The Bible: Muddy & Beautiful

A handful of events have conspired these last couple weeks to get me thinking about the nature of the Bible.  Some intriguing questions raised by Peter Enns in his new book, to which I’ll be sure to return presently; a few terrific one-on-one conversations; and JRD Kirk’s post today have all circled around this topic.

I don’t know if the average Christian thinks much about the actual Bible that we have.  My vague understanding from childhood and teendom was something like God the Puppeteer animating the various biblical writers over the course of 1500 years or so, from Moses to John the Seer.

Anyone braving the gauntlet of seminary, however, has gone through the rather daunting experience of having those pictures blown to smithereens as she discovers that, in fact, the process of building and collecting the canon has been quite complex – unknown authors; unknown and much later editors; copyists and their various mistakes; and textual critics trying to correct those mistakes, making decisions that range from coin-flipping to well educated (an issue highlighted in an interview with Wayne Grudem in the last five minutes of the Colin McEnroe Show).  Plus, there’s the added difficulty of translation quirks, for those of us who don’t read any of the three ancient dialects that make up our holy book.

Such revelations often cause problems for believers because they’ve been taught from a young age that the Bible is clear and understandable to anyone with moderate literacy.  But the more we discover about the ancient cultures of the biblical world – of Israel and its neighbors – the more we seem to discover that actually understanding the Bible takes a lot of work.

Personally, I’m discovering for myself a rather interesting paradigm shift happening in the way I look at Scripture.  Beginning from a place in which I had regarded the Bible as virtually written by God’s own hand, I have ever so slowly drifted toward viewing Scripture as a collection of wondrously human documents.

Now, such a statement must be qualified.  I do not suggest that the Creator had nothing to do with the Bible, by no means.  Rather, I am beginning to see Scripture similarly to the way in which we often see Christians themselves: an awe-full and awful entanglement of the corruptible and incorruptible.

We have a human document.  It has been written and edited and copied and mis-copied over the course of many hundreds of years by any number of hands within the contexts of languages and historical settings we know all too incompletely.  It often reflects incomplete perspectives on its own world or even on the nature of the God it proclaims, as one peering through a dim glass.

And yet, we have a divine document.  Believers throughout the generations, myself included, have read these words and whispered in awe, “Herein lie the words of life.  Where else would I go?”  We possess a book that peels back the curtain on the heavenlies, revealing glimpses of a spiritual reality transcendent of our earthly lives.

We have, as Enns put it, an incarnate book, which makes it both muddy and beautiful.

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6 thoughts on “The Bible: Muddy & Beautiful

  1. I have been having similar, though completely less clear, thoughts, lately. The strange connection that I made recently is to my fear of heights. I get anxious when I have an unobstructed view from a height (a cliff, high balcony/low railing). Earlier in life, this was a soul-crushing, irrational, hug the back wall, close your eyes, and try not to wet yourself experience. I was afraid someone would go over the edge. Over time, and through intentionally pushing through my fear, I can stand near the edge (well, near enough), enjoy the view, and be safe.

    My views on Scripture, science, and other things have been the same way. There was a time when leaning into fundamentalism and a belief that “This is the book. This is the truth. There is nothing more.” was all I could to, for fear of falling into heresy or sin. All I could imagine was a fatal plunge. Now, I am finding ways to approach that edge without being unsafe or going over.

    And the point is not that reckless is fun or that adrenaline feels good. The point is that the view from way back there is nothing compared to what you can see up close.

    Thanks for helping me think my own thoughts better, once again.

  2. While the ideas and theories abound around this topic (and have since Luthers Reformation), historically, and futuristic debates will no doubt continue. Luthers reformation gave way to a host of ideas which would challenge the status-quo, and rightly so, if not him someone else would have. I have often heard that the bible is like a road map to guide, and sometimes you need to explore what is not on the map. While I somewhat agree with the statement, the fact is, that a map made in 1611 would look much different than a map made today. I believe the Bible is inspired and God breathed, but the inspiration did not die with the authors of scripture, nor did God stop breathing. God’s word is “living and powerful”, and that should be the litmus test of all scripture.

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