Asking What the Bible Is
I grew up in a non-religious family. We didn’t read the Bible. I picked it up in college and expected it to be a series of fairy tales and miracle stories.
From the very first reading, I was impressed. It was much weightier than I expected.
What is the Bible to you? What have you been told the Bible is like?
The most common thing people hear is that it is “God’s word.” A common idea in Judaism is that the Torah, the first part of the Bible, contains within it “all knowledge.”
In other words, people are told by religious figures that the Bible is a divine book.
It’s rarely mentioned that it is a human one too.
Ways People Avoid the Obvious
Bible within the Bible.
Remaining blissfully unaware through deliberate avoidance.
Free daily Torah and Gospel emails:
your list of Bible verses might include the nice verses, like “love your neighbor as yourself”
and leave out the unseemly ones: “when you go out to war . . . and you see a beautiful woman . . . and your desire to take her to be your wife, etc.”
(you’re allowed to kidnap her and after giving her a month to mourn take her as your wife)
Bible within the Bible:
Christians mostly stick to Paul’s letters.
Even the sayings of Jesus are too dangerous to be in the “Bible within the Bible.”
Change the word slave to servant and say we should be humble.
Change a death sentence to “spiritual death.”
Glorifying the motivations of characters, who may have just been selfish, rotten, and mean.
Remaining blissfully unaware:
The gate is wide and the way is easy to Biblical avoidance
And many are those who find it.
When We Engage in a Close Reading of the Bible
…which means to look closely
…and ask questions
…and consult commentaries for information
…we often find the Bible is not what we were told.
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Take Genesis 1.
“In the beginning.”
“God said, ‘Let there be.’”
“And it was good.”
“God created man in his own image.”
“Male and female he created them.”
“He rested on the 7th day from all his work.”
You were probably given the idea
Somebody (most likely Moses)
Was shown a dream, like a movie,
Of the actual event.
But what if, this is not that.
What if it’s the priests of Israel.
That’s what most Hebrew Bible scholars think.
And it’s a liberating worldview,
this priestly view of creation.
Humanity is inherently good.
The problems with humanity and the world
Did not originate with God.
Genesis 1 is not divine dictation.
It’s not the recollection of a dream God gave to Moses.
It is human beings writing theology.
Theology that can turn the world upside down for good.
The stories of King David.
He wrote psalms and danced before God.
But he also took Bathsheba to his bed.
He arranged Uriah’s death.
He advised Solomon to murder his rivals.
What is this?
You’ve probably been given the idea.
These episodes show us faith and heroism.
David’s faith brought down Goliath.
David’s psalms started a movement of worship.
David’s zeal for God inspires us today still.
As for the failings and character problems of David?
These are moral lessons.
Let’s not focus on those.
But what if this is from the Deuteronomist.
The Deuteronomist is from the circle of prophets.
He lived when Jerusalem was destroyed many years after David.
And his goal was to present David in the best possible light.
Given the well-known fact that David was cruel,
That David abused his power,
And that David was a bandit king,
The Deuteronomist could not ignore that part of the story.
At a time when faith in the kings descended from David was low,
When faith in Jerusalem, the city of David, was disappearing,
What if the goal of the David narratives is to uphold David?
To view his dynasty favorably and to desire to bring
David’s descendants back into power?
What if there was a valid, really good side to David
And the Deuteronomist wrote to show
The good outweighing the bad?
Things the Bible Is (and Isn’t)
Priests writing theology.
The Deuteronomist writing
These are human genres.
This should cause us to think:
What is the Bible really?
Divine Dictation? No.
Writers Knowingly Writing God’s Words? No.
Those priests who formed the priestly theology?
Maybe they didn’t know their work would become “scripture.”
Maybe God simply created them
And shaped their lives
So they would bring us
He probably didn’t know his writing would
Create expectation for the ultimate Son of David
The Messiah of Israel and the Nations.
What if the Bible
Is human and divine
And just what we need?
Can God give us something
By human beings?
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