacDonald

      Phil said: “And this is where Jesus as rabbinical commentator is very useful. He seems to be trying to displace the ethic of ‘here are the rules, they’re more or less arbitrary as far as you’re concerned, but I’m God, so keep them’ with an ethic of recovering the Law as an expression of love of God and neighbor.”

      The central commandment of Love (Agape, not just Hesed) is attributed to Jesus in Mark 12:28-31, Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28; and independently in John 13:34. This agrees with Paul speaking of the central commandment of Love (Agape) in Rom. 13:8-10 and Gal. 5:14. I remember Dr. McGrath offering a good argument as to why the Gospel writers weren’t just putting the ideas of Paul here on Jesus’ lips, but I can’t remember what his argument was. In any case, it was a good argument for the historicity of Jesus and our knowledge of his teaching.

    • John MacDonald

      Here’s a question for you Phil: Might we not say Jesus presenting sophisticated rabbinical commentary and pithy one-liners and the like may be more naturally attributed to an educated rabbi or group of rabbis lurking behind the gospels rather than the uneducated healer Jesus?

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        I mean, that’s obviously possible. It’s possible a single, educated rabbi wrote the entire New Testament out of whole cloth. It’s possible all the conservative, traditional views of authorship are correct, and bits and pieces of everything in between.

        I don’t know of anything in the Gospels that makes me think, “Obviously a formally trained rabbi would have had to have said this,” so I don’t know if I’d say it’s inherently more likely that a trained rabbi wrote the Gospels and put his own words in Jesus’ mouth than Jesus having actually said most of those things.

        But my own bias is in favor of the text as written unless evidence exists that makes that unlikely. If it could be demonstrated that words are attributed to Jesus that are beyond the reach of someone who wasn’t a formally trained rabbi, then yes, I’d have to adjust my views of the source of those words accordingly. Someone else with different starting biases may be more inclined to want to see how a non-formally trained rabbi could make the statements Jesus does in order to accept that Jesus actually said them.

        • John MacDonald

          Let’s try a thought experiment. Suppose this is an alternate universe where Jesus never existed, and what we call the theological/ethical teachings of Jesus were just anonymous sayings from some unknown person in the 2nd Temple Judaism period. If we had to draw conclusions about this unknown figure purely from the teachings (knowing nothing more about him), would we be more likely to say he was an uneducated peasant, or a highly educated rabbi (or something in between)?

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Maybe something in between. Certainly this person is familiar with at least portions of the Old Testament, which I’d normally associate with rabbinical or priestly training but could also be true of someone who was a devout attender of Jewish worship services and had been their entire lives.

            If the sayings of Jesus were mostly oriented toward interpretation of Old Testament and resolving ethical dilemmas and such, that would skew me toward imagining a rabbinical figure.

            But while those episodes occur, the teachings of Jesus seem to be more about the retrieval of the common Israelite due to the fact that the kingdom of God had arrived and the destruction of Jerusalem was imminent. That could be a peasant who was good at interpreting the sociopolitical changes around him. That could be a statesman or an Israelite who was a government appointee. It could be an apocalyptic rabble rouser who is sick of the Roman Empire and a complicit Temple.

            Jesus’ parables also tend to be agrarian. They are about vineyards and masters and wages. This could be a rabbi who knows his audience and knows enough about what they’re going through to tell meaningful stories. This could also be someone who had lived that life and that’s where his repository of stories and analogies came from.

            I guess what I wouldn’t envision is an uneducated peasant who just lived his life between field and home and rarely if ever set foot in a synagogue. But I’m not sure my only other option is “formally trained rabbi.”

            I do believe the Gospel authors’ personal backgrounds and concerns influence what comes out of Jesus’ mouth in their particular Gospel. Jesus’ bit about new wine and old wineskins appears in all the Synoptics, for example, but have important differences that, to me, are probably skewed based on the theological emphasis of the author.

            But that’s a little different than what you’re saying, I think.

          • John MacDonald

            Phil said:

            “I do believe the Gospel authors’ personal backgrounds and concerns influence what comes out of Jesus’ mouth in their particular Gospel. Jesus’ bit about new wine and old wineskins appears in all the Synoptics, for example, but have important differences that, to me, are probably skewed based on the theological emphasis of the author.”

            With this we run into the same problem with Jesus as we do trying to recover the teachings of the historical Socrates (who also never wrote anything) from the writings of Plato and Xenophon. It used to be that philosophers assumed the early dialogues represented the historical Socrates, while the middle and late dialogues represented Plato. But, it eventually became evident that all we really have access to is an early Plato, with no reason to think it represents the historical Socrates. We find a similar problem with Jesus’s ethical teaching. We find the central focus on Love in Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, so some say this reliably goes back to the historical Jesus. But Paul never attributes these ideas to a teaching of Jesus, so they may just originate from Paul or Cephas or whoever, and these ideas may have just been floating around the early Christian communities by Mark’s time, and so Mark liked them and put this idea of the centrality of love on Jesus’ lips as a teaching.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            That’s all plausible. But also when we talk about Jesus’ teachings on love, those teachings are definitely conditioned by the historical contingencies of a suffering Israel under Empire, and I do see that in Paul – the idea that, in light of the present crisis, the people of God should treat each other a certain way, etc. I tend to think of Jesus’ ethical teachings more in the category of “how should we live in light of our current crisis” than generic teachings on positive virtues.

            I don’t recall a specific passage where Paul instructs the community to love one another because that’s a commandment of Jesus, but there are certainly places where Paul urges love in imitation of the love of Jesus. Eph. 5 comes to mind. Paul does make a rather big deal out of both the centrality of love in Christian ethics and the kenosis of Jesus.

            But I agree with you, the problem is not unlike trying to figure out the “real” teachings of Socrates vs. the teachings of Plato or Xenophon. Although, at some point, one wonders about the viability or value of making guesses like that. The only Socrates we have access to is Plato and Xenophon’s, and the only Jesus we have access to is Paul’s and the traditions including the gospel authors.

          • John MacDonald

            (1) Phil said: “Eph. 5 comes to mind. ”
            -You think Ephesians is an authentic letter of Paul?
            (2) Phils said: “But I agree with you, the problem is not unlike trying to figure out the “real” teachings of Socrates vs. the teachings of Plato or Xenophon. Although, at some point, one wonders about the viability or value of making guesses like that. The only Socrates we have access to is Plato and Xenophon’s, and the only Jesus we have access to is Paul’s and the traditions including the gospel authors.”
            – The fact that they are the only sources we have for the teachings of the historical Socrates doesn’t change the fact that they are unreliable sources / which is why there is no quest for the historical Socrates among philosophers.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            It could be. It could also be a later letter written by someone in Paul’s tradition. I think Ephesians is an authentic representation of Pauline theology, how’s that?

          • John MacDonald

            I tend to think that Jesus was an apocalyptic thinker, but that after he died his followers tried to understand why the Age hadn’t ended as Jesus predicted, and came to the conclusion that things like the corrupt Roman-loving temple cult and people not acting Lovingly had to be addressed before God would intervene in history. Mark may have been inspired to write because the destruction of the corrupt temple meant the end of the Age Jesus predicted was closer than ever.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            I tend to think Jesus’ followers associated the end of the age with the destruction of the Temple. That appears to be what Jesus was thinking. The Apocalypse broadens this to an overthrow of the Roman Empire, and even in Paul’s writings, there seems to be a consciousness of an impending judgement on “the nations,” but the judgement on Israel has to occur, first.

            I don’t see any particular evidence that Jesus’ followers thought the world would end and were disappointed because it kept not ending, although that’s certainly a possibility. There is definitely a sense in some of the NT writings that God is taking His own, sweet time, but given Jerusalem wasn’t sacked until 70 A.D., that would be roughly four decades between the death of Jesus and the actual destruction of the Temple.

        • John MacDonald

          I tend to distrust attributing the ethical/theological teachings of the New Testament to Jesus because they sound too much like what an educated rabbi or group of rabbis might be arguing. In that vein, I distrust attributing the events of the New Testament to the actual life of Jesus because (besides the fact that I don’t believe in miracles) Jesus going from a typical fallible human prophet who couldn’t perform miracles in his home town (Mark 6:5) to a man being resurrected by God seems a little too much like the idea like the last will be first and the first shall be last theme (Mark 10:31). Of course, I don’t doubt for a second that Jesus existed, as Paul seems to reliably demonstrate.

  • “Inerrancy is all about paying lip-service to the Bible, while actually working hard against it, in order to prevent what it actually says from undermining one’s extrabiblical doctrine about what the Bible is.”
    —Amen!

  • Nick G

    Bibles (as you are of course well aware, there is no one Bible – different sects include different books, translations differ, etc.) were certainly made by humans, as you say, but before concluding in what sense or senses they were made for humans, we need to consider the specifc historical circumstances of their making.

  • jekylldoc

    This is a very good principle. And pivotal. If we recognize that the commandments, including “love God” and “love your neighbor” are not just the Big Guy marching us around arbitrarily, then we can invest ourselves in trying to understand why they are for our own good. Obviously they are not for us to maximize our individual wealth or reproductive fitness, and they are surely not to give us an advantage over others. So why might it be good for me to be for my children? And why for my spouse? And why for my friends? And why for my neighbors? And why for my community? And why for my world? And why for my God?