Have you ever experienced a time when someone is talking about a subject that you happen to know a lot about, and you know without a doubt that they are making more than half of it up? Yea, this happens all of the time. I know I have been guilty of this on a few occasions. But wow, it really does happen a lot! We like thinking we are knowledgeable about not just a few things but everything. We even act like we know about things that are completely out of our understanding and rarely do we ever admit we do not know. When did ignorance become equated with stupidity? I wish I could answer that. But back to the issue at hand. You and I have been in a place where someone is talking, completely off the cuff, about a certain issue and we know they are completely wrong. This is such an awful and awkward place to be in. But I feel we are guilty of this on a day to day basis.
I sometimes wonder if the editors, authors, poets, song writers, politicians, evangelists, prophets, theologians, fishermen, and scribes who compiled and brought together what we call the Bible today would have the same opinion about us. That’s a pretty unique thought, huh? I wonder if they heard our conversations today on the Bible what their response would be. I have a strong feeling that there would be quite a few ‘face palms’ and maybe even a great amount of outrage. I think that they would be inclined to call up a team of lawyers to present their case that they have been exploited, misrepresented, and flat out lied about. So, what am I trying to say?
There are a lot of ideas, feelings, and also a lot of history that we bring to the table when we read the Bible. I remember my freshman year in college where I was first asked to lay aside what I had been taught about the bible and allow my mind to engage a different kind of mindset. I did not like it. What I was being taught in just a few short weeks was making me upset and I was frequently staying after class to ‘debate’ to the professor my case. It was sad. I did not care about being correct, I wanted to be right. There was so much pride to it that for a long time I was blinded to what I was learning. But then I finally came to a point where I laid aside my “want”, I was able to dig deep and find an infinite amount of beauty and mystery in the Bible.
When we read the Bible, we read it through a particular set of lenses. For me, when I read the Bible I read it from a middle-class, white, rural, conservative, never been persecuted, male-dominated cultural lens. This is something I had to learn to recognize and push aside. The Bible, the Scripture we hold to, was not meant for this kind of lens and if I continued to hold it, I would have made the Bible a tool of oppression rather than something to bring people into a loving relationship with God. Our Bible, your Bible, my Bible was not written to us. Each set of Scripture was written, and re-written through many times in history. When reading through the Old Testament specifically, one can see where there are snippets of hints that the material was written, again, and again. From before the exile of the Israelite people, in the time of the exile, and also after the exile. The Old Testament was written and re-worked to reflect the change of circumstances and thoughts that were going on at the time. Each work in the Bible has a variety of genres that are used, and these genres are not unique. The Israelites people had sources and even borrowed stories from other societies and when we compare the genres and stories in the bible to those of Israel’s neighbors we find some very interesting truths.
The creation stories are not unique, the flood story is not unique, a lot of the covenants and treaties that we see are not unique, even some of the Psalms were borrowed material. But each material in the Bible was used and constructed to form a certain type of ideology and we can trace it and see it as we read through the Old Testament. One of the big things we can find is that humanity has a special place in creation and that God is one and God is other; holy and loving.
This seems hard to grasp, but we must remember that we are reading about another time, where their understanding of history and what is important is much different than ours. We are reading about a culture that was heavily influenced by their neighbors in the Ancient Near East (ANE). We must implement a hermeneutic that focuses on understanding just what this culture was saying, in what setting were they saying it, against who were they saying it, what made them say it, and why do we have it in the form it currently is in our Bibles? We must look through a new set of eyes.
When doing this, the Bible will change for us. It will especially change for those who do hold to a more conservative understanding of Scripture and for those who hold to a view of inerrancy; it will come off as a lie. But I implore you to open your mind as the next few blogs will talk about some common misconceptions that people hold to be true that in my opinion are not. This will not just be my opinion but will be the opinions of the majority of scholars today as well.
My goal in this blog and the many posts that will follow is that we can come to a greater appreciation of the bible and also come to a greater understanding of who God is.