What is the term “bible”? It can be generally defined as informed and authoritative in a particular field. Thus, we find titles such as The Crystal Bible, a Definitive Guide to Crystals, or a favorite, The Squat Bible: The Ultimate Guide to Mastering the Squat and Finding Your True Strength!
Pam: We’re going to talk about the Holy Bible in all its translations which is Christian scripture. This is not a simple thing to do. Librarians, for example, in both the Dewey and Library of Congress classifications systems, assign a unique call number to Bibles. The numbers are in the nonfiction section. With the rise of science and reason, it appears that some of it is fiction. My first question: “Can we say that everything in the Bible is true and factual?”
Pastor: Let me start by saying the Holy Bible is a Holy inspired collection of stories and experiences from people (almost entirely men) who were trying to understand the Divine and how God is a part of their life.
We can say that something is true without being factual. This isn’t always an easy concept for Christians…but if we are being honest, is the point of Jonah and the Whale that a human being can live in the belly of a large fish for three days? No. The truth in that story has more to do with obedience to God’s will and the depths that God will go to bring humanity to God.
But the question begs a further question: Why/How do we read the Bible? Do we read it for factual information about first century Palestine? Do we read it for apologetics, so our Thanksgiving dinners with distant relatives are more exciting?
Pam: I get it! The concept of truth rather than fact makes sense. It is that facts are more objective in their nature, whereas truths are more subjective in comparison. Therefore, those who think everything is factual in the Holy Bible, may not be seeing its subtlety!
Let’s look at how the Bible has been used historically. Up until the invention of moveable type, Bibles were restricted to churches and monasteries where they were chained to podiums. Its interpretation was left solely to the priests and popes. Christians were seldom educated and so they believed the stories of heaven and hell and Jonah, etc. When the Bible became more widely available, people began to read and make their own interpretations. The Reformation brought about many different views of which books should be in the Bible. Canonical means authoritative. Some books are called Apocrypha and Martin Luther spoke strongly against their inclusion. In reaction, the Roman Catholic Church convened a council in Trent (now in Italy), where they declared the Apocrypha to be canonical. Catholics uphold the Apocrypha. Protestants believe that the Apocrypha is useful but not inspired. Second question: “Should or can Protestants use the Apocrypha?”
Pastor: Now we get to the Canon. Protestants have no problem, as a group, seeing the Apocryphal texts as Inspired. Many of the Bibles we use today include the Apocryphal texts (our Canon), but we don’t include them in our Common Lectionary and therefore are not considered Canonical texts. Can we use the Apocrypha? Absolutely…anything that aides in our relationship to God is good to go.
Pam: Perhaps an interesting Bible study topic might be one of the books in the Apocrypha. We could dip into some different views. Perhaps from/about a woman like “The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene,” or “The Gospel of Mary,” both discovered in 1896 in a 5th-century papyrus codex written in Sahidic Coptic. Supposedly the recently translated and published (2006) “Gospel of Judas” is full of humor. That might be fun!
Let’s look deeper at the history of the Bible’s use. Before books became readily available, often the only book a family owned was a Bible. This is true into the late 19th and early 20th centuries. People learned to read from it; they studied stories; they read poetry; they absorbed the words of Jesus into their lives. Families passed it through generations and kept birth and death records in it. Into the late 20th century, the Bible remained a staple in a home. Can we say that adults and children still read it every day? Are those who do ‘better’ Christians than those who don’t? I am positing that today the Bible is used more like a Handbook, User’s Manual, or Companion to our faith.
Or is it to be dipped into in small segments when we need information or inspiration? My final question: “Is the Bible no longer a cover-to-cover read except by theology students? Is our dipping in and out of it the 21st century way to use the Holy Bible?”
Pastor: First, YOU are the best Christian you know. Yes, I know we all like to compare ourselves to others – that is just human nature – but there is no ranking of Christians. We are all called, and all stand equal at the foot of the cross. Some people just behave more “Christian-y” than others.
Second, read the Bible. Read it and argue with it. Read it and memorize it. Read it for devotion and read to learn something about what it was like to live in the time of Jesus. Read the books that seem scary and then read the books that provide comfort.
The beauty of the Bible is that it is a living text. It should be ingested as the Holy inspired text it is. Less concern with its factual accuracy and greater concern on how the Holy Spirit is speaking to you in that moment in your life.
Pam: I like that! It is a living text that speaks to each of us!
Conclusion: Is there a common thread running through all of scripture? For us, the Bible is ALL ABOUT relationship. Relationship to God and to one another. Like any relationship, it is going to have its ups and downs. And that is a really good thing, because it reminds us that God is in all of life.