The Bible

John 3, Wycliffe Translation, Lutterworth Church

John 3, Wycliffe Translation, Lutterworth Church

I have thought long and hard on the subject of the Bible. There are many very important questions that need to be faced. Too many shy away from this confrontation and take sanctuary either in a simplistic affirmation or an equally simplistic rejection of it as the Word of God. Things are rarely simple and, if I am honest, I am glad of that. C. S. Lewis made the point that those who ask for a simple religion are ignoring the fact that the world is not a simple place. It is not the answers that are the most valuable, but the quest, and these next few posts are a statement of where I am on my quest.

In this first part I will lay out the two big questions I intend to look at and to answer some answers to the first question that I think are either wrong or incomplete. Then, in the next part I will give my answer to the first question. The second question will follow in the succeeding posts.


There are two questions that we must all eventually answer about the Bible if we are to think seriously about spiritual matters at all. They are simply 1) what is the Bible about—that is, what is the story it tells? And, 2) Given that it is not a book but a library, and that of different types of book (and also that even within a single book there may be different genres of literature used), how do we approach the different parts in our search for a fully synchronized, harmonized understanding?

Now, some may question the use of the word eventually in the preceding paragraph. Given the importance of the questions and their central role in our quest for understanding, surely we need to answer them first, before we try to approach the Bible. And this has, indeed, been the approach in certain circles within the Church. In the older Roman Catholic tradition, for instance, the Bible was kept out of the hands of the laity and its interpretation left solely in the hands of those especially equipped for the task. This practice (which is not confined to the Roman Catholic Church) rests on two erroneous foundations: One is that the average lay person is either too ignorant or too lazy to learn, the other is that one needs the answers to the questions posed before as a prerequisite. The answer to the first of these errors is that there are very few people who lack the intelligence to attempt the task and, if there are some who are too lazy, then our proper response should be to goad them into action, not to condone their laziness by doing all of the work for them.

Now let us look more closely at the seemingly reasonable assumption that we need the answers before we encounter the book. Whether or not such a situation would be best in some ideal world of our imagination, the simple fact is that this is not the way things work in this world. It is rather like asking to know the characteristics of one’s future spouse before one has met them. One may have a list of “desirable” traits, things one believes one wants in one’s spouse, but whether or not the actual spouse possesses them will only become known in the long and difficult process of interacting with them. This is the general pattern in most endeavours. Our knowledge of any object (person, thing, idea) only follows our interaction with the object and is continually coloured and refined by our ongoing interactions with it. So it is with the Bible: As we immerse ourselves in it so our interaction with it (and with God by the working of His Spirit) creates and refines our appreciation of it.

So then it is now my task to set down as clearly as I can the results of my own encounter with the Bible (and its ultimate author) with respect to these two great questions. I do so for two reasons: The first is so that whatever I have found that is of God may bless the reader, but the second is more selfish—and to me more important—reason that I know that in so doing I will again add colour and definition to my own understanding. Let me start with the first question.

Almost everyone who has studied the Bible (and many who have not) has an idea of what it is. For many it is “the Word of God” and for some, particularly Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, it is the “inspired and inerrant Word of God”. Now, whilst I would agree with the first and even, with a few serious caveats, the second, I will say that neither really answers the question. In fact, they are both more properly part of the answer to the second question. The first question asks what the Bible is about, its story; To tell me about its author or its merits does not help in this respect.

Others may say that it is the story of man’s journey from ignorance to a full and intimate knowledge of God. This is nearer the mark, but since it tells me little about the nature of that relationship it still feels lacking. However, once again this truth will greatly influence our answer to the second question, for the knowledge that there is a progression in the understanding of the various authors will be critical when we come to balance the different parts.

I am sure that by now some readers will be eager to say that the Bible is the story of man’s salvation by God. And, of course, I will agree wholeheartedly that the Bible does, indeed, contain that very thing, that it does, in fact, make up most of the book. But notice that I said “contain”, which implies that the story that the Bible tells is larger than that of salvation, that there is a context in which the story of salvation is a sub-plot, albeit a very important one.

Next time I will set out what I believe to be that larger story.



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6 Responses to “The Bible”

  1. robstroud Says:

    I’m looking forward to the next installment of your reflections on this subject.

    • thoughtfulspirituality Says:

      Thanks. The next part will come on Wednesday. Turns out this is going to be longer than I anticipated, so the “story” will be in 2 posts, then the answer to the second question will be probably at least two more.

  2. The Bible, Part 2 « thoughtfulspirituality Says:

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    […] to part three. (Read part 1 and part 2 if you missed them). Last time I started to tell what I see as the great over-arching […]

  4. The Bible, Part 5 « thoughtfulspirituality Says:

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  5. The Bible, Part 6 (the end) « thoughtfulspirituality Says:

    […] for the final part of this series. The other parts are here: Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part […]

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