How I Treat the Bible

I read the bible as a collection of ancient documents, that deserve to be treated and understood from a perspective their own probable time and place. This includes a sensitivity to what an author might have been trying to convey to a likely audience of that same time and place. I think we do well to understand ancient literature within its cultural context, look for the likely intended meanings within that cultural context, and then determine how we might bring those meanings forward for application to our own time.

Since I hope the bible informs my view of life, a comment on my view of “God’s Holy Word” is in order:

According to the bible, Genesis 1:1 and shortly following, God spoke the whole world into existence. It doesn’t profess to know how He did that, and of course neither do I.

But I take this “speaking into existence” to suggest that spacetime and everything we presently perceive with our consciousness is the Word of God. Including us. That’s pretty wild. It first dawned on me, then, actually it was a little soul-warping once I paused long enough to let it sink in. But maybe that’s one way we were created “in his image.” Spacetime and all in it is the total body of evidence available to us for trying to sort things out. If the bible is right, God’s Holy Word is quite a bit bigger and more complex than anything any mere human, or collection of humans, will ever get distilled down to any collection of libraries of books, let alone one book.

The New Testament actually goes so far to suggest that “all the books of the world” couldn’t have held the knowledge and wisdom of Jesus himself. So, I’m guessing, “Let alone One Book.”

I believe the bible as an absolutely phenomenal collection of ancient, very hard-won wisdom literature. It has stood the test of time precisely because it resonates so profoundly with the human condition. It resonates profoundly with my human condition.

I do believe these documents were written, collected, and curated by people who had to have been, in some sense “inspired,” yet still men.

I believe this literature arose out from a history of human experience and interaction with all the rest of God’s Holy Word, creation/spacetime as we perceive it.

I do not insist that the bible must be the only significant human distillation of God’s wisdom out from all of spacetime and its contents. But this collection has been way more than enough to keep me busy for most of my 60-ish brief years.

I recuse myself from comment on other wisdom-traditions, because I am vastly ignorant of them.

If the bible as “The Word of God” is too big a stretch for you, it may be for me too. Well, actually, for me, it would be way too small of an un-stretch. I do take it as one of the greatest interpretations of The Holy Word of God – existence as we perceive it – ever distilled through human experience.

The evidence of spacetime and all in it – is probably just barely big enough to be the Word of The God I perceive and hope I am worshipping.

The evidence suggests to me that literature of all types influences human perception profoundly. Accordingly, let’s choose our literature carefully. Seems to me there’s quite a bit of modern arrogance surrounding this topic these days. If this literature is studied purely as ancient wisdom literature and nothing more, it will impact your life profoundly. So, at bottom, I guess that’s the significance of the bible to me. It has profoundly impacted my life and I hope and pray it informs my views. I have little doubt it will continue to do so for so long as I have capacity.

Parables and Myths

For my Christian friends who may be offended at any suggestion of Old Testament “mythology.” Please fast forward with me to the New Testament, to the parables of Jesus. They were and are extremely powerful teaching tools. Let’s take the parable of prodigal son. Most Christians I have known have no problem with the idea of a “New Testament parable.” It’s understood as a fictional surface story that shares a deeper profound meaning about a “type” of relationship or situation. It conveys a much deeper human truth than the mere “facts of the story.” Did Jesus really know that father and son described in the parable of the prodigal son? I mean, they were Bill and George over in the next county, and Jesus had watched it all unfold over the years? Was he reporting an actual event between two people he knew? Most Christians, I think, are OK if the answer to that is “no.” The truth being conveyed about the type is far deeper than the facts. The facts are just used to frame the moral of the story. The moral of the story is the painting. The facts are the frame. The frame is all about glorifying the painting – not the other way around.

Now, backing up to Old Testament “mythology”: In my view, old testament mythology is effectively old testament parable. I know it’s sensitive, we want the bible to be the truth, have the truth, convey the truth, and I 100% believe that it does – Old Testament and New alike – but by ways of the paintings – not the frames.

One sticking point, I think, is that so much ancient mythology is so downright weird to our senses – if we read any of it. But bear in mind that these ancient Hebrew parables are just as “foreign sounding” to modern non-religious people as, say, the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead might be to us.

So, we can get wrapped around the axle on the facts of Adam and Eve and 6 Day Creation 3,500 years ago – all while missing the morals of the stories. We can fight over the facts (the frames) until the cows come home, all while missing the painting (the points). So, genuinely, I can agreeably get along with anything one might need to do with the framing facts, so long as it doesn’t distort or diminish the painting, the meaning, the morals of the stories. Whatever we do with the frame, please let’s not use it to distort or even distract from the goods, the morals of the stories. Even if the facts are 100% fact-accurate, I wasn’t there 3,500 years ago, but I do seem to be here now.  If you need to insist on a 6-day creation 3,500 years ago, I’m fine for you to do that, but I don’t. I hope you can allow me that liberty in goodwill, and pray for me with genuineness if you think I’m lost on the topic. But while you’re doing it, please don’t miss the paintings; the presently living morals to the stories that make them so relevant to you and me and our shared experiences right here and now.

Whether the story is a parable or a myth, the purpose of either is to convey the moral of the story. In either case, the story is the bath water and the moral of the story is the baby. My only stipulation in these regards is that we not drown the baby with the bath water. I can live with whatever anyone needs to with the bath water – unless they start using it to drown the baby. Let’s please, please not lose the morals of the stories in the stories. 

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