Sunday, 27 November 2011
The Bible is a book of the Christian faith. Contained within it is an entire metanarrative that tells us the story of our salvation and good principles to keep the Church running and accountable. Within the metanarrative are stories, parables, letters, poems, proverbs, songs, and biographies. These are comprised together from all over the middle east and even southern Europe. Over the years, it has since been translated multiple times in a variety of languages, and dispersed throughout the entire world where today, it can be used by churches and revered by Christians.
Throughout the many years that the Bible has been around, the concepts within have been hypothesized, evaluated, theorized, evolved, and understood in multiples of ways. There is not one clear understanding of scripture with all the many traditions we have today. Perhaps that is God's intent. I don't know. But to me, it's a beautiful thing that it is understood in all these different ways. Not everyone needs to agree with me. I don't need to agree with everyone either. The one thing that I know for sure though, is that God has all of the answers. God is the light where there is dark, and though I may not be able to see, I can know and trust that God will one day get me to the light where I will be able to see the mysteries he has for us clearly.
And this is my problem with the so-called "infallibility of scripture". There are too many mysteries in the Bible. There are too many mysteries in life in general. I can't even begin to count the mysteries of God, and yet, to many, it is to be believed that this book that was written in a variety of contexts and particular situations is infallible? I used to go along with that, but I no longer do. Only God is infallible; the actual "Word of God".
Catholics have a different theology of scripture than most protestants (namely, Evangelical denominations as opposed to Mainline denominations). But there is a saying among Catholics that we protestants worship a paper pope. Normally, this is said in response to accusations that the pope becomes a sort of deity among Catholics. Honestly, I agree with the Catholics on this one. To many protestants, the holy trinity has become the Father, Son, and Holy Bible rather than Holy Spirit. And that, to me, has been poisonous to the Church.
Someone recently asked me, "By what authority [do you] believe you can strike some things from the Bible as not being His word and know which they are in the first place? Don't you think this might be a little presumptuous?"
My answer to that is rather simple- Really, by the same authority that tells someone the exact opposite. I mean, all of our traditions do this to an extent, and the reasons vary. My authority is the tradition of my church. I'm a United Methodist. We don't believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but rather that it reveals the Word of God. All that means is that while reading the bible, we can't just take it at face value. The Bible wasn't put together to be read, but rather, heard by those who've been through enough education to know that they can understand it. Now, I'm not saying that no one should read the bible... but that its intent has changed with the development of the printing press. Now, anyone is able to read it- and that's great, but sometimes, people misinterpret scripture due to the fact that the time, context, and situation of the text are not exactly easy to read. This changes many things.
Personally, I think it's a little presumptuous to assume that the Bible is the word of God to begin with. I mean, you won't find that in the Bible. This, in my mind, kills the work of the Holy Spirit. After all, God is a living, breathing God. The Bible is a good guide for living a Godly life, but the Bible in itself is not living. It does not breath. It has no room for change in a changing world. I believe some things are constant, but not all. Finding out what is constant and what is not takes study, reasoning, consulting tradition, and experience.
Please remember that Galileo once said that the earth was not fixed in place, as the scriptures said it was, but instead that it revolves around the sun. He was excommunicated from the Church for believing this. We know now that that concept is silly. Why? Because it's been proven that the Earth revolves around the sun. We also know now that the Earth is not set up on pillars. We also now know that the Earth is round. A lot has changed- including the ways the authors of the New and Old testament saw the world. It's a completely different world from back then, so I believe it would be best for us to look at scripture and instead of taking everything at face value, ask, "How is this applicable to today, in 2011, in this community, in this context?" And throughout Church history, this is nothing new. Many of our Church fathers and theologians taught from a standpoint that not everything in scripture is historically literal, or even in some cases, accurate. Martin Luther almost took James out of the canon, for crying out loud! Why? Because he thought it wasn't needed and he didn't agree with the letter's theology.
None of this is to say that scripture has no authority. Believe it or not, I have a very high view of scripture. I just don't treat scripture as if it is the fourth member of the trinity. As I've said before, I do think much of it is applicable today- but the way we read it today is very different from the way it was read in the first, second, and third centuries. So much more interpretation is involved, and the interpretation needs to fit around what we already know as fact.
So what is the Word of God? The Word of God is the complete truth because God only speaks complete truth. It must be found within scripture through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This is from Article IV in "The Confession of Faith, The Book of Discipline" of the United Methodist Church:
"We believe the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation. It is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice. Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation."
I think that that's a good way to sum up what I believe "the Word of God" is. In my opinion, it is not the Bible itself, but the Bible as it is read under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther considered preaching to be a form that the Word of God comes in... because it's teaching from scripture through the inspiration of God. One can say that all scripture is already inspired by God. I would agree- All scripture is inspired by God... but we also must reason with it. This is the work of the Holy Spirit who works within and through the Church. This is why its important to know your church's traditions.
Some of those reading this may not agree and think I'm being heretical. That's ok. I take joy in the fact that I don't need to have all of the answers. I like to paraphrase Tony Campolo at times like this: "If by heretic, you mean I've yet to see God in His full glory, than yes, I'm a heretic." Just know that my view is a traditional view and commonly held within many denominations, particularly those that are mainline.
Do you believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God? Why or why not?