A great deal of discussion goes on in our political arenas, between people of different faith traditions, and among coworkers regarding the Bible. Does one’s point of view on gay marriage depend on what the Bible says? Why should that be? How people approach opinions and decisions seems to be based in part or at times in whole what they believe about the Bible. People who believe the Bible is written by God approach life differently from people who don’t believe it’s more than a collection of myths. The following things about the Bible come from scholarly input. Readers are certainly welcome to opinions. Opposing points of view are healthy in helping people learn as long as they are respectful and assert a viewpoint without being demeaning. Maintaining this is appreciated.
1. God didn’t write it. It is not a complete work written as a unified book as we now have it, authored by God through the hands of people to be written exactly word for word as God would have it.
2. Not all times and places in the Bible are the same, therefore it’s not all the same message. The first five books were written around the year 900 BCE (Before Common Era – what is often referred to as “B.C.”, meaning “Before Christ.”)
3. The Bible doesn’t tell us everything about God because God is too infinite to be contained within a million books, much less just one.
4. It is not translated from the original documents because humankind has not had any of the original documents since long before the development of the English language.The Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, was finally collected into the present form used to translate English Bibles around the year 1,000 C.E. (Common Era), or about 1,000 years ago. As far as archaeologists have found, none of the original documents exist. The New Testament is translated from some 2,000 manuscripts, none of which are complete in and of themselves, and none of which date to be any older than about the year 250 C.E., or so. More on the diversity of sources and how the Bible seems to have been put together can be found in the 19 Aug 2013 article at The Center for Study and Preservation of the Majority Text.
5. The Bible is a faith work, a collection of deeply devout faith experiences that relate to us the story of how God is at work and present among God’s people. It is a human work of real human hurts, hopes, joys, and experiences combined with humans’ encounter of the Divine. It is their accounting of the creative power at work in the world and in their lives. It is their experience of how they came to understand that God is the only true source of life, and that there is one source rather than multiple, humanistic gods. It is their experience of how they developed deeper relationship with this source.
6. Moses did not actually write the first five books of the Bible. They were compiled from various sources that scholars call the Jahwist, the Elohist, the Priestly, and the Deuteronomic. These are described more fully in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Book 1) from Abingdon Press. The first five books of the Bible recount the experience of the Hebrew people as it was passed down orally over centuries about their understanding of how the world was created, how they came to understand themselves as God’s people, how they ended up in slavery in Egypt, and how they were freed and came to settle in the “Promised Land” that became the nation of Israel.
7. The New Testament recounts an entirely new way of looking at relationship with, and experience of God. It tells of how the creative power of God was fully realized in the person of Jesus. Various books and letters relate the accounts of those who came to experience that creative power and how it changed their lives. It tells of how that creative power was perceived as being present in the world even though the person of Jesus was gone.
8. Whether we believe the literal, historical account of scripture as being inerrant, that is without error or contradiction, seems to be irrelevant. What is completely relevant, and perhaps most important in our understanding and knowing God, is whether we believe that these accounts are written from real encounters with the source. Maybe it doesn’t matter so much whether we believe that the Bible is factual, but maybe what is most important is that we believe that it comes from the writers’ authentic experience of God. They were trying in the best way possible to give written account of what is indefinable, impossible to capture in the written or spoken word, and so vast that it cannot be bound by description. But the more we read of their accounts we begin the process of learning who God is and of knowing God. The more we open ourselves to our own encounter with what is eternal, what is beyond.