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Five Things Christians Should Admit About The Bible

This write-up was originally published on johnpavlovitz.com, penned by an American pastor, John Pavlovitz. The piece has a striking message in it, and after I was done reading it, I just HAD to share. Read and let us know your thoughts.

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The Bible.

Christians talk about it all the time, though I never quite know what they mean when they do. That is to say, other than the easily tossed-off catch phrase, “God’s Word”, I’m not sure what the Bible is to many who claim it as the sacred text that guides their life. I’m positive we’re not all on the same page, so to speak.

Often, I think Christians want to make the Bible something that it isn’t, or don’t want to admit what it actually could be, and it makes for some really disastrous conversations and some extremely dangerous assumptions, especially in interactions with other Christians.

Here are 5 things about the Bible that I wish more believers would consider:

1) The Bible isn’t a magic book, it’s a human library.

It isn’t The Good Book.

As my good friend Pastor Talbot Davis and my beloved Good Shepherd Church family has always said; the Bible isn’t a book at all, it’s a library.

Its 66 individual books run the diverse gamut of writing styles, (poetry, history, biography, church teachings, letters), and those books have dozens of authors; from shepherds, to prophets, to doctors, to fishermen, to kings. These diverse writers each had very different target audiences, disparate life circumstances, and specific agendas for their work; so we don’t approach each book the same way, for the same reason you wouldn’t read a poem about leaves, the same way you read a Botany textbook. Some are for inspiration and some for information; we receive and see them differently.

And this library didn’t fall from the sky, leather-bound, shrink wrapped, and personally autographed by God. It was collected and collated over hundreds and hundreds of years, often in verbal form for decades before being written down; after which time it was assembled and voted on; translated, and translated, and translated again; hopping from language to language in the process.

What most Christians don’t give much thought to is the fact that the Bible was a living, breathing collection of sayings (and later writings) composed over time; lots of time. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of years. It was absolutely “inspired by God”, but composed by a group of very human people who existed in a particular place and time in history, sharing their experience of God and the convictions of their faith.

If we can see the Scriptures this way; as many diverse works in one collection, we can free ourselves from always taking the entire text literally; from trying to equate history with allegory with poetry, and reading them in the same way. We can also can see the Bible as a record not just of God, but of God’s people, and we can find ourselves within it.

 

2) The Bible doesn’t clearly say as much as we’d like it to.

Often, (especially when arguing with someone else), Christians like to begin with the phrase, “The Bible clearly says…” followed by their Scripture sound bite of choice.

Those people usually haven’t actually read the entire Bible.

The Bible is a massive library, (somewhere around three-quarters of a million words), and if we’re honest, contains a great deal of tension and a whole lot of gray on all types of subjects. For example, we can read the clear Old Testament commandment from God not to murder, and later see Jesus telling his disciples that violence isn’t the path his people are to take, but we also see God telling the Israelites to destroy every living thing in enemy villages, (women and children included), and we read of Moses murdering an Egyptian soldier without recourse from God, and later being chosen by God to lead His people.

That’s why some Christians believe all violence is sinful, while others think shooting someone in self-defense is OK. Some find war justifiable in some cases, while some believe all war is inherently immoral. Some think the death penalty is something God is cool with, while others find it detestable. Some Bible readers see Jesus as an absolute pacifist, while other cite him telling his disciples to grab a sword, as evidence that he sanctions physical violence on occasion.

Same Bible. One subject. Countless perspectives.

So what does the Bible clearly say about violence? Does it make an absolute statement, or is there some ambiguity? Seems clearly muddy.

Many times, when Christians say the phrase “The Bible clearly says…”, what they really mean is, “The way I interpret this one tiny, isolated verse, (which seems to reference this particular topic), allows me to feel justified in having this particular perspective on said topic”.

When you read and study this library in its totality, there are certainly themes and continuities and things that connect exquisitely, but if we’re honest we can also admit there are as many ambiguities regarding violence, money, sex, faith, prayer, and a hundred other topics.

It doesn’t diminish the Scriptures to admit their complexity and their lack of clarity.

 

3) The Bible was inspired by God, not dictated by God.

Christians will often rightly say that the Bible was “inspired by God”, and I completely agree. However, I think that idea often gets terribly twisted in translation, and we take huge liberties with it that simply defy logic and history and the Scriptures themselves.

The Bible is “God’s Word”, but I don’t think it’s at all accurate to see the Bible as “written” by God. In fact, the Bible never makes the claim of itself. The authors of the books often claim personal authorship, and clearly describe their specific reasons for writing and their circumstances and mental state during the process. They rarely claim that in that time, God had possessed them, taken over their minds and limbs and faculties, and physically manipulated them to record verbatim the words we read in the Scriptures.

These are the words of men, who were compelled by God to tell, not only what they claim to have heard God say, but things that were happening in and around them; struggles they had, personal reasons for writing, and their specific experience of God. Of course they were inspired by God, but they remained inspired human beings, not God-manipulated puppets who checked their free will at the door and transcribed God’s monologues.

I would argue that every Christian who has ever lived has been inspired by God, filled by His Spirit. I would certainly hope so. I often feel quite sure that God is inspiring me when I write or compose music or give messages; that I am intimately connected with Him. Does that mean that I don’t bring a whole lot of me to the table too? Of course not. That’s been true of every Christ-follower from Mother Teresa, to C.S. Lewis, to the Reverend Billy Graham.

Is it reasonable to assume that the same can’t be said for Moses, David, Matthew, and Paul; that we get as much of them in their writing as we get God’s direct voice? The book of Timothy says that The Scriptures are “God-breathed”, that they originate from God, but it doesn’t claim that they are God-dictated.

How can we find a balanced understanding of words that come from God to us in the Bible, but do so passing through the hearts and hands of other flawed, fragile followers from history?

 

4) We all pick and choose the Bible we believe, preach, and defend.

One of the greatest criticisms Christians like to level at another Christian whose opinions deviate from their own, is that he or she is “cherry picking” from the Bible;  holding tightly to verses that they agree with and championing those, while conveniently jettisoning ones they are uncomfortable with. It’s a common way to belittle another’s Biblical interpretation and minimize their differing perspective, charging them with selective spirituality.

The only problem is, each time this assertion is made, the one making the accusation conveniently claims complete objectivity; as if they somehow have a firm, dispassionate understanding of the entirety of Scripture, without bias or prejudice, and that the other is violating that, by subjectively commandeering the text.

The good (or bad news, depending on how you view it) is that we all have our own Bible, made somewhat in our image. There are as many specific individual interpretations of Scripture in history as there have been readers of it. Our understanding and belief about the Bible is a product of our upbringing, our denomination or tradition, the amount of study we’ve had, the friends we’ve lived alongside, the pastors and professors we’ve learned under, the area of the world we live in, the experiences we have, as well as our own personality, prejudices, and preferences.

There aren’t two followers of Jesus who have ever been found in total agreement on the 66 books of the Bible since they were recorded, and so we all have a personalized Scripture, despite our desire to claim otherwise. We all cherry pick, even when we think we are not.

Is it really fair to ever accuse someone else of selectively using Scripture, unless we’re prepared to cop to the same crime in the process?

 

5) God is bigger than The Bible.

This past week I took a walk along the beach, taking in the ocean. For those who’ve ever done so, you understand the vastness; the overwhelming beauty and power; the relentless force of the tides. You know well, those glorious sounds, the scent of the air, the sand beneath your feet, the unfathomable colors of the sunset, the smallness you feel; the overwhelming scale of creation that you find yourself face-to-face with.

Billions and Billions of words have been written down about the ocean. I could gather up every single one of them; the most beautiful, vivid, accurate descriptions from fisherman, and marine biologists, and children, and poets, and vacationers. I could read every last, most eloquent word about the ocean to someone who has never been there, and it would never, ever do it justice.

There’s simply no way to adequately describe the ocean in words. You simply have to experience it.

I wish more Christians would admit that the Bible, at its very best, at its most perfect and inspired, is just a collection of words about the ocean.

God is the ocean.

God is the thing, and the Bible is made up of words about the thing, and those words point to something; to Someone, for Whom words simply fail. That doesn’t mean the words aren’t filled with good and lovely things that give us some frame of reference, some understanding, some insight, but ultimately God is far too big to be contained in those words. God is awe, and wonder, and mystery.

The Bible is not God, the Bible is a library filled with words about God. We can discover and explore and find comfort there. We can gain wisdom, and grow in faith through it. We can seek the character of God, and the message of Christ, and the path we’re to walk in its pages.

We can even love the Bible, (I certainly do), but we should worship the God who inspired the Bible.

 

I expect many Christians will dismiss these things outright and refuse to engage at all, but my hope and prayer is that many of you who claim Christianity will examine your own understanding of the Bible, and see if there isn’t something in the above words that merits consideration; not to alter your love or admiration of Scripture, but to allow you to engage in conversations about it that have some nuance, some balance, some grey, and some Grace; especially when dealing with those whose understandings differ from yours.

When you say “The Bible”, what do you mean?


About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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30 comments

  1. A 4,000 year old book of jewish folklore, some fairy tales and personal opinions of the writers! And people still think it’s relevant in 2014!

    Oh well, enjoy your opium!

  2. LOL. The Pastor is right. The bible is just another great book (or blog) – and we have several of these in the world. Nobody exactly lives by them and – worse – considers these books flawless and unquestionable.

  3. I think there is part where the bible itself admits that it is the spirit that gives life not the letter. What makes some Christians an insufferable set of gits is that they are unable to admit that that while they might find everything they need in the bible, the whole bible should not necessarily have them in mind. A chemistry textbook may be written in English, but that does not mean it can be of much use to the English Language major. It is ironic that EVERY Christian (even Pastors and Church leaders) has a part of the bible He/ she only pays lip service to, but it is a good thing really because,we’d be intolerant, bigots otherwise.

    • Bayo, that’s absolutely true! Everything is so twisted by ourselves and our church leaders…truly a lip service case…

  4. The Man of God is so on Point! Just like he rightly said, I’ve often wondered if the Bible truly did justice to the Personality of God, then we will need eternity to read through d whole Books of d Bible…GOD is Bigger, Huger, Higher, more Enormous, Incomparable, in fact, far far Greater than what the Bible says abt Him. To me, the Bible is like a Book with many topics, sub-topics with a few explanation, but with clues (that is, if u get to see d clues) on how to decipher some questions in life, tho’ not all…sometimes, I read abt a passage and begin to wonder with little or no understanding. But it’s been said that the full meaning of d BIBLE is: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth…and as Christians, we must follow these instructions, not partially tho’, but wholly. Another point he made and that’s right is abt how Christians tend to pick d book, chapter and verses that suits their ways of life. That’s why we have Preachers on Prosperity more than any other topic in churches. How many times have we seen many Pastors quote from d book of Revelation? To them it’s more like a curse or something, so they had rather b on d wings of Prosperity than talk abt living a Holy Life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to judge any1, just saying…but it baffles me all the time. And also individuals too, who will pick a chapter to suit d reason why he/she is doing whatever it is that is being done by them…I guess we all have different perspectives on dis issue of the Bible, may God help us all…thanks Walter, for Sharing…

  5. My take: The bible is a book written by imperfect human beings inspired by a perfect God. The bible is subject to different interpretations. The bible is a guide to so many and yet others use it to perpetuate evil and lead many astray. The bible is a book but God’s Word is beyond words, letters. It is life and unless He gives you understanding to these human words written on the pages of a human book, you will not understand a thing. That is why we have theologians, atheists, agnostics who may know the scriptures word for word and yet will not believe in the God of the scriptures.
    God alone gives understanding to the message that is in the bible. Yes, it is not clear. It is not meant to be clear. God never said it was and that was why Jesus stated, ‘though seeing, they will not understand…’ (paraphrased). Hence, to understand, you seek and seek with all your heart, for the word falls like a seed on all types of paths and soil and only few of the seeds find root and grow.
    I sha hope I didn’t take anyone to church this morning.

  6. Sally hits the nail on the head. The Bible is inspired by God.

  7. I am surprised that Walter actually does read his Bible.

    • shakespeareanwalter

      Oluwanonso, I’m surprised that you’re surprised, given how well you know me and how we’ve been close friends for so many years. And how you know where I live and have met me before and know my habits, right down to what my favourite meal is.
      But hey, lemme not stop you from being surprised that I read my bible.

  8. It is important that to write this kind of piece on the bible, one must clearly make a distinction between The Bible and The Word of God. They can be used interchangeably in everyday speak, but to write ‘this’ piece, then you must make a distinction.
    In simple terms, the Bible is the written book which is a documentation of God’s dealings with various people at various times for which He inspired those things that were documented that through it He may continue to speak to believers in Him of all ages. This is what is called ‘the letter of the Word’. The Word of God which is ‘the Spirit of the word’ is that which transcends time and place making words written years ago relevant in every facet of life today. It (the words of the Bible) is made alive by the Holy Spirit to every believer in Christ in every age/time.
    I worry that this piece did not make the extra effort to point out the distiction. There is a tone also, albeit a subtle one, that I am very worried about as this piece seems to encourage believers to feel free and comfortable with the interpretation of scripture on every believer’s whims and caprices. It should however, have encouraged people to seek the accurate interpretation of scripture at all times. Remember Peter saying that God’s Word is not of any private interpretation. Sir, the fact that the practise by many is mindless interpretation of scripture does not mean that it is right neither should it be the norm.
    This your piece would encourage many to add and take from scripture.
    Yes, God is greater than the mere letters of the Bible, but make no mistake, He is not greater than His Word because HE is His Word. Selah.

  9. Sally and Chisom, you are both truly right and so on point. I felt uncomfortable myself after reading what the pastor had to say. He may have had some good intentions, and some of his points may have been accurate, but I think he chiefly succeeded in convincing people to water down the scriptures or at best relegate the bible to the background as some archaic piece of writing, which some people were obviously quick to jump at. Thank you both for clearing things up and introducing a matter which he glaringly missed.

    Fact: The bible is not just “another great book” on the same scale with several others. Whether it was inspired by God or dictated by him, or even written 10,000yrs ago, it exists in a class of its own. It is a human library, yes, but its stories remain the truest guide to every facet of life. To truly understand it and be able to live its principles requires the help of the Holy Spirit, never by logic or our frail human perceptions. It is true that there have been many contrary interpretations by diverse people who claim to have heard from God or the same Holy Spirit, but one thing I have learned is that the Spirit is one and truth recognises truth. If a teaching does not bear the fruit of holiness and righteousness, not a form of godliness but the real thing, then it should be questioned.
    Also, the Lord our God is one God and in him there is no variation or shadow of turning. That being said, I do not believe the scriptures contradict itself. It still boils down to the Holy Spirit giving insight and understanding.
    In conclusion, we cannot know the God in the scriptures without first knowing the God of the scriptures or to put as our dear pastor, “the Bible clearly states,” that a carnal mind cannot understand the things of the Spirit for it is foolishness to him. You wanna understand the bible and not see it as some ancient piece of junk? Get into the Spirit. If you seek him with all your heart, you will find him.
    Shalom

    • shakespeareanwalter

      ‘he chiefly succeeded in convincing people to water down the scriptures or at best relegate the bible to the background as some archaic piece of writing…’

      That’s what you understood from that? From the effort he put in making his readers understand that while the bible contains God’s Word, it should not be revered as much as God Himself…

  10. Haha! Interesting. The writer is right as far as I’m concerned. People can either choose to live in the clouds about what they believe about the bible or come down to earth and face the reality. Take for instance the topic of violence as the writer pointed out. So many people have their own interpretations of what is right based on the bible. Each denomination has its own understanding of what the bible says. The point here is NOT about what the bible was meant for but what y’all are DOING with it. It starts out being called GOD’S WORD and on the next breath its meaning gets extremely personalized. Haha! Laughable! For those who say the writer is encouraging people to interpret the bible in a personal way,you got it wrong, biko. This man is not pointing to you how interpretation should be done but rather how it is CURRENTLY being done. He is not telling us how to interpret but merely showing us how we are interpreting. For those we need the Spirit of God to understand the bible, this doesn’t stop them from readily adopting the interpretations taught to them by their “trusted sources”. Does this “authority” have the Spirit of God? Yes, you scream! And so will a thousand others whose pastors interpret the same scripture differently. And besides, looking at the lifestyle of christians fills me with shame because if understanding the bible is what they need to make good Christians, they have obviously failed. Cos I see hear tongues, blaring speakers and loud music. But I see no light and feel no love. My last point: the letter killeth! We have totally gone right back to the very thing Jesus came to save us from which is “basing our entire salvation on so many details of a written code”. The bible to the christian is THE LAW and now all we hear is “my bible says…my bible says”. The disadvantage is that the SPIRIT is simply TOO LARGE to be contained in any single book and therefore is impossible to contain. When you try to do this, YOU GET STUCK and can remain stunted for years. Why do you think Jesus was killed? Haha! Because he said “it was said unto you (by scripture, what else?) But I say unto you. He taught new truths that were NOT FOUND in the scriptures at the time. Infact, what he taught seemed to me an upgrade. And the short gospel cannot contain the entire UPGRADE.

    • shakespeareanwalter

      Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant!

    • shakespeareanwalter

      And you know what gets me incensed? This extreme reverence that has been placed on the bible – these book of many letters – that has turned the book into something just as holy as God. One day, I mistakenly dropped my bible as I was cleaning my desk at home. And my friend who was in the room flinched.And then scolded me to be careful, that don’t I know it is the bible I’m throwing about like that.
      I said I knew. and returned with, Do YOU know it IS THE BIBLE that I threw on the ground like that?

      The Bible, for heavenssakes, not God.

  11. Hahaha! The candle cannot replace the sun. Case closed!!!

  12. For me, the Bible contains a set of guidelines, a standard raised by God Himself, which I’m intended to tread in order not to go astray! ‘Your Words are a light unto my feet, and a lamp unto my path’! Now, the Bible may not encompass the whole essence of God in itself, but it doesn’t make it any less important! ‘Heaven and Earth shall pass away, BUT my Words shall remain’! These words so spoken ’bout are contained in the Bible! In other words; even as the Bible does not capture in all its entirety, everything that God represents, it contains Words, memorable, indestructible, powerful, result-oriented; that can NEVER be erased or done away with, those Words aren’t fleeting for the now; they’re eternal for all times!

    ‘My Words are Spirit and Life, and did I mention Truth?! Whoever picks up the Bible and expects to just skim through it, like any other literature; and then go on to translating it verbatim, is gravely mistaken! ‘The Letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth understanding’! To read and understand that Great Book, the Holy Spirit who reproofs, guides, directs, instructs, teaches and corrects is highly needed to take us through those scriptures, so we’re well able to apply ’em to our various situations and get meaningful results by ’em!

    At the end of time, when we stand infront of our Maker to give accounts of our time on Earth, we’d be judged based on the standards stipulated in the Bible, a Book that’s not ordinary but extraordinary! A Book that’s got God’s Presence richly embedded in it! ‘In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God; and the Word was God’! That Word was made flesh in the Person of Christ! You can’t separate God from His Word, they’re one and the same! He doesn’t joke with His Words and I know not a place where these Words are greatly documented but inside of the Bible! A Word that will NEVER pass away, but live for all of eternity! May the Good Lord open our eyes of understanding IJN; Amen! Peace y’all!

  13. How about the bible is an instructional pamphlet for a device that knows no bounds… That device here is none other than the King of Kings…

    The bible is a manual that shows you God, gives you an idea of who he is, provides instructions as to how to run our daily lives.
    But all humans are here for a purpose and the bible won’t state that;

    “Hey, Mike Dammy, you would be a Man of God. Take this step, turn this way or go that way…”

    This knowledge can only be gotten from a personal relationship with the device Himself (God).

    His Word is true… True.
    His Word would never go back to him void… True.
    But his Word is endless and the bible won’t add more chapters or books overnight, you can only access that by conversing with the inspiration behind the Bible in the first place. God

    Its an important book, definitely; gives ‘fantabulous’ analysis and details about God but it is not God. God is God.
    Don’t replace him with anything.

  14. Uuuuhmmmmmmmmm! I came to church Pastor! *Crosses legs & slurp on bubble gum*

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