Archives For Myths

Things that are commonly thought to be true but are really not

Taking Back the Bible….

December 6, 2012 — 2 Comments

I read the Bible on a regular basis.  The words of Jesus, which to me is what the Bible is really all about, inspire me to love my fellow-man and to love my God.  Many stories in the Bible  even though they might just be stories, parables, or even myths are inspiring in the lessons they teach. I delight in the sheer narrative power they provide.

I am very disheartened by the fact that some Christians today try to demand that the Bible was dropped down from heaven by God and not truly written my men who lived in the early times.  They say instead he just used their pens to write what he demanded of them. I think the Bible is richer when we admit that it was written by men inspired by God. But no, they say everything in the Bible is directly from God’s lips?

Here are some interesting words about that from the book The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox

Does it ever trouble fundamentalists that their attitude toward the Bible, a relatively recent one in the history of Christianity, is exactly the same as that of most Muslims who believe the Qur’an was dictated word for word to Muhammad by Allah? I doubt it…..

I am confident that it is possible to take the Bible back from its fundamentalist hijacking and make it once again a genuine support of faith, instead of an obstacle. To do this, it is helpful to know something about how we got into the impasse in which we find ourselves. There are four significant turning points in the recent history of how Christians have viewed the Bible.

      • One came in the late fifteenth century when the invention of printing made the wide distribution of the Bible possible and then—with the spread of literacy—eventually democratized it.
      • The second came in the nineteenth century with the application of the historical-critical method, which subjected the Bible to the same scrupulous scholarship about dating, authorship, and audience that is applied to any other historical document.
      • The third was the advent of the fundamentalist view of the Bible, which rose as a counterattack against the historical critics.
      • The fourth was the “liberation” of the Bible from both historical critics and fundamentalists, which is happening mainly—though not exclusively—in the global South.

The way to read them is to let their sheer narrative power evoke whatever response it can without relying on an externally decreed authority to either sanctify their status or pick apart their accuracy. Reading the Bible with this kind of imaginative leap puts us into the company of our spiritual forebears.

It is interesting to see the four turning points outlined here. I need to study and report some more details about the third event when the so-called fundamentalists among us decided to change the Bible from inspirational text into literal truth. As said above they did this when they were backed into a corner by the historical-critical method.  They panicked and proclaimed a slippery slope that if we questioned anything in the Bible then all of it becomes worthless.

I personally have had a lengthy discussion with one fundamentalist preacher about this. His willingness to throw out the Bible if any of it is not perfectly factual surprised me. In some ways I think I deem the Bible to be worth more than he does. But, more about that in some later posts. The fourth turning point is part of the emergent church that we will also get more into in future posts.

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As we have learned in several of my recent posts Origen was one of the most influential theologians in the early church who was later deemed a heretic and then after that a saint again.  He spent quite a bit of time reading the “scripture” of his day. I put scripture in parens here because there was no Bible as we know it today in existence.

Today Origen is definitely not one of the more popular early Christian figures with some in our establishment churches. That is particularly true of those that believe all of the Bible comes from God’s lips and is totally factual and inerrant. That belief has never been as universal as some would have us believe. Here is another quote from A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story  by Diana Butler Bass.

Origen pointed out scriptural contradictions from Genesis through the Gospels. Not intending to ridicule God’s Word, Origen claimed, The object of all these statements on our part, is to show that it was the design of the Holy Spirit, who deigned to bestow upon us the sacred Scriptures, to show that we were not to be edified by the letter alone, or by everything in it—a thing which we see to be frequently impossible and inconsistent; for in that way not only absurdities, but impossibilities, would be the result; but that we are to understand that certain occurrences were interwoven in this “visible” history which, when considered and understood in the inner meaning, give forth a law which is advantageous to men and worthy of God.

Origen believed that scripture was much like Jesus’ teaching in that he used parables which are fictional stories to relay a message and so to do the other writers of ancient script.   Origen was not an infrequent visitor to the scripture. In fact he spent twenty years on his Hexaple which was a massive work of Old Testament analysis. There was probably no one in his day that had more knowledge of the ancient writings than him.

This will probably conclude our study of Origen. As I have said before he definitely shows that the earliest versions of Christianity were very diverse. It was not until the power struggles that frequently occurred within the church establishment did this willingness to accept a diversity of belief become stifled. I celebrate the fact that the current emergent movement is willing, in fact they actually celebrate diversity in their midst.  They accept that there is more than one “right” way to being a follower of Jesus Christ and that gives me confidence that the church of Jesus Christ just might live to see a bright future.

There are many today who believe that all of the Bible must be taken as absolutely happening and the stories are without the possibility of error. But this is not the case with many of us follower of Jesus.. Several of the early fathers of the church warned against taking things literally. One of those was Origen.

Here is a quote from People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story by Diane Butler Bass from him:

The problem with literalism began, according to Origen, in Genesis: Who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it.

It is clear that Origen was saying that the Genesis story is simply a story to relay a message and should be taken figuratively only.  For those who might want more info about Origen you can see that at my post From Saint to Heretic to Saint Again .  Origen tells us that it is just too simplistic to believe that eating an apple gives one the knowledge of good and evil.

One of the problems with many churches today is that they have boxed themselves into such a corner by their literal interpretations that the only way thing they can do is to deny established science or just plain common sense when it contradicts biblical stories.

Here is another quote from the book cited above to explain what is happening today:

Jesus fascinates millions, but Christianity, the religion that began with Jesus, leaves countless people cold. What happened after Jesus—oppression, heresy trials, schisms, inquisitions, witch hunts, pogroms, and religious wars—witnesses to much human ambition and cruelty. The things people do in Jesus’s name often contradict his teachings. From Constantine to Christendom to the Christian Right, “after Jesus” can be remarkably depressing for thoughtful and sensitive souls. This dismal historical record surely was not what Jesus intended as he preached a merciful kingdom based on the transformative power of God’s love. 

This “dismal historical record” as the author mentions is man-made often as a result of personal power struggles. It is definitely not what Jesus intended. We need to wrestle back the true messages of Jesus so that those who are still fascinated with him can hear the true story about him.

That is what the emergent church is all about.