Why I Love My Wonderful Errant Bible

Sunday, July 20, 2014

This week's blog is a guest post by Stephen Fierbaugh:

By Stephen Fierbaugh

As I stood alone in the dark cinder-block guest house where my driver had just dropped me, I was more scared than I had ever been before. I was deep in Africa, and I knew that somewhere not far away there were militants who would kill me without a second thought. A few nights earlier, they showed up at a nearby school dormitory and told the girls to go home, get married and have babies. They had lined up the boys and slit their throats.

I was there to help locals translate the Bible into their own languages. It was the first time some of them had ever read anything in their own language. Our security depended upon the secrecy of the project, yet everyone in the area seemed to know all about us, even the mosque across the road. If only one of these people sold us out, we were all dead.

“Is this worth it?” I asked myself in the darkness. I was at a faith crisis, because a few months earlier, I had discovered that the Bible isn't inerrant. It's one thing to talk about martyrdom in Sunday school. It's another thing to be sweating in Africa worried that you're wasting your life on a lie.
Inerrancy and the Puzzle of Genesis

It started when my small group was studying Genesis. Someone asked, “So which day were plants created?” The first two chapters are two accounts of creation. Chapter one is general creation, while chapter two focuses on the creation of man. Genesis 1 says plants were created on the third day (1:11-13), and man on the sixth day (1:26-31). But Genesis 2 explicitly says that plants weren't created until after man was around to care for them (2:5-7). “Well, it looks like plants in general were created on the third day, but domesticated plants, 'of the field', were not created until after man.” That satisfied him and the discussion moved on.

Do you see what I did there? I superficially examined the passages in question, formed a reasonable hypothesis, and regarded it as a solution without any deep investigation of the text or other evidence to support it. This is a common method of exegesis with difficult passages.

A short while later, I encountered the same passages in my daily Bible study and decided to give them a deeper look. It turns out that my theory doesn't bear out. Chapter 1 clearly refers to all plants. In 2:5, “shrub of the field” actually refers to wild uncultivated plants, while the companion “plant of the field” refers to cultivated grains, so it is all-inclusive of plants in general.

In fact, after considerable study, I discovered that there isn't an easy explanation for the discrepancy in the timing of plant creation between Genesis 1 and 2. This disturbed me. I had always believed that the Bible was inerrant: absolutely true all the time in all ways. As the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the conservative doctrinal statement on the topic, explains, the Bible is “of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches.” and “without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God's acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God's saving grace in individual lives.” Article XIV affirms its “internal consistency”.

As a practical matter, this doctrine means that the Bible speaks with absolute authority because it is perfect and trustworthy. We can disagree over whether various passages are literal or figurative, or their meaning, but the text does not contain internal contradictions, nor is it contradicted by external science or archeology. It is the one source of absolute truth that we can depend on.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. As the astronauts in 2001: A Space Odyssey discovered about their “perfect” computer, HAL, a claim of perfection is destroyed by a single instance of imperfection. Where there's one mistake, there's likely to be more.

But I've studied the Bible my entire life, and I wasn't prepared to throw it overboard so easily. With deep prayer, I decided to investigate further. I turned to that fount of wisdom, the Internet. It turns out there are plenty of websites eager to provide lists of the contradictions in the Bible. I sat down to study them.

Most of the “contradictions” fall into three general groups. About a third are trivially dispensable. Whatever point they are making isn't coherent enough to understand, or has an explanation so self-evident within the text that it isn't worth further comment.

Another third are paradoxes or have simple explanations. The Bible is full of paradoxes, like grace vs works, or free will vs predestination, but they aren't contradictions. On the contrary, they are one of the many things that makes the Bible stand out among literature, and it hangs together thematically remarkably well because of them, not in spite of them. Likewise, there are plenty of “contradictions” which if taken without any context might appear bad, but really have fairly easy explanations.

Most of the remaining third are more difficult to reconcile. It took study, checking out commentaries or going back to the Greek and Hebrew. But eventually, most of them too turn out to have reasonable explanations. For instance, ancient authors didn't cite texts the way we do, they often arranged items thematically rather than in sequential order, and names are mangled as they are transliterated between languages. An example of this type of contradiction is whether there were one or two angels at the tomb, which varies across Matthew 28:1-2, Mark 16:1-5, Luke 24:1-6, and John 20:10-14. It looks bad until you seriously study it, and then it has reasonable explanations which don't strain credulity.

Troubling Passages

That leaves only a short list. A few passages really do have serious contradictions. They aren't amenable to simple reconciliations. The commentaries either ignore these passages, or spin incredibly unlikely explanations replete with suppositions or facts that simply aren't in evidence.

Some pastors suggest that contradictions are because translators made mistakes. I have a high view of the Forum of Bible Agencies International's (FOBAI) translation standards and Scripture quality, so simply suggesting that the NASB, NET, and NIV translators all made mistakes doesn't cut it. Part of a good (and honest) translation is reconciling parallel passages if the texts can support it, but leaving them different where they are, in fact, different in the Received Text.

In some cases, two parallel passages disagree on a simple number, and one or the other made a mistake. A simple and particularly clear example of this is 1 Kings 7:26 and 2 Chronicles 4:5. First Kings reads, “It was four fingers thick and its rim was like that of a cup shaped like a lily blossom. It could hold about 12,000 gallons” (NET). 2 Chronicles is identical except it says 18,000 gallons. Inerrancy requires perfection, and as trivial as this discrepancy is, it dooms it.

Chronicles is replete with this problem. For example, it completely mangles the account of David's warriors; compare 2nd Samuel 23:8-12 with 1 Chronicles 11:10-14. Or compare 2nd Samuel 24:24 with 1 Chronicles 21:24-25; did David pay 50 shekels of silver (20 ounces, about $375) or 600 pieces of gold (15 pounds, about $298,000) for the field?

I have a lot of empathy for scribes and translators who are working in difficult situations: hot, with poor light, and sometimes fearing for their lives. Chronicles' errors go on and on because the Chronicler, probably Ezra, was doing the best he could, but his sources in the ruins of Jerusalem were in poor shape. He simply made honest mistakes.

The best known of the problem passages are the genealogies in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38. Entire books could be written (and have!) attempting to reconcile them. After King David, they agree only at the exile (Shealtiel and Zerubbabel). There are at least eight major contradictions in the genealogies, and most of them are complex with sub-problems. A simple list of the contradictions would be a lengthy article of its own. The biggest problems are actually between the genealogies and their Old Testament equivalents.

Explanations and Excuses

This has been a problem since the earliest days of the Church. Paul recognizes it in 1st Timothy 1:3-4 and warns “not to spread false teachings, nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. Such things promote useless speculations rather than God's redemptive plan that operates by faith” (NET). If we claim the Bible is inerrant, then we are forced to promote useless speculation to explain Matthew and Luke's genealogies. Likewise, we spread teachings that couldn't possibly pass a laugh test: Jesus becomes the product of an implausibly long line of unrecorded levirate marriages.

Article X of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy provides the standard “out” for explaining all of these issues: Only the original autographs are inerrant. If we only had the original handwritten scrolls, we'd see that all these issues vanish. This has two fatal flaws.
The first is that Chicago's God is too small. It posits that God was powerful enough to create a perfect book, and cared enough to do so. But then He either wasn't powerful enough to preserve it, or simply didn't care enough.

The second is that it fails on the factual evidence. We may not have the actual handwritten autographs, but we have several orders of magnitude more early manuscripts than we do of any other ancient text. The New Testament that we have is substantially identical to the New Testament as it existed in the second century. Likewise, the Dead Sea scrolls show that our Old Testament is also as it existed in the time of Jesus. Indeed, some of the mistakes are so troubling because we have enough copies to have deep insight into their nature.


Sweating there in the dark in Africa, I thought about the Bible and wondered if it is worth dying to bring it to people groups who don't yet have it. I thought about the contradictions, and I thought about what the Bible has contributed to my life over the years. I thought about the tears, some of heartbreak and some of laughter. I thought about the intellectual basis for my faith.
I've read thousands of books. The Bible is unique. It is superlative in a way that words don't do justice. As literature, as history, as poetry, as moral instruction, as the story of how God relates to man, it stands apart. It touches my heart and soul in a way no other book does.
Men stop beating their wives when they read it. They stop living in fear of demons. They start caring about their children. We may not notice it as much in the U.S. because many biblical teachings have become our society's norms, but it is stark overseas. Jesus changes lives, and he does it through the Bible.

I realized I love my wonderful errant Bible. I believe it is worth the sweat, tears, and risks to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to read the book I love so much. I don't have to understand it all; I just have to give others the same chance to discover God in its pages.

I am on a journey, and not sure where God leads. Errancy in the Bible tells me that I need to be humble, allow for my imperfect understanding, and reject any “Christian” doctrine or social view which flies in the face of loving our God and loving our neighbor.

Stephen Fierbaugh has a Bachelors in Bible and a Masters in Intercultural Studies. He is active in Bible translation and has extensive experience in Africa. Stephen is the author of Surviving Celibacy.


What would you do if? Practical nonviolence, home invasion, and Hitler

Saturday, July 12, 2014

 One of the most common objections to nonviolence is the famous "what if" question:

"What if intruders broke into your house with the intent of raping your wife and killing your children?" 

The question is usually framed so that you only have two options:  You can either kill them or do nothing. If you think about it, this is not really a question at all. It is a statement of exasperation. The person who asks this is really saying "Surely there is some point where you would draw the line, isn't there? Wouldn't you at least defend your children or your wife?" It is because of this moral exasperation that this question is often quickly followed by the "what about Hitler?" question, again expressing moral exasperation, essentially saying, "Okay, but what if the person was evil incarnate like Hitler? Wouldn't it at least be justified to kill them?"

Let's consider the dynamics behind these questions and what's going on emotionally for the person asking them: The concern of the person asking these questions is the safety and well-being of themselves and their loved ones. In their mind, the only possible way to deal with such threats is either to kill or to do nothing. They think therefore that people who advocate nonviolence are advocating for tolerating abuse and violence. They think it is about not caring for your own welfare or the welfare of those you love. This drive to preserve our own life and the lives of our kids is one of the most basic and primal instincts we have. So it is understandable that the person asking such questions is feeling desperate and triggered. 

What would a nonviolent response look like?

I think where our response needs to begin is by disarming the one asking the question -- that is, it needs to begin by affirming them in this deep human need, assuring them that we also want to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. The question is: What is the best way to do this?

Here I find it is helpful to compare the above what-if questions with the question of divorce. Would it be justified to get a divorce if your spouse was unfaithful? Yes, it would be justifiable. Heck, even Jesus said that, right?

But would a professional marriage counselor automatically recommend divorce? Surprisingly, no. Instead they would work with the couple, giving them the tools and skills to heal their negative interactions (including betrayal) so they can break out of the cycle of hurting and getting hurt they are both caught in. The fact is, unfaithfulness is very common in marriages, but it does not always need to end in divorce. If a couple can learn to work through the crisis, they can come out on the other end with a marriage that is even stronger than before. 

Now, this does not mean that divorce is off the table in the mind of a marriage counselor. But it is not a foregone conclusion. Their goal is to help people to have healthy and fulfilling relationships. In the same way we could also say that it would be justified to shoot an intruder. Our laws see this as an act of self-defense, as justifiable homicide. It is justifiable, but is it the best solution? Is it the best way to keep safe? Do the police recommend for example pulling a gun on burglars as the best way to keep yourself and your family safe? No, they do not. Not because they are pacifists, but simply because it is not the best way to get out of such a situation. It often makes you less safe in fact.

What they do recommend is having a plan of action.  This is very different from what I often hear my fellow pacifists recommending, which to have no plan at all and to instead hope the Holy Spirit will inspire us with some creative solution on the spot. This sounds good in theory, but the reality is, when we are in a dangerous, high-stress situation, our adrenaline rushing, our brain's limbic system in alarm mode, this is when creative thought it just about the last thing we are capable of. That's why we need a plan beforehand when we can think calmly, creatively, and prayerfully.

So consider this: Perhaps instead of asking "is it justifiable?" we should instead ask "What can we do to reduce harm and violence?" Instead of asking "is divorce justifiable?" a better question is "what can we do make marriages better?" In the same way, instead of saying "is it justifiable to shoot an intruder?" or asking the question of "just war" and when it is justifiable as a nation to retaliate, the real question we should be asking together is "how can we reduce violence in our society and in our world?"

The point is not to legalistically forbid divorce or to forbid self-defense. Rather the goal is to educate ourselves of better ways to deal with conflict, better ways to keep ourselves safe. I think we can all agree that violence is not desirable. So what we need to learn are other effective ways to deal with conflict and to reduce violence and harm.

Here we need to listen to the wisdom of people who are working in the many areas that this touches. After all, home invasion is really just the tip of the iceberg. There are a multitude of issues that we need to address: international conflict, the problem of crime and our broken prison system, domestic violence, bullying in schools, date rape on campuses, and on and on.

In each of these, and many others, there are experts we can look to, people who have specialized in these areas who can offer practical ways of dealing with these many situations, working to reduce harm and keep us all safe. Just as a couple in crisis needs the help of a marriage counselor, we need to listen to the wisdom of these experts and specialists so we can move beyond what is "justifiable" and instead seek to do what is good.

In the end, this is something we all need to own and contribute to. Just as in a marriage, the couple is the one that needs to do the real work, and the therapist can only act as a guide and mediator, so too here we all need to be working to find ways to reduce violence in our world. So rather than thinking of how we can justify doing bad things (again no one wants to get a divorce or to take a life), we need to work together to find better ways to deal with the problem of violence--we need to ask how we can practically reduce violence, rather than justifying it.

Now it's your turn: So with that in mind, let me pass the conversation to you: What are some ways you have learned to  deal with issues of safety and violence? Have you had the opportunity to learn from experts in these areas through books, seminars, or other education? What are some of the skills or strategies you have learned?


A Progressive view of the Bible and Science

Saturday, June 21, 2014

There was a good discussion on my article over at Red Letter Christians. I wanted to respond to a couple of the comments here in order to hopefully clarify things in more detail than I could on a comment board.

Johnboy asks,
Don't you use scripture itself to formulate your ideas of who Jesus is and what He's about? Doesn't that make your viewpoint self-defeating?

Yes, the New Testament is where we read about Jesus. That makes it a unique and central source, but the goal is not simply to have information about Jesus, or even (contra what some liberal Christians would say) to simply follow the teachings of Jesus (which we should of course do!). Far more central is to connect with the living Jesus, to connect with God in Christ, to connect with the one John calls "the Word." In other words: Christianity is not just about information, but about relationship. It's about reading the Bible as a sacrament that leads us to a living life-transforming connection with the Spirit of Christ, and having that relationship of being loved and shaped by the Spirit lead us into a life of loving others as we love ourselves, being transformed by the renewing of our minds to have the mind of Christ. The Bible plays a key role in this as the vehicle that leads us to Christ, the window through which we see Christ with the help and vivification (fancy word meaning "breathing life into") of the Spirit.

Scripture (and in particular the NT) is unique in that it is the record of the disciple's encounter with Jesus the logos of God, the "image of the invisible God" as Paul says. The idea is that we would not simply read about that, but that we would likewise come to know, personally, this same Jesus through the Spirit. As John writes, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete." (1 John 1:1-3). In other words, "We met this guy Jesus who is Life, and we want you to meet him too, and have that same living connection to God! That would make us so happy!" They are writing what we now call the New Testament in order to have us come into a relationship with God in Christ. That's what it's all about. Their inspired written words serve to lead us to the living Word. 

The next comment comes from Digger who writes,
It is essential that the Bible be incorrect in order for the beliefs and practices of progressive christians to ok with God. If the Bible is correct as written, then the doctrine of progressive christians, which is based on the world's idea of correctness rather than scripture, is disobedience to, and likely outright rejection of the God of scripture. (If the Bible is incorrect, the God that the Bible describes is not the true God.) If the Bible IS incorrect, then it is I who worship a false God.

I certainly cannot speak for all progressive Christians, but a lot of us would see it this way:

The issue is not so much that the Bible has contradictions. The issue is that the Old Testament is multi-vocal. That is, it contains multiple conflicting perspectives on things. It contains a record of dispute. An example of this is the contrasting perspectives of the book of Ezra and the book of Ruth and the opposite ways that they see foreign wives (one presents them as good and says to welcome and shelter them, the other says they are immoral and to send them and your kids away into the night).

So since we have multiple perspectives in the Bible, making conflicting points, we need to decide which we accept. On what basis do we choose? Here the key is to look at what Jesus chose and learn what led him to make the choices he did and learn to think with that same priority.

A second issue is recognizing that there is movement in the Bible. It is not a record of a static view, but a record of a developing view. A key point is slavery. The OT affirms slavery. The NT just says to treat slaves well. Based on a plain reading people in the past saw this as justifying the American slave trade. So why have we today abolished slavery? Is it going against the Bible to not own a slave? Are we putting our own cultural view (to abolish slavery) over the Bible?

Some conservative Christians argue that OT slavery was different from American slavery. But does this mean that we should continue the practice of slavery modeled after the OT, rather than abolishing slavery all together? Should we do the same with the OT policy of executing adulterers and continue that practice today as well? When we do not, are we going against the Bible?

If we can instead recognize a trajectory begun in the NT we can see that it leads us to go beyond where the NT did at the time and move towards abolishing slavery. Not because we are moving away from what Jesus wanted, but because we are continuing to move further towards what he wanted. Slavery is just one example, but there are many others where the question is: how can we be more faithful to Jesus and the things he cared about? How can we move to change ourselves and our world to be more Jesus-shaped?

So to be clear, what we are objecting to are things like slavery, torture, and child abuse -- all of which have been promoted in the past by the church as being "just" and "good" and "God's will" according to (their reading of) the Bible. Progressive Christianity says "no" to these and other things that hurt people in the name of religion. 

I have a hard time seeing how being against these things can be described as "the world's idea of correctness." I would instead say that they are going against the stream of worldly thinking (what Walter Wink called the domination system) and instead moving in the direction of Jesus. Again, the question is: Is it going against the Bible to be opposed to child abuse? Is it going against the Bible to be opposed to the state's use of torture? Or is it just the opposite: If we do not move forward away from these practices that we can objectively see are deeply hurtful, we cannot claim to truly follow Jesus.

This brings up the question: How can we know what is loving? If it appears that a biblical author (for example the author of Proverbs) has the view that beating children is loving, "Beatings and wounds cleanse away evil, and floggings cleanse the innermost being" (Proverbs 20:30) how can we say that it is wrong to hit children with a whip so as to leave wounds as this verse endorses doing? Are we saying we know better than the Bible when we say that this is wrong, and indeed make it a crime?

The fact is, we can objectively observe the severe trauma and damage caused by what we now call physical abuse. We know this because of social science, which at the time of the Bible did not exist (nor did any science). They did not understand what we do now. Let me also stress that this is not simply an opinion, it is science. Because of this we can say that physical abuse (for example flogging someone and leaving wounds) is objectively not "cleansing," but deeply harmful. We are so convinced of this today that we have passed laws making this a crime.

Now at the time they did not know this. If we simply take the view of "This is what Scripture says we cannot question it" then we would need to go against what we do know. Thankfully most of us don't. Thankfully even people who claim to read the Bible this way actually do not in practice. However the problem is that they promote a way of reading the Bible in an unquestioning way that results in turning off one's conscience and sense of compassion, and as a result when people say "Hey this way of reading the Bible is really hurting me!" -- as for example blacks and women and  LGBT people are saying -- this is dismissed. In other words, with the things that our culture has agreed are wrong (child abuse, slavery) we do not practice, but with other things (like how we treat LGBT people) we stick to the same "the Bible says it so there is no room to question this at all" approach. As if we never questioned those other things. That is a really messed up way to read the Bible that results in our perpetuating societal views that oppress and hurt people. Indeed conservative evangelicals are some of the most outspoken advocates for the state's use of torture, for the use of state violence, for corporal punishment, and so on. I object to this because I see that it hurts people.

We need to have a way to recognize when our reading of the Bible is hurting people, and we need to care about that. We need to listen to those people. The Pharisees did not listen. Jesus did listen to these people who were rejected and condemned as the "sinners" in his time. He was known as the friend of these people (being called "friend of sinners" was not a compliment). The people who were called "the least" valuable, Jesus said we should care for the most. 

Adopting the heart and priorities of Jesus goes hand in hand with a scientific approach. When we take what we know from science about what hurts people and what allows them to flourish this is not in conflict with the way of Jesus. On the contrary, it helps us to more faithfully follow Jesus because it helps us to grow and to move towards human flourishing. Science -- and in particular the parts of science that deal with us as humans in relationship -- enriches and deepens our faith.  What it is in conflict with is a static status quo view of the world, a view that says everything should stay as it is. That it's good that way.

Does science get things wrong? Yes it does. So we learn and grow. That's how science works. Does the Bible (think Proverbs 20:30 here) get things wrong? Yes it does. It is a record of a people learning and growing in their understanding of God. The fact that we have these conflicting views together in the canon of the Old Testament demonstrates an understanding of Scripture as a record of this growing developing search for love and truth and God. To read it as a locked static thing is to read it for something that it is not.  The Bible is not one single static view, but multiple developing views, cataloging how these views developed and changed up to the NT. As followers of Jesus we continue to develop and change in our understanding -- to move in the direction that Jesus pointed us towards.  We need to do that with humility, and we need to do that together. That entails a faith that is characterized by being open, seeking, and communal. It entails a faith that listens to our consciences, and listens to others, that cares about others--even those who disagree with us.


How is a Fallible Bible Inspired?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Over the past several months we've been doing a lot of deconstruction work with the Bible on this blog. It's important work because the motivation is one of compassion. We've seen how an unquestioning reading of the Bible has led people to do all sorts of hurtful things to others in the name of God, and because we care about people and love the Bible we need to confront that. Still, even so, it's hard. It takes a toll because, even though we believe we are doing something good, it cuts away at our old beliefs, and that means it cuts us, too. 

Brian McLaren recently compared this process of deconstruction to peeling an onion, 
"Every new conception of God necessarily requires doubting or rejecting the prevailing conception of God... For many, the process is like peeling an onion. First they lose faith in the 6-day creationist god, then in the bible-dictation god, then in the male-supremacy god, then in the european-supremacy/western-civilization/colonialist god, then in the anti-gay god, ... eventually, every layer of the onion is peeled away and one is left with nothing, but maybe some tears.

The fear of being left with nothing leaves many people desperately afraid to question anything, which might be a good definition of fundamentalism. ... The question, I think, is this: what happens after one peels away the onion and faces the possibility that there is nothing left"
With the Bible the question we are left with is this: After we strip away a hurtful unquestioning way of reading the Bible, what does it then mean to read Scripture as scripture? If we lose the "God said it that settles it" approach, in what sense can we say the Bible is inspired if we don't mean "everything it says should be followed without question."  Is it just a "human book" or is there a way to find God in there, just as we find God amongst the mess of our own world?

Jesus said that all of the law and the prophets were summed up in two commands: Love God, and love others as you love yourself. That's not just a summary for Jesus, it is at the same time the aim of Scripture: The Bible is intended to lead us to love God, others, and ourselves. That's the ultimate aim and purpose of the Bible as Jesus saw it. If we are reading in a way that leads us away from love, then we are reading wrong. That was the mistake of the Pharisees, and continues to be the mistake of many Christians today. If we see that our interpretation is causing hurt, we need to pay attention to that and make a course correction.

Seen positively however, the purpose of Scripture is to lead us to love, and since God is love that means first and foremost the  purpose of Scripture is to lead us into an encounter with God's love. Scripture is therefore not our master, it instead is our servant leading us to God. Scripture is a vehicle meant to bring us into an experience of God's love that shapes us, making us whole and deeply alive, setting us free. Being loved forms us, and then spills over into every area of our lives as we show others (including the people we don't like or respect) the same love and mercy we have known. 

Here Scripture takes on the role of a servant which brings us to encounter God's living Spirit. It acts as a window to the divine, as a vehicle that leads us to Christ. Not Jesus in a book, but the living risen Jesus known through the Spirit. In that sense the Bible becomes a sacrament, that is, it becomes a means for us to encounter the divine.  
Scripture is therefore not "inspired" in the sense that it is a static book of eternal laws that are beyond question, rather it is inspired when it is read by us so as to lead us to love. It is inspired when it becomes a sacrament leading us into an encounter with the divine, an encounter with the risen Jesus, leading us into a life-transforming relationship with God. 
The word "inspired" literally means in-spirit-ed. That is, to be indwelt by the Spirit. Without the spark of life from God we have no life in us. In the same way, apart from the Spirit the Bible is simply a dead letter. The Bible is therefore inspired ... in(Holy)Spirit-ed ... when we learn how to read it in a way that leads us to meet the one who is love, who is truth, and who is the way. That is what a devotional reading of Scripture needs to look like, what it means the read Scripture as scripture. That is a truly evangelical reading of Scripture because it puts the focus on the gospel, the good news of God's kingdom impacting our lives--both on a personal and societal level. That's a way to read the Bible that keeps God at the center, rather than making a book central, or more truthfully making our interpretation of a book central.

So in the end, when we let go of the unquestioning Pharisaical way of reading the Bible that has characterized fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, while we lose our own certainty and instead need to be a little more humble and aware of our limitations and potential towards sin (even sin in the name of religion!) what we gain is a way to read the Scripture as a sacrament that can lead into a life-changing encounter with God and Love and Life.


This website and its contents are copyright © 2000 Derek Flood, All Rights Reserved.
Permission to use and share its contents is granted for non-commercial purposes, provided that credit to the author and this url are clearly given.