Friday, August 12, 2011

A Bumper Sticker Doesn't Do The Job

Years ago I was interviewed by a search committee for a congregation in my denomination. They were looking for a pastor; I was considering a change in my career path. I didn't have great hopes for this particular opportunity, given what I had heard about the congregation, but it was close to where I lived. So, I checked it out.

In the course of the interview a woman on the committee asked the defining (for her) question: "Do you believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God?"

I said, "No," and I knew that marked the end of my candidacy. I went on to explain that the scriptures are a witness to the faith of the people who wrote the words on the parchments over a period of 900 years or so, and that modern believers need to exercise some care and wisdom in interpreting that witness within the context of our times. After all, the texts were written in different eras, in non-English languages, in countries far away where cultures, traditions, and world-views differed vastly from our own. The Bible didn't just fall from the sky, intact as a rule book written by God with 20th or 21st Century North Americans in mind.

But, I guess I'm wrong -- at least in the eyes of many who find it a religious virtue to embrace the scriptures "AS IS," despite contradictions and factual and historical errors found throughout.

Now I read there is a 53-year (and counting) effort to "correct" the text, specifically the Hebrew Scriptures, referred to by Christians as the Old Testament. The "Bible Project," as it is known, "shows that this text at the root of Judaism, Christianity and Islam was somewhat fluid for long periods of its history, and that its transmission through the ages was messier and more human than most of us imagine."

I think some of us already were aware of that at least being a possibility...

Manuscripts discovered in caves and elsewhere don't always match. Stories were transmitted orally around camp fires for generations before they ever were written down. Editors and compilers had their own agendas. On it goes.

On one level, I suppose I can understand why the scholars of the Bible Project are trying to get everything aligned and as accurate as possible. But, to what end?

We can't nail down God (That's been tried; it didn't work. See "Christ, Jesus"). It strikes me that the more we try to do something like that, the more of an effort we are making to take ownership of God. The word "domesticate" comes to mind.

Personally, I find the scriptures to be what I call a "living word." This living word inspires people throughout time as they wrestle with their realities in life and the world. The message of God's love for humanity and Creation shines through the ancient texts from beginning to end. That message alone can keep us going.

God and my faith are not threatened by the possibility that allegory, parable, or myth were devices used to try and explain the mysterious ways that God interacts with who/what God has created. In fact, I find it liberating to understand that God is deeper and more pervasive than anything ever written to describe God's nature and being, because long-ago perceptions of reality often just don't compute in our post-modern milieu.

Taking the scriptures strictly at face value, frankly, is too small for me, and certainly sells God short. It simply cannot be all there is when you're talking about The Eternal and Almighty.

It seems, though, we don't have to be concerned about the Bible Project causing great upheaval any time soon in Biblical awareness and understanding: "This is an endeavor so meticulous, its pace so disconnected from that of the world outside, that in more than five decades of work the scholars have published a grand total of three of the Hebrew Bible's 24 books. (Christians count the same books differently, for a total of 39.) A fourth is due out during the upcoming academic year. If the pace is maintained, the final product will be complete a little over 200 years from now."

Meanwhile, God's Word speaks to the lives of people diverse, distant, and unique.

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