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The Bible’s Thorniness

This quote from http://donmilleris.com/2011/08/25/being-less-biblical-and-more-like-the-bible/ has articulated much better than I have how I feel about the Bible at its best.

“In my opinion, it is a rich tapestry of egoless narratives, poems and letters. Most of the writers were not chosen for their skill, I don’t believe, but each of them has an uncanny ability to remove pretense from their work. Even Christ’s biographers depict Him without sparing us His humanity. He gets angry, He gets annoyed, He is hard to understand (and indeed hard to follow) and while He seems to love the world, He’s as alien as E.T., pointing always toward the heavens rambling about going home. It’s brilliant stuff when you stop reading it to figure out if you’re right or wrong about something. It’s life-changing, actually, the way your life gets changed by a friend over time.”

I only disagree with the idea that all of the New Testament letters are egoless. Several of them were written from the perspective of people who believed they had received God’s most important revelations, understood them, and lived by them. How could they not feel driven to write authoritatively? The shallowness of my faith might hinder me from strongly relating to the letters penned by those type of writers. Ultimately, I find it easier to identify with men of faith from the Old Testament and draw far more inspiration from the words of Jesus in the gospels.

Let me start with some non toxic examples to demonstrate why I take issue with these men speaking so authoritatively.

2 Cor 14:33-35 “33For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

Now people, including me for a time, say that this instruction was for their time, but, in context, we can’t say this was just the cultural expectation because he reinforces his instruction by pointing to it as something “the Law”, big “L”, requires of women. He starts this declaration about the status of women in the church by highlighting a particular aspect of God’s nature. Then he says, “As in all the churches of the saints,” before saying women shouldn’t talk in church even to ask a question. He didn’t mean to write “As in all the churches of the saints in this era” either.

My understanding was that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus created a new covenant for us, and followers of Christ were no longer bound by the old covenant. In fact, the apostles told gentiles in the early church that they didn’t have to meet the law’s requirement of circumcision and that they didn’t have to follow the law’s old dietary restrictions. One of God’s early positive commands to Adam and Eve in the garden was to “be fruitful and multiply”, but you find an apostle in the New Testament discouraging people from even getting married unless they had to much trouble controlling their lust while elsewhere another writer says that, in order for men to serve as a church leaders, they need to be model husbands and fathers.

Jesus himself never says women should stay quiet and submissive as a rule. My favorite quote from Jesus regarding women is in Luke 8:21 where he says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” When the sinful Samaritan woman at the well realizes Jesus is the Christ and runs to tell the people in town her testimony, Jesus doesn’t stop her and tell her to find a man to tell it to so that the good news can be spread properly. If you check out that story, the sight of Jesus talking to a woman makes the disciples uncomfortable, but none of them has the balls to say anything about it. When they try to get him to eat something, Jesus’ response reflects that knowing the outcome of his conversation with the sinful Samaritan woman sufficiently appeased his hunger. In my opinion, the author of that passage in 1 Corinthians 14 completely misunderstands the role of women in spreading the gospel and serving the church.

If the writer of that letter could have commanded something so inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching and ministry, how can you not feel the need to question whether some of the other positions taken by letter writers in the Bible line up with what Jesus said and did? Jesus never says following the written word equates to following him or following his disciples equates to following him. He says in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He says in verse 15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus doesn’t say you have to believe all of the principles and rules written in letters considered canonical by future believers. Whether or not you believe the entire Bible is the infallible word of God, Jesus never says you need to follow and believe all the rules and principles laid out in books 39 through 66 in order to grow in your relationship with him or in order to receive the grace he extends.

All the parts of the Bible don’t come together to create a complete, coherent picture. Each author presents their personal perspective on how God moved in their life or in the lives of others. An old testament example of inconsistency is a God in the book of Job who allows his faithful servant to suffer and all his children to die because Satan begs permission versus a God who, in any other book of the Old Testament, dispenses rewards or punishments according to how well the people in covenant with him meet its requirements. The gospels come close to a unified vision only because all four books set out to explore the thoughts, teachings, and deeds of one man who physically dwelt on earth for a little longer than three decades and whose public ministry lasted for an action-packed, short 3 years.

(no transition, need help)

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” On its own, I don’t fully understand what that means, but I know it doesn’t mean that you must abandon your critical thinking skills in order to discover a unified theory that links every single letter, narrative, and poem the Bible has to offer. For example, the mind of the flesh might think, “Jerking off to some explicit images feels good now so I’m going to ignore the notion that it will damage my relationship with God and others.” However, having the mind of the Spirit does not require you to

1) know that everything an unsaved person is and does disgusts God

2) believe no other possibilities but eternal torture exist for anyone who doesn’t have the same relationship with Christ that you believe you do.

3) believe the universe and everything in it was created in 7 solar days

4) believe women need to wait till they get home to discuss the sermon with their husband lest they disrupt church with vibration of their vocal chords

5) believe any other sort of debatable hooey

According to Jesus, you could accept any number of things as fact and still not have a place in his family or a role in leading anyone else to Him. Jesus doesn’t require his followers to be literate enough to study or  understand any of these debatable topics.

Look at John 16:7-14

7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the [Bible] will not come to you. But if I go, I will send [it] to you. 8 And when [it] comes, [it] will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the [Bible] comes, [it]will guide you into all the truth, for [it]will not speak on [its] own authority, but whatever [it] hears [it] will speak, and [it] will declare to you the things that are to come. 14[It] will glorify me, for [it] will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

If you’re familiar with the passage you will notice that I replaced every pronoun and noun referring to the Holy Spirit. I did this because it best conveys how some Christians view the Bible. The way some talk would lead you to believe that the Holy Spirit’s main job is to help you understand the Bible so the Bible can do all of the stuff that Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would do. John 5:39 applies to a lot of us today  “[searching] the Scriptures because [we] think that in them [we]  have eternal life”. Most of us doing that are also trying to seek out Jesus, but multi-tasking is failing us here.

Often, when we’re struggling for the right words to say to someone, a Bible verse comes to us, and we think we’re living out the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:20. However, a believer looking to take advantage of their full birthright should expect more than the right quotes if they consider what Jesus has to say about the fruit of the Holy Spirit in John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do”. Using the birthright metaphor reminds me of the story of the prodigal son who goes off on his own thinking he has his full birthright, spends it all, returns to his father’s house hoping to work as a servant, and receives a loving, gracious welcome home from his father when he returns. We could also be the son, ignorant of all the things his father would give him, who never left home, but never enjoyed it there either. I could never fully fault putting the Bible on a pedestal for denying us our full birthright, but it’s easy to be overwhelmed and distracted by it rather than encouraged and challenged by it. A useful resource can turn into the thorns that immobilize an individual and slow or hinder their growth.

I know I spend a lot of time thinking, debating, and negotiating, but hopefully I can spend more time doing and responding and arrive somewhere I can take full advantage of what the Spirit has to offer instead of flipping through pages trying to find each nugget and morsel a book has to offer.

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