Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Bible says

Evangelical Christians - often called the Religious Right in the media- are known for their Bible centered Christianity. That is they base what they think and do on what they believe the Bible says. The Bible is God's Word and what He says goes. They go to Bible studies to learn more about what the Bible says so they can shape their lives accordingly. The preachers in their churches teach from the Bible every Sunday (they are known as Bible expositors), often verse by verse. Evangelical Christians are encouraged to have life verses which are memorized and serve as life long guides. Politically, they believe that the Bible dictates their positions on governmental policy.

I grew up in this  environment. I went to Sunday School where I learned all the Bible stories and the principles they taught. I took part in "sword drills" where the teacher called out a verse and when you found it you held up your "sword". I was never good enough to be on the quiz teams which competed with other churches to see who could answer questions about the Bible and find the relevant verses the quickest. I grew up hearing about so and so who was revered in the church for "really knowing his Bible". It was mostly praise directed toward men for in the churches where I grew up women did not teach men. Certain women were praised as "prayer warriors". Men knew the Bible and women prayed I thought.

As I got older and went off to Christian college and seminary and visited many more different types of churches I discovered the Bible was not all that easy to understand. There were many different translations other than the King James version and well meaning Christians could disagree about what a Bible verse meant. I found out that Christians have used the Bible to defend many apparently contradictory points of view. Both slave owners and abolitionists quoted the Bible to support their positions. Preachers on both sides of the Civil War found God to be on their side and had Scriptures to back them up.

Is it possible that we have taken too close a look at Scripture? That we know the Bible too well. That taking it verse by verse we have overlooked the Big Picture. We know all about the trees but we have forgotten to look at the forest.

Take 2 Timothy 3:16 for instance. The NIV says "All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness..." When I was in seminary this verse was at the heart of a controversy over inerrancy.  The Bible was without error. True Evangelical Christians  were supposed to believe that. Professors at Christian colleges and seminaries could lose their jobs if they taught otherwise. Evangelical scholars became a bit like the Scribes and Pharisees who parsed the Law in specific ways to support their practices. So, was the Bible inerrant only in the original or was it meant to be inerrant in whatever it said about science or history or was it only inerrant in matters of faith and practice? These were the kind of questions that were being sorted out. Some people said the Bible was infallible instead of inerrant which gave more wiggle room.

The New English Bible which may wife was has used for years translates that 2 Timothy verse this way: "Every inspired scripture has its use for teaching the truth, and refuting errors..." So, does that sound like some scriptures are inspired and some aren't? The Message Bible which I like to use has it,"Every part of Scripture is God breathed and useful one way or another - showing us truth us to live God's way." The point is each translation is different in the exact words it chooses to express the meaning of the text. Each translation is an interpretation. The sentence just before this verse is translated in the Message as, "There's nothing like the written word of God for who showing you the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ." It's clear in the Message which is written more like a letter from Paul to Timothy, without numbered verses, what Paul was doing. He was building Timothy up for the challenges of ministry that lay ahead and encouraging him to find help in God's Word.

That makes more sense than fighting over the meanings and nuances of various verses. Proof texting is the practice of finding a verse or verses to back up you point in an argument over Christian belief or practice. It is no way to read the Bible. It misses the forest for the trees. It is not too hard to get the general drift of God's Word. It's not a puzzle to be solved by the experts. What did Jesus say and do? How did He live? That's what the Gospels were written for. Believe in Him. Trust Him. Follow Him.

In all acrimonious debates among Christians today over social issues, politics, the environment, and national security, etc, I hear a lot of Christians saying The Bible says.... this or that. Really? What does the Bible say? Do we know it as well as we think we do? Or are we missing the Big Picture?

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