Is The Bible The Word Of God?
Since very few people had the ability to read, the Bible was read, copied and interpreted by the priests. Almost from the very beginning of the Christian Church, the Scriptures were viewed as sacred and inspired by God. When the Councils declared the Bible closed, to many Christians Godís revelations were now complete. So grew a long tradition about the nature of the Scriptures.
What differentiated the Bible from other written material was the authority given to it by believers and the official sanction from Church leaders that proclaimed the words therein came from God. This core belief placed the Scriptures on a pedestal for the rest of history. For some believers the words became God. Almost immediately the task facing the Church was the integration of the books into a meaningful story.
Confusion arose among believers who began to question Divine authorship. For example, there were two creation stories found in Genesis where the editor was obviously gathering and including material from different traditions. Which tradition was correct? I and II Kings and I and II Chronicles cover the same period of history but their content and their historical perspectives are different.
As biblical scholarship began moving beyond faith and into the realm of inquiry and careful scrutiny, form criticism became a major challenge for Church leaders. As computers and highly trained linguists dissected each text, it became obvious to the researchers that many books were the product of numerous authors. Their style and word choice varied widely within the same book. The names for God, for example, became a verbal marker that described the tradition from which the material was drawn, e.g., Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim, Jehovah, El, etc.
Even though the evidence was clear that biblical authors were no different from other writers, few scholars wanted to challenge directly that Godís Word was suspect. When a thought pattern of faith has stood the test of time, it often becomes truth even though overwhelming evidence points to the contrary. An example is the on-going clash today between Creationists and Evolutionists. Fossils that are millions of years old will not persuade believers that the world was not created in seven days.
Equally, understanding Godís nature from the Scriptures can be very confusing. Did God kill the first-born children of the Egyptians when Pharaoh resisted Mosesí demands? (Exodus 12:12) Did God drown the Egyptian army for the purpose of proving His superiority? (Exodus 14:17f) When contrasted with Jesusí imagery of Godís nature, God either matured or later writers adjusted their perceptions.
It appears obvious from the Scriptures themselves that they tell another story from the one ascribed to them by faith and tradition. The major fear is that if the Bible is not Godís Word, it will lose its authority for offering guidance to life. This fear is baseless, however, because God is in charge of how creation unfolds, not the Bible.
There is nothing powerful enough to prevent Godís design from being accomplished. Our beliefs about Godís Will or Godís Word are only contributing factors to how some believers perceive. Revelations about the nature of truth will continue to expand as the mind of humankind stretches beyond its current boundaries.
For some people the Bible contains the literal word for word thoughts from God. For others, the Bible reflects the best judgments and thoughts from ancient authors regarding humanityís relationship with God and Godís response.
What will remain under the purview of each believer is to understand which Scriptures are metaphor, which ones are folklore shared by many middle-eastern cultures and which ones contain valuable insights. People who reverence the Scriptures need to consider how the words inspire them to stretch beyond their known limits.
For example, whether the stories like creation of the world in seven days or Noah and the Ark are fact or folklore may not encourage believers to take leaps of faith. They may not delay our need for gratifying our material desires, but a teaching of Jesus not to covet might do so. Such stories may not enable us to silence our resentment by letting go of some gross injustice to us, but a teaching by Jesus on forgiveness might do so.
Believers who have stitched together an inclusive unfolding of Godís plan from the Biblical account often hold others in contempt if they believe otherwise. The charge is made that ďIf you reject Godís Word, in essence, you reject God.Ē Such thought patterns reveal what is at the heart of Christian divisiveness.
Some believers are stakeholders in keeping Godís Will confined to a book because their faith is anchored in a plan for salvation that culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus. There are countless points of view and numerous alternative theologies that have been discerned from the same Scriptures. Definitions of the Bible are and will probably remain vastly different. The question remains, do these differentials really matter?
What is unmistakably clear from the lives of all believers is how well they can make visible what they do understand. From this standpoint the origin of their frame of reference does not matter. For example, Jesus referred only sparingly to the biblical writers during his ministry. What empowered him was his understanding of what God was doing through him, not the authority of the Scriptures. Guidance for living comes from two words Jesusí spoke Ė ďFollow me.Ē When we do, what the Bible is may not matter.