Category Archives: Questions from my Sister

What is “the Bible?”

All right.  We left off on an ambiguous note.  I threw you some errors and contradictions in the Bible, and then said it doesn’t matter.  I talked about how we are all on pursuits of truth, and we use the Bible as part of our pursuit.  The issues, however, are what sort of truth are we looking for, what sort of truth do we need, and what does the Bible actually give us?  So, what then is the Bible? How would I define it?

In an elusive way (which is always a pursuit I enjoy), I want to first talk about what it is not.  

A quiz on the Bible is not due Friday.

First (and the last post began to illustrate this), I don’t think the Bible is a science or history book. I don’t think it is a textbook like the ones used in education – a book of facts. However, I do believe the stories of the Bible were constructed in real time and in real places, and so refer to real times and real places.  This does not mean, though, that the purpose of the Bible is to be an historical record of events or used to educate its readers on scientific facts.  True, the Bible is very useful, and should be used in teaching, among other things (2 Timothy 3:16 for those who want more Bible verses).  However, I don’t think what the authors (or God) intended with Scripture is for it to be studied, memorized, and tested on.  Western education, in all of its forms, from pragmatism to reconstructionism, is absolutely foreign to the minds of the original authors of the books of the Bible.  When we read the Bible, we ought not read it outside of its context; we ought not to read it as a tome of knowledge universally accessible from every location and time.  Rather, we need to step into the worlds conceived and constructed by the authors.  These worlds are radically different from our own, and the people are radically different from ourselves.

The Bible is not the Necronomicon.

Second (and this point should be interesting), I don’t think the Bible is a spell book. “Well, certainly John,” you say, “the Bible forbids against witchcraft and the like.”  Astute observation sir or ma’am, but let me pose this question to you: “Are you guilty of using it as a spell tome, as a way to get what you want?”  Have you taken the promises to Israel out of their context and applied them to your own?  Have you prayed Biblical prayers in order to get a special blessing from God out of them? (Bonus points to whoever guesses what Scriptural scenarios I have in mind)   What I mean by all this taunting is that I don’t think the Bible is meant to be something that we get things out of; I don’t think it is a “how-to” step-by-step guide in how to live (and live awesomely!). Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe the Bible is absolutely necessary in the spiritual formation of its readers. I do believe that we learn about life and how to live from the Bible, but we don’t do it by adhering to laws, prohibitions, and how-to guides that we draw out from the Bible.  Does not the Bible itself warn against that, against the legalism that plagued the religious communities that held and hold these writings sacred (look it up, it’s there)? It’s astounding to me how we take the Bible, which talks about what life with God looks like, and systematize it into a list of how to please God. The Bible does not teach us incantations used to win God’s favor. Full stop.

Well, compared to the other two examples, the Bible is more like this.

So, what is the Bible? Ultimately, it is a story book. In many ways, it is like any other story in that it is a work that invites its reader into the world it has created.  It has characters that inspire us, plots that capture us up in their cadence, and themes that speak to our very existence. Thus, we can experience the story of the Bible in the same ways as we experience other stories: as portals into imaginations.  And yet, I do acknowledge that there is something special about the Bible (after all, I wouldn’t be a Christian without it), but it’s not a something special that automatically makes it better or superior or more authoritative because of how it’s a fact book or a spell book. The Bible is a story  (are stories) about God. It’s God’s story, as human authors have come to witness God’s revelation of Godself throughout history. The Bible is also a story (are stories) about people, and how they have encountered and related to God throughout history.  It’s messy, it’s scary, it’s confusing, it’s elusive, but the encounter we have with God (and ourselves) in God’s story is beautiful, intimate, inviting, and special. In fact, the Bible is stories of God and humanity together, in concert with one another and in crisis with one another.  The Bible invites us into its stories as we live our stories in real time and with the stories of others, especially God’s stories.

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Are there any errors and/or contradictions in the Bible?

One part of my answer to this is the question “What kind of errors?” However, my first gut reaction to this question is: “Sure there are, but what’s the point?”

Lettuce answer the first question: “What kind of errors?” Because we live in an age of information, I decided to look up these errors and contradictions.

The first site, which you can find here, lists all sorts of contradictions and errors. Among my favorite contradictions are those that follow:

God’s Achilles’ heel

Matthew 19:26 – “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.’”

Judges 1:19 – “And the LORD was with Judah; and he drove out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.”

Another one:

2 Samuel 6:23 – “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.”

2 Samuel 21:8 – “But the king took..the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul.”

Now, let’s give Michal some credit; she could have had all five sons on the day of her death.

How about some errors?

Leviticus 11:20-21: “All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.” I certainly hope so, because I know of no fowl that walks on four legs.

And speaking of abominations, how about the camel and the hare:

We are abominations.

Deuteronomy 14:7 – “…as the camel, and the hare, and the coney: for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof.”  Hares don’t chew cud, and camels “do divide the “hoof.”

Now, these are silly examples.  This site goes through some 143 contradictions in the Bible and provides explanations for why they may seem like contradictions. Take a look through them; they are thorough.

This brings me to my second point: “Sure there are errors and contradictions in the Bible, but what is the point?”

Why does it matter that there may be errors in the Bible?  It matters (and doesn’t matter) depending on how we see the Bible.  If we see the Bible as a book of facts, if we believe everything in the Bible is a claim to truth, fact, and reality,then yes, I suppose it does matter if there are errors.

Girls! Girls! The Facts of Life.

And yet, we must dispute the very notion of “facts,” whether anything can indeed be verifiable or falsifiable. Sorry readers, but this is where it gets heady.

Some say there are things that are verifiable, some say there are not, and some say there are some that are and some that are not.  But let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that there are things that are verfiable and these things are necessary for developing claims to truth(s), and that these things we know as “facts.”

Now, we seek these “facts” to develop “truth claims,” which we use to construct/develop/emerge descriptions of verifiable realities, philosophies, ethics, politics, and faiths.

Whither we find or identify these “facts?” All sorts of venues of discovery have been argued as sources of these facts. Among them are nature itself, science and its method, human reason, personal experience, powers and authorities, and sacred writings.

Thus, we have come to the issue of the Bible, wherein many/some claim that the Bible is a source of these facts which are used in developing truth claims to reality and all it constitutes.

Is this so?  Is the Bible claiming to describe all of reality through presenting facts as truth claims to this reality?  I don’t think so.  I think the Bible is less than this, but paradoxically more than this.  It is not a fact book, it is so much more.  The truth that we encounter in the Bible is a truth that goes beyond facts and figures.

Then, what becomes of the Bible?  Tune in Wednesday as I answer “What is the Bible and what does it mean to you?”

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Questions from my Sister

This is my little sister.  She is magnificent.  She is my joie de vivre and my raison d’etre.

She is a sophomore at a Christian private high school, and for her religion/theology/whatever it’s called class, she has a weekly assignment where she is posed a theological question and must give her opinion as well as ask someone else their opinion.  Now, as for the other person, who would she choose?

She chose me!  I’m really excited about this because this is a great opportunity for blog material on what I think about specific issues in theology.

Now, we currently have a series going on as well, but that’s a tough series, and in such requires a lot of thought.  I’m not saying this new series won’t require much thought, but it involves quick and concise answers to theological questions.  So, along with the series “Bringing Life to the Dead Places,” we will have “Questions from my Sister” as well.

I was originally thinking about naming this series “Sh*t my Sister Asks,” but I thought that might be a little inappropriate, so, we’ll settle for the lame simple title.


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