Regardless of an individual’s background, the word “Bible” invokes deep emotions and understandings to almost everyone who hears it. Unfortunately, much of the time they are more negative than positive. The feelings that many have towards the bible start where people define what the bible is. There is an old joke among mainline clergy of the pastor who got up in front of his congregation and said “If the King James Version was good enough for Jesus Christ it is good enough for me!” He said this with the connotation that the King James Version dated back to Jesus Christ. To him this meant that everything in it was the way God wanted, and there were no mistakes.
The truth of that version is that a King with a questionable lifestyle wrote it in the 1500’s. He used the writing of that version to further his political standing. While he did not change the overarching understandings or themes in the bible, the translators made some translation choices that many scholars today look back on and question. On one hand it brought many “R” rated parts down to “PG” and introduced concepts that we still debate today, one being the sections having to do with homosexuality. Here you can begin to see the problem, many people read the bible as the inerrant Word of God, but the bible was written and translated by people, so while it may have begun pure, the versions we have today have lost a bit of that through the translations. This is why we encourage people to use multiple versions of the bible in bible studies.
Another issue is something that most 9 year-olds pick up on pretty quickly when they read the Adam and Eve story. Some will ask, “If everything was created, why would it be created again a different way?” But my favorite question is “If Adam and Eve were the first people, how come they found other people when they were kicked out of the garden?” Good questions!
The first is a sign of the multiple writers of the Pentateuch and rest of the Old Testament. Tradition stated that the Old Testament was written all by Moses and another that God wrote it himself; however, this is most likely not the case. As scholars have worked through the original texts, some that were merely fragments, they have seen distinct writing styles for different parts, suggesting that there were multiple people who were writing these witnesses. As we move to the New Testament, we know for sure that God did not write it, since the witness of each book is ascribed to a particular writer.
There is an underlying inconsistency in the bible. The first and most obvious one is the question of Adam and Eve finding other people when they leave the garden. The bible was NOT written to be a users manual for life, nor was it written to be an accurate account of history. The bible WAS written to be a faithful accounting of God. Therefore, all of the stories, poems, songs, laments, wisdom, and revelation all point to an inscrutable but loving God.
The problem is that when people make these blanket statements about inerrancy and infallibility in the bible, they tend to miss the point that the bible as a whole is a witness. Now as we know with witnessing anything, there are many limitations. Just think of my sermons each week and the discussions we have. Everyone interprets what I say a little differently based on his or her perspectives and understandings. Does it make their perspective any less valid? No! In fact, it makes it even more valid.
The Bible is a powerful witness that shows us over and over again the relationship that God longs to have with us. It speaks to God’s desire that we know love. While it is a witness, it is a special witness because its inspiration and guidance come from God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen