The Bible is a BIG book. A really big book. Not nearly as big as the entire Wheel of Time trilogy put together, but at least as big as two of the books. It’s about 800,000 words, depending on the translation. From the Christian perspective, that’s a lot of perfection. Many Christians – most that I’ve met – consider the Bible to be the irrefutable, if often misinterpreted, word of God. That means that every one of those 800,000 words needs to be true in some way that is always applicable, never negotiable.
To me, this is one of the greatest stumbling blocks on the path to Christianity, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The Bible says an awful lot of really good things about loving each other, being kind, being generous, meeting the needs of your community, and in general gives a pretty solid guideline on living a just and moral existence on this mortal coil. Even if you hate what someone is doing, the Bible is pretty clear that you’re supposed to love them anyway. That’s a good thing. That’s tolerance – not a message we hear often associated with Christianity in the media.
But, to me, the Christian view is necessarily all-or-nothing. Either you believe everything the Bible says or you believe nothing of what the Bible says. Or, perhaps I should rephrase that as either you believe everything the Bible says or you’re not a Christian. I certainly believe a lot of things that the Bible says – don’t kill people, don’t lie to people, etc. – but I just as certainly don’t believe everything that the Bible says.
So, every time I read the Bible (which has been several times, for certain sections) I keep finding myself stopping and saying, “No, that’s wrong. I don’t agree with that.” And then it makes me want to put the book down completely, because with each stopping point there closes a door between me and Christianity. I think there is a logical contradiction in saying “you need to take some of the Bible with a grain of salt” and also saying it’s the infallible word of God. There are phrases in the Bible, such as “It is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church” (1 Cor. 14:33-35) and, and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 reaffirms that sort of thought when it says that a man should never be taught by a woman.
There are many other examples in the Bible, but this isn’t a post trying to pick apart specific phrases; it’s about looking at the Bible as a whole and why that’s a tough thing to swallow for me personally. The point is that there are bits and pieces of the Bible that I’m pretty sure I’ll never agree with. To me, that’s a break in the logical chain – I can never become Christian. Right? Well, that’s how I feel sometimes.
“Taking it with a grain of salt” is often confused with “context.” Context is king, I’ve been told, and I agree. Context is important. Context, however, is in the hands of the person interpreting it. The church has used context to evil ends many times, so it makes me wonder if context is really that important after all. If we misinterpreted the bible to support segregation (applying a different context to passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that said not to mix races), are we now misinterpreting passages that say that homosexuality is wrong? How are we to know if anything in the Bible is being interpreted correctly if context has caused the church to fracture a hundred different ways over two thousand years? All of this is sitting on the foundation of the biblical canon being chosen by a bunch of old men in a closed room 400 years after the death of Christ. Whew. That’s really tough for me to wrap my head around.
I’ll actually be meeting with a pastor relatively soon to talk about this issue, and I’ll definitely share the results of that conversation.
I don’t intend to solve the problem here, only talk about what’s been on my mind. If I could eliminate some of the stuff in the Bible that doesn’t make sense to me, I’d probably be more inclined to become a Christian. In fact, I generally agree with everything that Jesus says all throughout the New Testament. He gives some incredible advice – some of which is tough love, too. If I could be a Christ-Follower instead of a Christian, I might consider it (though Jesus throws a few curveballs, too). I think it’s sad that the church focuses a lot more on Paul, who, in my opinion, was kind of an asshole. But that’s tangential – I’ll write another post on that another time.
I don’t pretend to be a Biblical scholar or apologist, but I do know that if you have to eat the Bible whole, I’m not convinced I can stomach it. I can’t simply ignore the massive book of violence and God-Wrath that is portions of the Old Testament, how God seems to have turned off his Smite switch when Jesus came around, etc. even if I believe that Jesus had the right idea. Jesus came to cancel out some of the Old Testament, yes, but not all of it. If I have to take the Old with the New, the Leviticus with the Luke, or the Paul with the Jesus, I might not want either.