by Steve Kindle
In a very real sense, there is no such thing as the Bible. Especially in such statements as, “The Bible says….” Oh, sure, there are books that have “Holy Bible” imprinted on them. The Bible is an anthology, really; composed of 66 compositions written over a 1000-year period by many known and unknown authors and includes items from much earlier times. The various pieces were brought together over the centuries until its final form emerged in the 4th century C.E. Even then the canon (approved books) was not uniformly accepted. It is the bestselling volume of all time, even as it’s the most neglected. Copyists and translators gave their lives to produce it, and it is considered the greatest influence on the Western world.
Yet, the Bible does not exist. It does not exist in what most Christians (and others) think of as the Bible, a univocal, time transcendent bearer of unequivocal truths from the very mouth of God, albeit transferred by the hands of men. Rather, the Bible is very much a time-bound book that argues with itself, represents outlooks from various traditions often in opposition, which often displays the frailties of humanity as characteristics of God, and shows a God who evolved through time. It is a shape-shifting, amorphous compendium of some 31,102+/- verses that have been contorted into any position a person wishes to take. The Bible doesn’t exist.
What we have is a Bible made up of anyone’s choice in anyone’s mind. If you doubt me, how do you explain the diversity of the Bibles trotted out beginning with “The Bible says.” What always is meant, yet seldom understood, is “the Bible I have in my mind says….” These are the only Bibles that exist.
And we love these Bibles, as they are of our own creation. Much like our own children, they carry our DNA. They are created in our own image. As Anais Nin so perceptively observed, “We do not look at the world as it is. We look at the world as we are.”
The foregoing is not a condemnation; it is a reality check. If we are going to make any progress at all we must know what we are dealing with. The place to begin, it seems to me, is to recognize that since the Bible is what we make it, we must understand this and know how this happens. In many ways, this is a freeing exercise.
Knowing that we pick and choose as we make our way through the text, we are also aware that the same is true for others. Therefore, we learn to hold our points of view more humbly and tentatively. It also frees us up to actually learn from others who have come to different conclusions (a different “Bible”, if you will). And it helps us see how the various themes of the Bible came together—in much the same way as how we put our personal Bibles together.
One of the easiest ways to see this at work is by comparing Deuteronomy with Ecclesiastes, which is just what the author did. The author of Ecclesiastes looked around his world and found many reasons to see the flaws in the theology of Deuteronomy. And his observations, arguments really, which opposed Moses himself, were included in the canon! Utterly amazing. This certainly is precedent for critical thinking applied to the Bible rather than trying to harmonize the often-disparate material. We often overlook the fact (or choose to turn our eyes away) that Jesus took it upon himself to upgrade the Torah in the “Sermon on the Mount” with his “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you….”
Once we admit that the “Bibles” we carry around with us in our minds are of our own construction, we are ready to deal with the actual Bible which will always elude us in its totality. Yet, as we learn to live humbly with one another, the highest calling of our sacred texts which promotes love over all else will finally win the day. That’s a Bible we can all use with profit.
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