It’s Time to Use the Bible Competently

Recently, because of my statements about the church and the LGBT, I’ve often been asked if I believe or care what the Bible actually says.  Those discussions led me to write the following:

Here’s some basic Bible information which is known by all mainline biblical scholars.  If your preacher went to seminary, even an ultra conservative one, they should at least be aware of this information.

The Pentateuch has three, maybe four authors and none of them are Moses. There are two creation stories, although John’s version would make it three.  There are two versions of the flood story and two (maybe three) versions of the ten commandments. There are also two accounts of the early kingdoms of Israel with references to other books of record that no longer exist.  There are four gospels. Scholars speculate there was a fifth one that was written earlier.  Each gospel differs in part from the others, sometimes markedly so.  Additionally, there are discrepancies between the events recorded in Acts and the writings of Paul.

The differences are real but they do not invalidate the scriptures unless we insist that they are completely consistent historically, scientifically, and theologically.

The Bible is a collection of books written over hundreds of years. It is a compilation of various theological viewpoints.  For instance, Proverbs often states a promise that God protects and rewards the righteous person.  But the book of Job refutes this viewpoint by telling the story of a man who did everything right, yet nevertheless, God allowed him to suffer terribly. Then the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “What’s the use? It’s all hopeless. Focus on your day’s work and do what God says.” Put all that together and you’re going to have lots of ideas to exchange, and it makes for fascinating discussion designed to make us think and search ourselves.

It’s way past time to set aside the notion that the Bible is a book of definitive rules and laws. It never was. Within the pages there are records of laws that people had for themselves but they weren’t designed to be binding on all cultures for all time.

I’m sorry to break it to you but we have to take more responsibility in ascertaining truth by using our thoughts.  Often we can do this by consensus, particularly when it comes to establishing lawful societies. And when societies evolve, so do the laws. In fact they evolved even within the pages of scripture.

Some people insist that they actually follow the Bible literally but they don’t. They pick and choose the laws they prefer, weave them together into their doctrine, then put God’s name on it. That might be okay but they also inject their biases into their beliefs without even being aware. That’s understandable too, but if they assume that God actually endorses their biases and then attempt to bind people to them, well… then we have a problem.

This is how the rationale was developed that women could be regarded as less than human in earlier times. It’s astonishing how only in the last century they’ve been allowed to vote, borrow money, and have their own businesses.  Some churches still don’t give them a voice, much less ordination. All of this was/is justified by scripture, or I should say by people’s perception of scripture.

Some passages endorse slavery and they were used to justify the owning of persons in the United States until the nineteenth century.

I’m divorced. When I was a young minister divorced people were run out of churches, refused baptism, and prohibited from preaching.  In fact it still happens and the scriptures are used to justify it.

Now we come to the LGBT who continue to be treated as barely tolerated sinners. They are excluded from sanctioned weddings as well as ordination.  People within church walls, often from the pulpit, revile them, using their favorite scriptures.

Such use of the Bible is more than incompetent. It’s more than ignorant. It can be downright wicked.  We do not have license from God through scripture to deny people their dignity and rights.

Want to champion outstanding values, teach right morals, and have good laws? Please, by all means, take responsibility and make it happen.  Use your powers of persuasion.  But don’t expect to get a free pass by saying, “The Bible says so.”

11 thoughts on “It’s Time to Use the Bible Competently

  1. This is an excellent reflection, and spot on. The whole of scripture is a story of love and redemption and so often we turn it in to way to justify our own prejudices and fears and hatreds. Doing so robs all of the beauty and richness from the scriptures and is not what it was ever designed to do or to be. Thanks for writing this! I’m going to share it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A pastor I respect highly once said, “read the Bible, then follow Jesus.” As in, the Bible has a lot in it, but as Christians, we are called to follow CHRIST’s example. You so accurately stated there are many parts of the Bible that are not Christ-like. The “Bible is infallible” believers are what drives many away from Christianity, myself included. Ghandi said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    Liked by 1 person

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