Thursday, December 2, 2010


I've found myself reflecting on some statements about scripture that I've heard recently. People tend to say lots of different things about scripture (and all kinds of other stuff) to pastors, but the two statements that currently are capturing my attention are:

I see the bible as a book of history.
The bible's primary concern is helping us become better people.

These are separate statements, but I believe that they are related, because neither takes scripture seriously enough.

To the first statement: If scripture is a book of history, I can find much more reliable accounts in myriad other locations. If I want to know history, I'll check the library, with it's many books that were better researched and documented before they were written; I'll check written documents from other cultures to see what their accounts of events are. If I want to know history, I'll keep in mind that the documents in the bible are written from the perspective of one particular group of people, and I'll remember that everything must be assumed to be biased toward the person or group who produced the document. And beyond all that, I'll dig into the archaeological records.

To treat scripture as a historical document ignores the truth that it is a story of the way a particular people has experienced their relationship with G-d, the creator of the universe and giver of life. If I only encounter history in scripture, I never encounter the living G-d.

To the second statement: Certainly there are examples in scripture of people behaving badly. Certainly there are examples in scripture of people behaving well. Certainly there are admonitions against immoral actions, and there are encouragements toward better behavior. But truthfully, there's a whole self-help section in the bookstore (not to mention advice columns) that provide advice that's less ambiguous than scripture. I can't imagine what Dear Abby would have to say about the appropriateness of an adulterous murderer ruling a nation, a poor illegal alien in the messianic genealogy, or a hot-headed coward becoming the leader of the church.

Scripture speaks much less to morality, and much more to the relationship between the living G-d of the universe and the broken and hurting creation that tends more toward death than toward life.

If scripture is mostly history, it's flaccid. If scripture is mostly morality, then I (for one) have no choice but to despair, because I will never measure up.

If, on the other hand, scripture is an encounter with the divine, then scripture becomes authoritative in providing hope ~ and without hope, I'm lost.


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