Sunday, October 16, 2011

In what way is the Bible authoritative? Part 1

Several different ways of reading the Bible, each indicative of a different understanding of Scripture, exist. Over the course of four posts, I will explore six different approaches to understanding the Bible, rejecting five, and arguing that the sixth respects the Scriptures as containing everything necessary for salvation while interpreting them in a way that is congruent with a reasonable and more general epistemology.

Christians honor their Scriptures not because the Bible says it is true (many other books and scriptures make this claim) or anyone can prove that God gave us the Bible (many other people claim that God gave them a book or books). Christians honor their Scriptures because generations of people for millennia have found their lives transformed from death to life and from brokenness to wholeness, as they experienced God's light shining through the Scriptures.

First, one can read the Bible as literally God’s word. Notwithstanding widespread claims among Christian fundamentalists about holding this understanding, few people really act as if they think the Bible is literally God's word. If God spoke the words of Scripture, then:

1.    Reading Scripture in the original language is imperative. Any translation loses important nuances and changes meaning. If God actually spoke the words found in Scripture, then God obviously wants people to experience the nuances and flavor of the language in which God spoke.

2.    Obeying every command, including the 613 found in the Old Testament, is equally imperative. Women, for example, during their menstrual period are unclean and thus should not sleep in the community or sit on the same furniture as other people. The people of God should throw stones at anyone who blasphemes (that is, misuses God's name) until that person dies. No believer should lend money to another believer at interest.

3.    Believers will want to spend much time memorizing Scripture, both to learn what it teaches and because few things could be more precious than God's actual words.

If this sounds a lot like Islamism, it should. Muslims believe the Koran is literally the word God spoke to Mohammed. Muslims read and study the Koran only in Arabic (the original language). They seek to follow all of its teachings exactly. And they spend hours and hours memorizing it.

This has never been the prevalent or orthodox Christian understanding of Scripture. Christians identify Jesus, not a written text, as the word of God. Christians were quick to translate the Bible into the vernacular and recognize that not all of its commands are equally binding. Christians have widely believed that reading and studying the Scriptures had the power to transform a person’s life.


Anglizen Dreamer said...

I am quite eager to follow this series. I posted a brief, far less nuanced post on this topic myself about a month ago over on my blog.

While my own stance is very embracing of a symbolic reading, I am curious if you have a specific refutation for those readers who claim the KJV is "more correct" than the original writings. I have more than once had a bible literalist inform me that the KJV translation work was guided by God to correct errors which had crept into the other texts and thus where they vary, the KJV is the actual word of God. Other than a shocking degree of ethnocentrism, I am curious what rebuttals you may have found useful.

George Clifford said...

You pose a good question, one that my current series of posts does not address. I'll write a post on choosing an English version of the Bible to read sometime in the next couple of weeks.