What do you think of the Bible? If you read it or listen to it, how do you hear what it says? Do you consider it the collected opinions of ancient writers or communication from God? If you’re a Christian, you know the expected answer - “It’s God’s Word.”
Yet among Christians, there are differences about what this means. Some think, “Everything in the Bible is from God and we need to pay attention to it.” Others might think, “The Bible teaches us theology – the study of God. We need to learn that but not take the rest of it too seriously.” Still others might say, “The Bible was written by people who followed God during their time. We have to sift out all their cultural biases and get to the base of what God wants from us.” I see a newer development among Christians, which goes something like this. “The Bible reflects the culture, beliefs and practices of the people during the time it was written. Much of these go against what we value. So we need to read the Bible to accept it’s eternal truths (like God is love) but reject cultural biases (like women are second class citizens or polygamy or slavery or slaughtering Canaanites or condemning homosexual relationships).
On top of these differences, we live in a culture with values that go against receiving the Bible as God’s Word to us. The culture values “radical independence regarding lifestyle choices.” This shows up with statements like “NO one tells ME how to live my life.” Some parts of culture value “scientism.” This belief system argues, “The only valid judge about reality is what can be proven or tested by science.” If you can’t test or prove Jesus’ miracles or the crossing of the Red Sea or Jesus’ resurrection, then you take them as inspiring stories that help us cope with life. Another major belief that I see states “We are the most advanced and informed culture in history. Therefore, we can stand in judgment over everything from the past. We are on the ‘right side’ of history.”
So think about how these values or beliefs might affect our Bible reading. We want radical independence regarding lifestyle choices; We believe that the only valid judge about reality is that which can be proven or tested by science; We are the most advanced and enlightened culture in history.” Then we read the Bible and come across God parting the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape from the Egyptians; God’s command to slaughter the Canaanites; King David having multiple wives; New Testament letters instructing slaves how to treat their masters; Paul describing homosexual and lesbian relationships as “Impure, dishonoring and shameless” in Romans 1. With the culture’s values guiding us, it becomes very easy to conclude that the Bible is a collection of ancient human writings that we may study for historical interest. Yet it has little or nothing to say to our modern, advanced world today.
But consider the difference if we looked at the Bible as God’s Word communicated to inspired human authors over a period of maybe 1300 years. We need to learn the culture of that time, so we can understand why God’s words and actions. The more we dig we discover that though the ancients lived in a very different world, they were still people. They had many of the same struggles and difficulties we have. We also discover that historical study and archaeology back up many Bible episodes especially in the life, death and empty tomb of Jesus.
Then we may gain the picture of the eternal God who oversaw this massive writing project to communicate to people then and now about His will, plan and promise for the world. We may also discover that our culture’s cherished values of radical independence, scientism and “we are the supreme culture” turn out to be not so good or correct.
We also learn that doubt about God’s word is not a new problem. 1 Thessalonians 2:13 – “And we thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God which is a work in you believers.”
So I ask again “What do you think of the Bible?” Then, “What has shaped your view?” I pray that we can persevere through all the noise and distraction to discover the beauty, wisdom and wonder of God through His Word.
“Lord God, your Word is eternal. ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ (1 Peter 1:24-25). Help us to hear from You as we approach your Word. Then help us to humbly live out your Word in our lives and before others so they might reconsider their belief and approach to You.”