The Most Amazing Book Ever Written
Before I start, let me state that I'm not what most would consider a Christian. I consider myself a follower of Jesus because I attempt to emulate his life— although I often fall far short. I say this not to dissociate myself from Christianity, but to demonstrate that regardless of one's faith, the Bible can still be a wonderful tool to self-understanding and a powerful insight into the nature of God.
The Bible is, in my humble opinion, the most amazing book that was ever written. It is quite obvious to me that it is a divinely inspired book— the living word of God. (And I use "God" out of ease— I don't believe God is male or female, yet encompasses both.) I also think it is the most abused book that has ever been written.
Many Christians use the Bible to "justify" or "prove" their faith. They believe homosexuaility is wrong and point to the Bible as "proof". The problem with this is that the belief that homosexuality is wrong came from their belief in the Bible as the infallible/literal word of God in the first place, and therefore the Bible can't be used as proof of that. It's circular logic and is no different than me writing a book that says wearing orange hats is wrong and when asked for proof, pointing to the book that I wrote as that "proof". It is their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God that makes it the inerrant word of God. Unfortunately, for them to admit that the inerrancy is a result of their faith, they must violate the very faith they are seeking to "prove".
If you think the Bible proves your faith, you have no faith.
Sounds harsh, but it's true. Faith does not require proof. In fact, the idea of proof is contrary to the very definition of faith. Faith involves believing without proof; indeed, it means believing in the face of all "evidence" to the contrary. We can use logic and reason to try to explain our faith to another but faith is beyond logic and reason. If we believe something because there's proof of it, then it's no longer faith. That would be like saying that we have faith in the law of gravity. There is no room for "faith" in the law of gravity because it is constantly being demonstrated.
On the other hand, there are those who say that they can't believe in Christianity because the Bible is full of contradictions. There is just as much false logic in that statement because the contradictions only exist if you accept only the Christian interpretation of the Bible as valid. I don't mean that to sound as if the Christian interpretation is invalid— I don't believe it is. Let me see if I can explain that a little better. The dilemma set up by those who claim they can't follow Christianity because of contradictions in the Bible exists only because they are trying to make Christian interpretation of the Bible fit their non-Christian beliefs. The contradictions exist in attempting to apply the interpretation of one faith to a different faith, not in the Bible itself. For those who believe the Bible is the literal and/or infallible word of God, the argument is made that it is not beyond God's power to make sure his word was kept pure and unaltered in essence and meaning. I agree that it would be well within an omnipotent God's power to preserve his word. But the question is "Did he?" Several years ago there was a story in the newspaper about a printer who had to recall over a million Bibles because one of the commandments read "Thou shalt commit adultery." So while God has the power to preserve his word, he does not always use it. Yes, we caught this mistake ourselves because we've seen the true version so often, and have so many other copies to compare it to. But when the Bible was first transcribed, they didn't have that luxury.
There are several key points to remember when discussing the Bible. First, someone had to write down the stories in the Bible as they were told. If that was the teller himself, there was a good chance that the punctuation and meaning would be correct. But if someone else wrote down what they were told by someone who told someone who told someone....then we have a whole line of possible changes. (Remember playing "Operator" as a kid?) I remember a story I saw online somewhere— can't remember where. (If someone knows, please let me know so I can credit the proper people.) The way I heard it, an English professor was teaching his class about the importance of correct punctuation. He wrote the following words on the blackboard and told his class to punctuate the sentence.
A woman without her man is nothing
After several minutes, the class turned in their papers. Most of the woman had punctuated it to read:
A woman: without her, man is nothing.
Most of the men had punctuated it to read:
A woman, without her man, is nothing.
Two completely different meanings from the same seven words. How easy would it have been when writing down what the writers of the Bible remembered being told to them to insert a comma where there was a pause in the speaking where none was intended— thereby possibly changing the whole meaning of the passage.
Not only that, but what if, when copying (as the monks did) in a candle-lit room with pen and ink, a minute drop of ink fell on the original, making a semi-colon where there had been a comma. (Or a speck of dirt got on the manuscript and was "smooshed" into the paper when the book was closed in preparation of transport from one monastery to another. The possibilities are endless.) There's no other copy to compare it to, so when that copy was copied from, the error was continued. Truth be told, we don't know. It is faith that gives one the belief that the Bible is the infallible word of God, a guidebook, or just another book of ancient myths.
The second key point to remember is that Bible underwent many extensive alterations, especially at the Council of Nicea, in 325 CE. There were whole books that were declared "non-canonical" by the "powers that be". So the books of the Bible are not the only works that are based on the life of Jesus— they're the only ones that were accepted by the Catholic church, which was the "only" Christian church at that time. The Apochrypha contains books that ARE considered canonical in some churches and are NOT in others. There is also great debate about the Gospel of Thomas, which is classified as "gnostic". The point is that it was men who chose the books that are included in what we know as the modern Bible.
The third key point to remember is that God gave us free will. I can see God "using" his power to keep a translation/interpretation correct if one is attempting to do so and asks for God's help in keeping the message pure. BUT if one consciously decides to alter the Bible and God prevents it from happening, he's interfering with man's free will. If God interferes with man's free will even once, man is not responsible for his actions since any can then claim that God interfered and "made them" do something they didn't want to do. That is why the Bible says "Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door shall be opened." If you ASK for God's intervention, that's different. It's not interference.
The fourth key point is the actual translation from language to language. There's a debate in a forum I frequent about the word "before" when placed in a certain passage. Some versions of the Bible have it there and others don't and some give both. If the placement of one such preposition changes the entire meaning of a passage, then how is anyone to know what is meant when translating from a "dead" language to one not even in existence when it was written? There are those who say that the Bible taught that the earth was spherical long before science proved it because the ancient Hebrew word for round also meant spherical. The problem is that while all spherical things are round, all round things are not spherical. Which meaning was intended by the original writer? That becomes a matter of faith because we will never know.
I think the Bible itself gives clues to how it is supposed to be considered. The first few books of the Bible are a lot of stories and laws— very specific laws. How big to make temples and arks, what color to make altar cloths, what animals to offer as sacrifice for what occasions. It sounds much like a parent giving a small child instructions on what to do and not do. (You can't say to a 2 year old "Behave". You have to say more than even "Don't write on the walls." You have to say "Don't write on the walls with markers, pens, pencils, nail polish, toothpaste, ketchup or lipstick.") Even God ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son is not much different than a parent telling a child to do something simply because they said to do it with no explanation given because the child would not understand the explanation.
As the people of Israel matured spiritually, God took Moses up to the mountain and he came back with the ten commandments. Kind of like a 10 year old now with a list of dos and don'ts. But like a ten year old's list, there is now more room for interpretation. Is it "bearing false witness" to tell your brother you haven't shopped for his birthday gift yet so you can hide it in your room without him looking for it? It is technically a lie— but is it a sin? Is it dishonoring your parents if you tell your dad that you don't want to hear a racist joke he's repeating to a crowd of your relatives? There are more "grey areas" in the ten commandments that are missing from the very explicit laws given in, say, Leviticus.
Then came Jesus. He "compacted" all those laws and commandments into the two greatest commandments: Love God and Love your neighbor as you Love God. This allows for even MORE personal interpretation. Is having multiple partners adultery if it's with the consent and approval of all the partners? Is being gay okay? If no one is being hurt and if the motivation for the actions is Love, then how is it in violation of the two greatest commandments? Now almost the entire sphere of human existence is a "grey area".
The Bible shows us the story of a people who were spiritually maturing and how the rules given to them by God changed with them. "Changed" in the sense that more personal freedom was given— but NOT in their INTENT: to Love God and to Love your neighbor as you Love God. Just like a father tells a two year old what to do to "honor" mom on Mother's Day, in the early parts of the Bible, God explained to the Israelites what to do to "honor" him. But just like an 18 year old is free to do things other than what he was shown at 2 to honor his mom on Mother's Day, so too is a spiritually mature person free to do other than what was shown to him/her in their spiritual infancy— as long as it fulfills the intent of the earlier laws. The entire story of the Bible reveals to us that the Bible is a book that teaches spiritual maturity and as such, the "specifics" will keep changing while the intent remains the same. Any attempt, therefore, to rigidly cling to the same interpretation all of one's life is in essence disallowing spiritual growth.
And finally, there is the fact that Jesus spoke in parables, which can have meaning on so many levels. As such, it too speaks to interpreting the Bible at the level of spiritual maturity of the reader. This means that there are literally an infinite number of ways to interpret the Bible. This can already be seen in the hundreds of Christian sects that are in existence. Each one thinking they have the most correct intepretation of the Bible. Now comes the part where I show you why the Bible is the most amazing book ever written.
Despite all the various interpretations, despite the misuse of the Bible as "proof" that by one that another's faith is wrong, the Bible STILL is contradiction free for each and every one of those faiths— no matter how widely divergent they appear to be— when viewed from within the faith. And even more amazing, the Bible reveals even more truths as the faith of the believer grows— the deeper the faith, the deeper the truth. That speaks to me of a divinely inspired and truly awesome book. To be able to stand true for so many different faiths under so many different circumstances over the course of almost 2000 years....I can see why people refer to it as the "Living Word"-- because it is alive. The problems come not from the many interpretations or from the Bible itself but from those who read/use the Bible and insist that their interpretation is the right one for everyone.
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