Does the Bible matter?
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Does the Bible matter?

 The impossibility of reaching a consensus decision on what the Bible actually is relates to the fact that there is bound to be some level of agreement amongst all parties involved in the discussion.  The controversy arises over what inevitably cannot be affirmed.  This is different than, say, reaching a consensus over the nature of the fables of the ancient Greek storyteller Aesop.  Everyone will affirm that Aesop’s Fables represent a collection of Western morality tales.  No reasonable person would push the claim further to grant the fables a measure of transcendent authority.  But such is not the case with the Bible.  While many view Christian Scripture as carrying about the same inherent authority as children’s fables and others see it as an oppressive narrative which (if affirmed) prevents individuals and societies from flourishing, there are those who regard the Bible as the Word of God.

But let’s get back to my claim that all parties involved will maintain some level of agreement about the Bible.  For instance, no one will dispute that the Bible is an ancient religious text.  And it would be futile to challenge that Jesus Christ is the central character.  There should also be general agreement on the periods of history being represented (regardless of whether one takes these historical accounts to be represented accurately).  I should also think that one would be left with the impression that the authors of Scripture are writing with an authoritative voice: that the content therein is to be taken seriously.

If one cares to decide whether to accept Scripture as truth, the best and most logical course of action would be simply to read it.  Without reading it, one commits the most grievous error (in our Western context) of quite literally displacing oneself.  Western society cannot possibly be understood without having thorough knowledge of the Bible and Christianity.  Our politics, mandates, institutions, values, philosophies and artistic expressions are all the direct impact of affirmations, rejections, reactions and counter-reactions in response to interpretations of biblical narrative and church tradition.  To not know the biblical story is to be culturally illiterate.  And to blithely reject it without extensive inquiry is to be intellectually dishonest.

But perhaps I’m being too pragmatic, or, at the very least placing the cart before the horse.  I suppose cultural literacy is not altogether compelling for most people, and maybe literacy is easily confused with elitism.  Besides, no one would get the idea from reading Scripture that mere “cultural literacy” is at stake.  The Bible is far more concerned with themes of redemption, love, worship and salvation.

So what is one to make of a story that begins in a garden and ends in a city; a story which gives the account of a nomadic family encountering Yahweh over generations and culminating in a short-lived earthly nation, the remnant of which experiences God in the flesh?

What distinguishes the Bible from all other religious texts is that the content is tangibly rooted in history while concerning itself primarily with the spiritual.  This isn’t to say that the particularities of history are mere pretenses for gaining a higher truth: people and life events matter.  It is through lived experience that people come to encounter God.  This is the essence of the biblical narrative and no other religion can compare to the Christian affirmation of this life, this world and these bodies.  The religious texts of all other religions are either relatively unconcerned with history and particularity (Buddhism, Jaina Dharma and Hinduism) or commit to an understanding of history that is exclusively favorable to the “Tribe” (the Latter Day Saints movement, Islam and Judaism).  Conversely, Christianity presents a view of history that is messy and humble.

Anyone is free to reject the Christian Gospel, but in doing so one must reasonably account for the remarkable first-century spread of the faith in strictly material terms.  The Gospel of Christ did not offer the earthly rewards of Islam; Christianity was the ultimate anti-status symbol leading to persecution and marginalization.

Similarly anyone is free to reject the authority of the biblical canon, but to do so without holding it up to the light of reason and experience is to commit a disservice to history.  The Fathers of the Church who fought so valiantly for the authority of Scripture were stridently devoted to the truth which they saw as being grounded in history and reality.  It is certainly significant that the main opponents to Christian Orthodoxy and the biblical canon were Gnostics (who were largely ahistorical and dismissive of particularity) and Marcionites (historical revisionists who sought to separate the god of the Old Testament and the New Testament).

It is my contention that to regard the Bible as superfluous is to willfully deny, ignore or revise history to the extent of rendering oneself a full-blooded Philistine.

Flickr photo (cc) by  Brett Jordan

 

Kona