Thursday, August 5, 2010

Literally a Mess (Figuratively Speaking)

My last post generated some excellent points on the comment thread and some very probing emails. This is a follow-up to it as I attempt to answer the majority of the questions asked in one fell swoop. As always, I don't have all of the answers, but these are my thoughts, convictions, and opinions on the matters discussed presented as transparently and in as forthright a manner as I can...

Do I believe in the inerrancy of the bible or not?...

Yes and no. (I'll explain more as we go)

Do I believe the biblical canon as we know it today is the inerrant word of God?

Well, I believe it's God's word, I just don't believe it's an inerrant canon and ALL of God's word. This is why I spoke of the Book of the Secrets of Enoch. I don't believe the canon that we have is always rightly divided and applied inerrantly. It's why I focused on the book of Job. There are other books, such as the Book of Jasher (which is referred to in both Joshua and 2nd Samuel) and the Book of the Jubilees that I equally believe are historically accurate (no major conflicts with the canon), point to the Lord in theology, and are likely just as much God-breathed as the canon we have. They also fill in ENORMOUS historical holes that the canon as we know it leaves empty. The book of Jasher, for instance, would call into question what the writer of Hebrews meant about Melchizedek having no lineage. Not necessarily discredit it, but generate questions as to context.

The canon came together over many centuries. All kinds of things went into it's formation...including human opinion and bias. Some claim that such books as mentioned above were excluded because their origins or authorship couldn't be traced. If that's the case, why is Job in the canon? No one but the Lord knows who wrote it and no one has any idea where the "land of Uz" really was (there's no meaningful reference to it anywhere else, in scripture or in historical documents). In the New Testament, the issue of the author of Hebrews has never been settled. Few scholars believe it was Paul, and I, though not a scholar, don't believe it was Paul. The style is a pretty big departure from that of Paul, and Paul typically identified Himself right out of the gate. 

I don't fully believe that the canon we have now is "what God intended us to have". The only evidence that I'd have to base that belief on is the fact that it's what we have. I'm not of the reformed faith, and many of you who disagree with me can most likely trace our disagreement there. God made no bones about His intent for man to live without end in the Garden of Eden...but we aren't there. I see the scriptures not as the historical documents of God's sovereign will, but I see, over and over, God presenting man with choices, from Adam and Eve, to the Israelites, to various men being anointed as king, to the essence of the new covenant in Christ, God saying "If you do A, I'll do B, but if you do X, I'll do Y. Be smart and do A so I can do B. X and Y aren't good."

Now, to the issue with Job. Some of the comments in the last post's thread line up with the larger point I was trying to make. My friend Mara has a post of her own here that speaks to the issue. With the book of Job, if it isn't looked at in the macro, but is considered a literal, "God-breathed", inerrant text, you'll end up in a theological wasteland. Most of the book is made up of men speaking about things they know nothing about. It makes me cringe a little when I see ministers pull individual verses from these sections or pull snippets from verses to support the theology behind whatever sermon is being preached or lesson taught (which usually has nothing to do with the book of Job), when it's VERY clearly men speaking, wrongly, and not God. God shows up in the last few chapters with what largely amounts to "You're talking about and rendering judgment on things that are waaaaay beyond your paygrade." And, thus the point about a macro look. The message of Job isn't meant to be disseminated in the micro sense. It's a lesson about how little we actually know about God and the supernatural realm, and how Job maintained a simple faith in God, despite being totally unaware of what had gone on in the realm of God, and despite his innocent ignorance (devoid of the Holy Spirit to lead him into all truth) in speaking on things he didn't know jack-squat about. Without the plethora of misguided human notions and theology in the book, the appearance and message of God at the end wouldn't be as powerful. Macro. The whole of the book is the lesson.

If, as in the case of many fundamentalists, we looked at the scriptures entirely literally in application, I don't think there's any question that it's a book of errors. I don't believe the scriptures to be full of errors, despite a few details here and there not matching up precisely (particularly in an instance or two in the gospels - primarily trivial matters), but I think when one loses context and, as I pointed out in the last post, discernment, one delves into a world of hurt. For instance, God, speaking of Adam, says, "It's not good that man should be alone." Paul, speaking on the subject of marriage, says, "it is better to remain as I. [single]" If you take out context and engage it literally, you'll end up more confused and in more conflict than your average former child TV star. Context and discernment. Two entirely different things being said about the same issue. If you remove context and discernment and read it literally, one of the two is wrong. One says it isn't good, the other says it's actually better than what God said. Paul also tells us, "...even nature itself tells us it's shameful for a man to have long hair", yet God specifically worked through Samson's long hair, and John the Baptist, being that he lived basically as a wild man, eating bugs, raiding beehives, and wearing stinky, smelly animal skins out in the arid country, was probably a prime candidate for Pert Plus. So, it's pretty obvious that at least some of what Paul taught was entirely cultural in context, not "God-breathed" to be applied universally.

Just to be clear, I LOVE God's word. No one loves, cherishes, relies on, and values God's word any more than I do. I don't worship it, though. John told us in his gospel that, concerning just the 3 year ministry of Christ, you couldn't write all of the books that would be necessary. I believe the same about God. He isn't confined to the 66 books of the modern protestant canon. I don't believe He would inspire books that disagree with the books we have, but I believe some of those that are excluded give even more of a "God-breathed" look at our Creator, such as the Book of the Secrets of Enoch. And, I believe all translations and human filters, across the thousands of years in the making, have likely altered the ebb and flow of what God originally delivered to man. Discernment, discernment, discernment.

Here's another way to look at it regarding fundamentalism and the bible...

If you walk up to a fundamentalist and say something negative about Jesus, they'll probably want to pray for you. If you say something negative about the bible (especially the King James Version), they'll probably want to beat you every which way but stupid. That's a problem. Their bible, and their rigid, literal, and fundamental look at it's "inerrancy", is all too often a bigger god in their lives than God Himself. They worship the bible more than the God it points to. This is a dynamic common in the fundamentalist groups I write about. Attaching the same importance to human ideas of patriarchy, quiverfull, courtship, and the like that they do to Christ. When this happens, fundamentalism happens.

Clear as mud.

And for those who've inquired...The Book of the Secrets of Enoch


  1. Interesting thoughts! I'll have to think about this more.

  2. You are doing a great job.

    Keep chipping away at it.

    You are right about people getting crazy with proof texting and then missing the whole point on something.

    Let me throw out a few scriptures that I never here fundamental preachers use to make a point.

    (Disclaimer. Using these scriptures against men, esp good men, would be an abomination. But no more of an abomination as men picking and choosing scriptures to put down women, which is done by far too many men. I thank God for the men here who would never do this.)

    Psalm 116:11 I said in my alarm, "All men are liars."
    Psalm 62:9 Men of low degree are only vanity, and men of ranke are a lie;
    In the balances they go up;
    They are together lighter than breath.
    Romans 3:4a May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar...

    Funny you never hear loud mouthed, male preachers with thick southern accents use these verses as proof texts for anything.
    That's because the pick and choose which verses best serve their personal prejudices and adgendas, as Lewis is doing so well to point out.

    The Bible is not the instruction book for life. It has good instruction within it, don't get me wrong. But its main purpose is to tell the story of an awesome God working to redeem His fallen creation.
    And it is marvelous to behold, if you behold it as Lewis says. Context and discernment.
    And may I add, with a heart to find the heart of the one true God.

  3. (Oh, no. a two-fer from mara.)

    Lewis, you must be on a roll because I find myself on one, inspired by you.

    Thinking over this some more, another way of looking at this came to my mind.
    Being a former homeschooling parent (and loved it!) I thought of the kinds of titles you might put on the Bible if it were found in the preschool section of the eternity version of Wal-mart. As in, we, in our finite forms on this earth, are preschoolers compared to the Angels (Cheribim, Serephim etc) in heaven.

    I'm coming up with these titles using my KISS method ('Keep it Simple, Stupid' for those who missed the other thread.)

    A fundamentalist would look at the Bible as:

    "God's Great Big Book of Instructions"

    But really what it ought to be called is:

    "The Great Big Book About God: containing instructions for better living in a dark world"

    Fundamentalists get into trouble when they say things like:
    Ephesians 5 contain God's "Blue prints" for marriage. And then they take those instructions and give them "10 Commandments/2 Greatest Commandments" status. And men start breaking the 2 Greatest commandments in order to fulfill "God's blue prints" for marriage.

    God is very clear on what is important to Him. He's very clear on what are "Commandments".
    People get into trouble when they attribute "Commandment" status to things in the Bible that aren't clearly commands.

    Feel like I'm going in circle now, so, I'll stop.
    But, yeah. I love the Bible. It is like a drop of Light from heaven into our dark existence. It's our love letter from God on this desolate earth.
    But who/what do we love more? The letter, or the One who sent it?

  4. Good thoughts to bring up. Btw, the LXX is very clear about where Job was from.

  5. I should clarify that I don't quite agree with what seems to be your current position, but I do appreciate you bringing up these matters when most people just ignore them.

    Also, Elijah wrote at least one letter (2 Cor. 21:12-15). We don't necessarily have it reproduced in it's entirety.