Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Bible and Me Part I - Beginning to Question

[I've struggled for a long time with my relationship with the Bible. It has been a rich source of insight and spiritual nourishment to me, but also at times, a source of deep doubt and confusion. My intention in this series is to share a little of how that relationship has developed over time. If you're a Christian and you're trying to work out your own approach to the Bible then it won't give you all the answers, but it may give you some questions and insights that could help you along the way. If you're not a believer, but you're interested in the Christian faith - or in Christians in particular - then it may give you a little insight into how some of us tick!]

I was brought up as an evangelical, Bible-believing Christian and the Bible has always been a central - indeed crucial - part of my faith. Without the Bible I would probably have a completely different view of God - if I even believed in God at all. Without the Bible I would probably have no idea who Jesus was and I wouldn't be calling myself a Christian. My faith is based on mine (and others') experience, as well as on the Bible, but without the Bible I would have no framework for that faith and would probably not have had the chance to encounter, or respond to God - or Jesus - in the way that I do today.

I was taught from a very young age that the Bible was "The Word of God". Although I didn't know the technical term at the time, I was also taught that it was essentially "inerrant" - i.e. because it was The Word of God, it contained no mistakes, factual inaccuracies or inconsistencies. It was to be believed unequivocally and without question. To disobey anything the Bible told me was to disobey God himself.

As I grew up it gradually became apparent that things were not quite this simple. There were some bits of the Bible for example - mostly in the Old Testament - that didn't apply to me. The old Levitical laws about things like not eating shellfish or not mixing together 2 types of fabric, applied only to those under the old Jewish Covenant and were not rules that I was expected to follow today. OK, so that made sense - so far so good!

I also started to notice that there were some events that were recorded in the Bible more than once, and that the accounts of these didn't always seem to match up. For example, there are some quite big differences in the way the story of Jesus' resurrection is recorded across the 4 different gospels. We did an exercise once in a church youth group that I belonged to, where we attempted to reconcile the 4 accounts by taking them all apart and putting them back together again in a way that made them all fit - in order to demonstrate the fact that they were actually compatible, just told from different angles with different bits missing. To my mind though, we had to work so hard in order to do this, that it was almost as though the accounts weren't really fully compatible with one another at all...

And then there was the whole question of creation and/or evolution. It was probably in my early teens that I first started to become aware of this potential dichotomy. At that time, a popular view on this (and fairly acceptable, in the Christian circles that I moved in) was that the "days" in the Genesis creation account could just as well refer to millions of years. This was justified on the basis that, "with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years" (the Bible, 2 Peter 3:8), and also on the fact that since there was no sun right at the beginning, then who could say how long a day was?! And the order of events in the Genesis creation account more-or-less corresponds to the scientific account anyway, so they're perfectly compatible! - except that when you get right down to it, it actually doesn't...

Then when I went to University I was introduced to a rather radical idea - and because it came from a visiting speaker at our Christian Union, who otherwise seemed to believe in and know the same God that I did, and because he was also quite a high up member of the London Bible College (I think he might've been the president, but I can't remember now), I was able to treat it with a little more credence than I might've done otherwise. The idea was this: What if the Genesis creation account is actually a myth? What if it isn't even intended to be treated as a literal account? What if it's just there to teach us stuff about God and about ourselves and about how we relate to Him and to the world? What if it isn't - and isn't meant to be - a scientifically accurate, historical account?

This idea made quite a lot of sense to me. After all, it seemed very unlikely that there was anyone actually there, that far back, who was able to write - and certainly no-one who was there before Adam and Eve to witness the first 5 days! If the Genesis creation account did come directly from God himself (the only other possibility!), then it had to have been somehow revealed to someone so they could write it down. But how would God explain something like that to someone who had none of the scientific knowledge that we have today? Surely the point of it wasn't to teach science in any case, it was to teach us about our relationship with God and with the world?

This was probably the first time I seriously entertained the idea that perhaps the Bible wasn't all meant to be taken entirely literally after all (apart from things like Jesus' parables, which were obviously just stories that he told in order to make a point).

[The Bible and Me Part II - Creation]
[The Bible and Me Part III - Inerrancy]
[The Bible and Me Part IV - Scripture vs Tradition]
[The Bible and Me Part V - Job]
[The Bible and Me Part VI - The Difficult Bits]
[The Bible and Me Part VII - The Supernatural]
[The Bible and Me Part VIII - Noah and the Flood]

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