Attributing the perfection, infinite wisdom, divinity and the holiness of God to any object, whether a totem pole, a relic, or a set of writings, is idolatry; consequently, pertaining to a book we are all familiar with – the Bible – it is called bibliolatry. After reading an interesting article written by John Pavlovitz (Why This Christian Doesn’t Need a Perfect Bible), I had some startling revelations. For so many years, the church has proposed the inerrancy of the scriptures, as if these writings of antiquity contained absolute truth and nothing less. In fact, some of us have assumed that the numerous authors believed that what they were writing was literally breathed from God and that their testimonies and stories were completely factual and could hold up to historical scrutiny indefinitely. Our assumptions have misled us into some dangerous and dogmatic territory.
The common ideology of the all-or-nothing mentality of some church-goers, that if the Bible is not without fault, if the scriptures are not T H E W O R D O F G O D, then it is worthless, must be replaced by the truth. It amazes me to think that somehow we have viewed and honestly worshiped the Bible instead of the God of the Bible. It may be difficult to accept or admit but the symptoms are quite easy to identify. The most apparent indication of bibliolatry is fear that manifests as anger when someone suggests that the Bible is not absolute on everything. In addition, holding on to ideas that are based on prejudiced or discriminatory views, even though we know we have been instructed to love God first and love our neighbors as ourselves, is an obvious symptom that our beliefs are faulty or not based on God’s ideal – love.
The Golden Rule, do unto others as you want them to do to you, is universal across the planet. In nations far and wide, this rule of true humanity appears in the literature of all the early written languages. Hinduism proposes doing no harm to any other, including all living creatures. Buddhism calls for selflessness. Islam teaches surrender to God and God only. Christianity is summed up in two statements: Love God first and love your neighbor as yourself. Judaism also teaches the primacy of loving God and justice. So, if any of us are still holding onto the beliefs that some groups are not as worthy as others, some are preferred and some are hated, and particular behaviors separate humans from the Source of Life, then we have traded love for judgment and criticism.
Reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation will provide the reader with the written form of traditional history as told by the Hebrews, except that we have translations with a contemporary, more modern view. These writers were not concerned with writing historical data that could be supported by archeological evidence. The stories that were often conveyed by storytelling were told in ways so that the hearers could remember them. The interpretation of events was always through the lens of the storyteller’s concept of God. We can see the evidence of the changing persona of God throughout the writings in the Bible.
As the warrior God, the Old Testament peoples desired favor when they went to war. During these ages, there were bandit raids and territorial battles. This is how any one group of individuals increased their resources and their numbers. Employment, businesses, and corporations were not even thought of during the Old Testament days. Rustling, raiding, looting, and killing were the primary occupations of warriors. There was agriculture but most individual tribes obtained resources by stealing from neighboring camps.
It makes sense that God was seen as a God of Battle because that is what the people needed to be successful in their way of living and surviving. If a people lost in battle, then they perceived God to be against them for some reason. As early as the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews, the people began to see God differently. Rather than see God as only a God of wrath and war, they began to wonder why they had been defeated. This is when the God of Justice entered into the picture. Israel started to think that the reason behind their deportation and exile was their neglect of justice.
The poor peasants had been paying literally back-breaking taxes so that the aristocrats could live plush lives. Many people died of starvation and went without basic life necessities. Others were forced to take loans to pay taxes and ended up as indentured slaves. The Temple had been the primary focus of Israel and it was an elaborate trophy of riches that was adorned with gold and precious stones; all at the expense of the farmers, peasants, and poor. At this point, during the Babylonian Captivity, the image of God was slowly becoming more focused on justice and mercy. Again, this image of God served a purpose; namely, Israel needed a God of justice and mercy to provide hope of returning home.
As we enter the New Testament, we see John the Baptist and Jesus teaching new things. It had been assumed that wealth was a sign of holiness or God’s approval, and poverty was a symptom of defilement and being cursed. These cousins, John, and Jesus, changed the way people saw things. Rather than have to change their social status, many came to the Jordan River to be baptized or cleansed from defilement. This one act gave people something that all the Law of Moses could never do – a clear conscience. The ones who were cleansed by the water came up clean and new. They did not have to become wealthy in order to be viewed or see themselves as blessed by God.
A paradigm shift occurred when Israel’s poverty-stricken people were told that they were blessed rather than cursed. Ideas about God’s character were transitioning from negativity and punishment towards justice, mercy, and acceptance. Jesus emphasized this change of direction with his Sermon on the Mount. No longer were materialistic possessions considered the identifying marks of God’s approval. Instead, blessedness became an issue of the heart.
Returning back to the initial issue of bibliolatry, let me explain why I included the information contained in the last few paragraphs concerning the changing faces of God. The absolutism required to hold to an inerrant Bible does not support the changing faces of God because the literal interpretation therein indicates that God does not change. Let me further explain that God did not change over the hundreds of years that the Bible was put into written form. What did change is the human understanding of God, and if the human understanding of God changed over the span of time covered in the Bible, how can we be satisfied with holding to concepts that are now thousands of years old? Our understanding of God should be changing as it grows and develops just as Israel’s understanding changed and grew as they progressed in their humanity.
One other thing. Some people hold to the idea that the Bible contains answers to every question. This assumption does not account for the progression of humanity over the last two millennia. Life has changed considerably since the disciple whom Jesus loved (John) was exiled on the Isle of Patmos. The writers of the books contained in the Bible did not believe that they were providing all the answers for all time. In fact, the Rabbis and other religious teachers of those times expounded significantly on the scriptures. There are volumes of writings not included in the canonization of the Bible, including the Talmud and the Mishnah.
We assume too much when we think we understand the Bible when we do not understand the context from which it came. The authors of the Bible were profoundly Jewish, with the exception of Luke, and wrote from the lens of Judaism. We, however, are contemporary Americans attempting to be Christians but haven’t even grasped who Jesus was or what he was really after.
#bibliolatry, #falsesecurityofinerrancy, #changingfacesofGod