Faith Column: Holy book should be considered in context
The Bible’s a peculiar book. Actually, it’s not really the Bible’s fault.
I blame it on Christians — as usual — and our tendency to oversimplify and idolize the book above God.
The ancient text is filled with black comedy, erotic literature, wartime accounts, heart-wrenching poetry and instructive letters. Some of it is allegorical, other parts presumably factual. It covers themes ranging from hope to betrayal, to redemption to lust, to justice, to exile, to love. It tells the tale of a deeply flawed group of people united by their faith in God and their journey through the centuries.
But, it’s not discussed like it’s any of those things. The Bible, in my experience within the Church, is considered to be a textbook; it contains life lessons — it’s infallible. As Killah Priest rapped on GZA’s Liquid Swords in 1995, the Bible serves as basic instructions before leaving earth. Verse and chapter numbers have allowed and encouraged readers to fragment the Bible, and pick out specific pieces that reinforce their world-view.
This practice is seriously problematic. As alluded to, the Bible is an epic story. It’s not an instruction manual. By understanding the Bible as unquestionable fact , which many Christians profess to do, readers create a triple-layered paradigm that I consider to be unhelpful for engaging in the text.
This is usually defended with a verse in Paul’s second letter to Timothy that said “all Scripture is God-breathed” (3:16), but that’s a tad inadequate. It simply doesn’t take into account the three key issues with the philosophy.
Firstly, most of what was said in the Bible was descriptive, not prescriptive. It means many of the stories served to record history and legends and not suggest behaviour. For example, we’re not meant to repeat the experience of Solomon and his 700 wives and 300 concubines (although those numbers are likely an exaggeration). We’re meant to read the story, laugh at the idiocy of Solomon and move on.
On that note, the second issue in the paradigm is that such a belief in Biblical literalism ignores that the Bible was written by flawed people who authored the texts within a specific time period for a specific audience. This doesn’t, however, disqualify the stories told. It just means the writings of the books and letters are not, and should not, be immune to criticism. They should be read alongside teachings about ancient culture, religion and thought.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the understanding of the Bible as the end-all-be-all confines God to the text and says the story of redemption is essentially over. This couldn’t be farther from the truth or from the traditions of other religions. In Judaism, which is the parent of Christianity, the Talmud is equally as important as the Torah. The latter is the first five books of the Bible. The former is a collection of thoughts and arguments between rabbis over the centuries about how to interpret the writings of the Torah. The Jews believe the conversation about redemption is still ongoing through the Talmud.
This idea of ongoing conversation is extremely necessary. If the conversations we have, the books we read, the folklore we inherit and the art we enjoy can’t be as “God-breathed” as the Scriptures then we’re in some seriously depressing times. That would mean God no longer speaks in the same way she/he did in the past.
I’m confident God still speaks. The Bible tells some triumphant and tragic stories, but is certainly not the end of the narrative.