Friday, July 08, 2011

I love the Bible. Really. (Part 2 of The Bible)

I read, study, preach, and otherwise talk about the Bible for hours every week. It's kind of important to what I do as a pastor. I love scripture. I have dozens of Bibles and hundreds of biblical commentaries. The more I read scripture, the more I love it. I love the incredible melting pot of personalities, love, anger, creativity, emotion, narrative, power, weakness, divinity, humanity, poetry, art, inspiration, and so much more that the Bible is. I love reading about the people of the Bible. I'll never forget staying up late reading my children's bible as a kid (I particularly liked Joseph, David, and Daniel). Today, the gospels sit at the center for me, while Paul's description of the sacrifice of Christ and the community of his Body (the Church) continually inspire and challenge me.

But the Bible is not God, falls well short of God, is temporal, and should not be made more than it actually is. I even believe that the Church is above scripture, always has been, and always will be, even despite our whorish and schismatic brokenness today (a predicament that makes what I'm saying here challenging in orthopraxy, I know).

All by the grace and inspiration of God, the Bible was:
formed by the Church (the people of God),
selected by the Church,
has been maintained by the Church,
and is taught by the Church.

Unless one is part of a church that only reads from the original text in Hebrew, Greek, and the little bit of Aramaic and Latin (meaning no preaching, no teaching, or anything else other than reading verbatim from the original text), this is pretty much how everyone operates. Interpretation has begun the very moment that someone opens their mouth with words other than the text to explain the text.

I am glad that the Bible is the most printed book in all of history, and I am glad that it's so accessible and more accessible every day. I wish everyone in the world had a Bible. But...there is something to the concern that the RCC had about the Bible being in the hands of all during the Reformation. They were wrong in their monopolization and fist-grip, but they were partly right in their concern about what might happen. (As an aside, I loved how the movie The Book of Eli dealt in the slight with this.) Some of the greatest acts of history were inspired by the words of scripture. And some of the worst atrocities of history were supported by the same.

Don't get me wrong: I believe that God will use whatever vessel, means, path, or anything else to reveal Godself to people. If someone wants to begin with the Bible, I believe that God will honor that. But the Bible simply cannot become God, or the only source by which one finds God throughout the whole of life.

Tim Suttle discusses this wonderfully in his new book:
...the Bible is not self-explanatory. Just as the Ethiopian eunuch needed Philip to help him understand what he was reading, we need help as well. No one can read the Bible apart from community. For one thing it is a written document. You cannot read it unless you’ve been taught how to read. One has to know the language, and language is socially and culturally mediated. You have to be taught the meaning of words by someone else before you can read them. No one is born with the ability to read and understand words. For another thing, the Bible was written in languages hardly any of us can read. It has to be translated into a language which we can understand. This means as soon as we pick up an English translation, we are reading a text which has been mediated by someone else. Lastly, the Bible was never intended to be read apart from community. For the first fifteen hundred years of the Bible’s existence, until the invention of the printing press, it was read privately only in very rare cases. Our ability to read comes from community, as does the Bible itself. People love to point to the case of the addict who grabs the Gideon’s Bible from the hotel room and comes to faith in Christ as an individualistic event. But, who taught him to read? Who put the Bible there? Who translated it into English? Who authored it? Who decided what writings would be included and not included in the canon? Much of what we know about God has come to us through community and has been mediated by that community under the guidance of the Spirit. (An Evangelical Social Gospel?: Finding God's Story in the Midst of Extremes, Chapter 5)
That bold and underline emphasis is mine. The Bible is nothing without the Holy Spirit, which I'll deal with in the next post.

This is Part 2 of a series on The Bible.
Part 1 - Chan, the Bible, & Jesus
Part 3 - A Signpost and a Compass
Part 4 - The Wild Goose

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