Three years ago when I started exploring the truth of Christianity, I found it convenient to set aside the notion of the Bible as a message from God and treat it as any other historical document. That way, I didn’t have any trouble criticizing what I read. Trying to entertain notions of something as false is difficult if you believe the writing in question to come from God. Now I have learned to look at the Bible as a historical document. I’m no scholar by any means, but I can put on the cap when I need to. That means it’s time to stop treating the Bible the way I treat Josephus’ Antiquities and Shakespeare’s works.
It’s hard to figure out how to go about it now. When I was younger, the Bible was simply a rule book that you followed. I know now that it is not so simple. The Bible is a collection of writings of different kinds, from different times, and for different purposes. It’s not a series of commands like the ten commandments, so reading it takes some finesse.
Sections of the Bible
Histories: These seem to be the most numerous. They make up the Old Testament from Genesis to Job and the New Testament from Matthew to Acts. For the most part, I simply treat the histories as stories. Like all stories, they have morals. Sometimes, the bad guys even win. The only area in which I have trouble is in the accounts of words attributed to God. When wearing my scholarly cap, I don’t think: “God said: Let there be light”. I think: “The writer of Genesis says that God said, ‘Let there be light'”. It’s an important distinction because for a scholar, but if you’re reading the Bible for instruction it shouldn’t matter. If I’m going to trust my life to those words, I can’t think of them as just something somebody said that God said.
Poetry: When I read these, like the Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, I know to watch for literary devices: repetition, alliteration, etc. But I have the same trouble I have with the histories. When Solomon says ‘everything is meaningless’ or ‘a fool and his money are soon parted’, am I supposed to take these as instructions from God, or wise sayings, or the ramblings of a confused man? I find it easy to believe that the writer believed what he said, but why should I believe it?
In summary, here are the issues i need to handle.
1. I understand the Bible to be an accurate rendition of the writers’ beliefs. But did the writers believe right? It is easy enough to verify when they speak about history, but philosophy and theology are harder to judge.
2. What does it mean for the Bible to be God-breathed? What parts of it must I accept without question?
I can’t put my life on hold while I answer these questions, so I accept what I can. I have no reason to doubt the historical facts. I accept the Bible’s moral guidance because I must as a Christian. The reliability of the new Testament gives me reason to trust Jesus’ ressurection and, by implication, his teachings. That seems like enough to go on for now.