The Bible, Part 6 (the end)

 

Now for the final part of this series. The other parts are here: Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

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John 3, Wycliffe Translation, Lutterworth Church

John 3, Wycliffe Translation, Lutterworth Church

Let me try to pull together briefly what all of the previous posts say: My view of the Bible is that it is the inspired, but not dictated, Word of God. That all of it is useful and can teach us truth, but not all of it is historical fact. That it contains everything that we need to know, but does not work out all of the implications of that knowledge.

Let me finish by saying a couple of things of a more technical sort about how I approach Scripture. First, as I stated at the very beginning, the Bible is a library not a single book and contains many different forms of writing. Each of these has its own rules, and it should be noted that even for those forms that seem most familiar the rules may have changed. For instance, the Gospels, though they look like biographies, are not so in the modern sense. If we insist on reading the Bible using different rules than the ones it was written under we should not be surprised if we find it lacking or, worse, find ourselves in error.

Secondly we must be aware of both the cultural background and the use of idiomatic language. Further, we must allow the authors to use words in their normal, imprecise, ways and not get overly pedantic. For instance, when the gospel writers tell us that “all Jerusalem” went to hear John the Baptist this is obviously a very loose, everyday use of “all”. On the other hand when Paul says that God put “all things” under Christ we can accept that he means that literally (especially when he himself points out that he means all created things, so that obviously God Himself is exempt).

Thirdly we must look for and accept as primary the plain meaning of the words. I do not believe that God has hidden deeper truths behind the surface ones. That is not to say that we cannot with justice use a subtle or allegorical reading of one text to reinforce or illustrate a truth plainly stated elsewhere, but without that caveat we are like people staring at static on a television screen—look long enough and you will find patterns, not because there is any meaning in the static but merely because finding patterns is one of the things our brains are designed to do best.

Along those lines let me end by saying that I am a firm believer in Occam’s razor. If a text is open to several interpretations, all of which adequately explain it, then the simplest one is to be preferred. This is probably due in large part to my scientific training, but I think that it is a very sound principle and will stop us from finding miracles where none are needed nor implied by the authors, and other such fancies.

We need not fear for the Bible, as some seem to, thinking that if we come to it with all of our mental faculties fully engaged we will find it somehow less. That could only be true if it is less than the Word of God. Let us have the courage of our convictions and plunge in with all we have, for it demands no less! We shall discover truth, though probably not the naive truths that were dancing in our heads when we stood on the banks. But, more importantly, we will meet God.

 

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