Part of my course has involved looking at the different ways people view the Bible. I found it quite challenging, as looking at various definitions makes me notice things about my religion in a whole new way. The way that people use the Bible says a lot about their beliefs. I’m going to give you three brief definitions—though there are lots of variations in-between. Which one do you think best suits you?
- “The Bible is the infallible Word of God”
This is often said, but it can mean several different things so you need to decide: Firstly, what is ‘the Bible’? In Scripture itself, there was no word for ‘Bible’ or ‘Scripture,’ they only referred to ‘writings’ which is slightly vague. It can either mean the selection of books that you have, gathered together into a single book, called the ‘Holy Bible.’ Or it can refer to the original texts, written in ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek on individual parchments, long-since lost. We now only have copies of copies of copies, and the Hebrew has been ‘translated’ into biblical Hebrew (it was probably a much earlier form of the language—like Chaucer’s English compared to today’s).
The books we now call ‘Scripture’ themselves refer to other books, which are not included in our Bible—so are they also infallible, or only the bits that are actually quoted? (Eg. Jude 1:6.) And do you mean the whole selection of books we currently have, which means their position within the Bible are important, or the individual books? Does infallibility extend to the actual book (which is probably English) that you read today? Even though versions and translations are different?
Next to decide is what you mean by ‘infallible.’ Do you mean that the authors were like automatons, so none of their own views were included? Though their bad grammar was, and so were some mistakes when they quoted other parts of the Bible. (Check out Matt 27:9-10, when he says he’s quoting Jeremiah, but actually he quotes Zechariah 11:12-13. An easy mistake, we’ve all done it, and it doesn’t affect his point at all. But would you say a mistake was ‘infallible’?) Plus, some of the ‘facts’ are a bit questionable—like the sun going round the world, and the order of some events in the gospels are different. And if you believe the Bible is infallible, does that mean it all has equal status, so you give as much emphasis to some of the Old Testament laws as you do to the teachings of Christ?
Now, an interesting question if you hold this view—do you go to great lengths to justify it? Are you comfortable saying, ‘That bit doesn’t seem to make sense.’? Or do you produce reasons to explain why it does make sense, even if it isn’t obvious at first look? Is the emphasis of your worship teaching, or reading the Bible?
In my experience, the sermon (which is the speaker’s interpretation) is usually longer than the reading of Scripture. Which might imply we don’t think God can speak to individuals through the Bible—which is not what we state. If someone disagrees, do you spend time explaining your view, and are you unhappy unless everyone believes much the same thing?
The explaining/justifying is even reflected in some Bible translations: Isaiah 7:14 uses a Hebrew word, עלמה , which in that context probably means ‘young woman’ but the NIV translates it as ‘virgin.’ It’s quoted in Matt 1:23, and the Greek uses the word ‘virgin.’ However, I don’t think Matthew is using the quote to describe Mary, he is using it to describe the son, Jesus, the Messiah. Therefore, by changing the Isaiah meaning, the NIV has added its own view to Scripture (rather than allowing Scripture to speak as it will).
2.God Speaks Through the Bible (But the Bible is not equal with God)
This view means you believe God uses the Bible to guide people, to reveal himself and to provide a standard of right-and-wrong. But the writings are not ‘infallible.’ It is a theological book, the words have meaning and it’s the meaning that’s important, not the actual words. So for example, the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’ explains something about God’s love. But the words are not necessarily a direct quotation of what Jesus said, and the situation surrounding the parable may have been changed, to help the reader understand the point. The writers were inspired by God, they were listening to his Spirit as they wrote, but they were still human, they may have made mistakes about timing or science—things that don’t affect the theology.
People who believe this are usually comfortable admitting that some bits of the Bible are difficult to understand, or don’t seem to make sense, or were part of the culture of the ancient world and therefore the theology still applies but not the literal words. However, you need to decide which bits should be taken literally, and which parts are less important. If God allowed mistakes in the Bible, how do you know which are the right texts, and which should be ignored? If God speaks to individuals through the Bible, then how do you stop people finding support for their own views, and misunderstanding passages? Is it okay if everyone in a church believes something different and there is no uniformity?
Churches who hold this view usually ensure that both Old and New Testaments are read at each service, and the emphasis is on the Bible, not the teaching/interpretation, so the sermons are less important.
3. Logic and Reason are Most Important, the Bible Contains Some Useful Teaching
If this is your view, then you acknowledge that there is some good teaching in the Bible, and that God can use it to speak to people, but unless the narration is logical, you doubt if it’s true. You like everything to be ‘proved.’ This means the miracles in the Bible were either misunderstood ‘tricks’ or made-up by the authors to explain a theological point. You believe the Bible is pure theology, and not at all historically reliable. Reading it can point to good behaviours and an understanding of God, but it shouldn’t be taken literally, and the events described might, or might not, be true.
People who believe this tend to focus on discussion, listening to a range of views and beliefs. They are open to being persuaded, and give more emphasis to what other people say and write than to the Bible itself.
As I said, there are a whole range of views between these, but they give a basic framework. Which one is you? The thing I find interesting, having spoken to various people, is that whatever view they hold, they all say that God speaks to them through the Bible. I believe them, which is rather marvellous don’t you think?
Thanks for reading.
My next blog is about our trip to Iceland. I kept hearing that it is a beautiful place, but I wasn’t so sure. Is lava beautiful? We booked a trip and went to see. I will tell you about it next week.
Love, Anne x