The Bible is not to be idolised


The Bible is not to be idolised


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

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I am compelled to return to the subject of the Bible as, judging from the responses to my last piece on biblical inerrancy, there are some things that require clarification and further discussion. First, it must be noted and reaffirmed that God did not write the Bible. The Bible is a collection of thoughts about God, how he is perceived, and his impact on human affairs as seen, especially in the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament. They are very human texts, arising out of human situations, and reflected upon by human beings.

The writings are regarded as sacred or holy as they relate to God and are set aside for special meditation on him.

What we believe about God is a product of the culture into which we were born.

My understanding of God has come to me through the prism of Christianity which bears allegiance to the Bible as the inspired word of God to human beings.

I am mindful that there are other inspired, sacred texts that bear importance to billions of other people on the planet. They may not accept the Bible as an inspired text any more than they will accept the inspiration of Shakespearean literature. But they must be respected for how they apprehend God in all his beauty and majesty.

How God is perceived is pretty much a function of the prevailing culture at any time. One comes to know God through that culture as God chooses to reveal himself.

If one were born in a rural village in India and was never exposed to Christianity one would in all likelihood become a Hindu, or a Muslim if born in a strong Islamic culture. It is the same God, but people try to reach him through the particular cultural lens they know.

I know that this is upsetting to some Christians, especially those of a fundamentalist disposition who see Christianity as the only religion worthy of anyone's attention. But God is not so narrow-minded.

I have come to know God through the Christian understanding of him revealed in the Old and New Testament sacred writings.

I believe in the uniqueness of that revelation, but have come to know over time that I should not regard my understanding to be more superior or inferior to anyone else's. I must teach, preach, and live that uniqueness.

Second, I must reaffirm that the Bible is the inspired word of God. As the Apostle Peter himself acknowledged, prophecy, and, by extension the written word, was not by the will of men, but as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Emphasis on the Holy Spirit will drive the non-religious into a frenzy as they neither appreciate or are willing to accept what Christians have come to know as the person and work of the third person of the divine Godhead, the Holy Spirit. That will have to await further elucidation.

Inspired men (if we can get beyond the tyranny of the patriarchal narrative) are not perfect beings. But they are who God has to work with.

They may have godly dispositions or be endowed with extraordinary gifts, but they are nonetheless imperfect vessels through whom God was and is still prepared to work.

In his letter to the faithful at Corinth, Paul wrote that he and the other apostles were mere earthen vessels (clay jars) in whom God was prepared to entrust the precious gospel message.

Each one of them was imperfect in their own way, yet God chose them so that the excellence of the power of the message would be of God and not them.

As imperfect vessels they went around the Roman Empire with a passionate zeal to help others to come to an understanding of God through it.

If you are not immersed in the word in trying to understand these concepts then criticising from a distance is hardly helpful.

People tend to get all anxious about things they have not spent any time trying to understand. God, the Bible, and religion as a whole are subjects that everybody is an authority on.

People who wrote the books of the Bible, especially the New Testament books, had more than a passing acquaintance with the person about whom they wrote, God himself.

In writing to the Christians in the Diaspora, Peter reminded them that he and the other apostles did not follow cleverly devised fables when they made known to them the message of the resurrected Christ. Indeed, they were eyewitnesses to the event (II Peter 1: 16). For Peter himself, his witness of the event was not nullified by his earlier lies about not knowing Jesus at the time of his crucifixion.

He was there. Sitting at the start of the third decade of the 21st century, who am I to believe? A 19th century sceptic who tells me that this is all myth, or a central figure living at the time when the events unfurled?
Third, people would be duly warned about the dangers of bibliolatry. Bibliolatry, simply put, is worship of the Bible.

It is excessive attachment to the literal interpretation of the Bible even when obvious discrepancies arise within texts and passages within it. Bear in mind that these discrepancies do not alter the essential message referred to earlier, but can sully people's understanding of that message.

There is no need to get hung up on fundamentalist, literalist interpretations of texts and allow the message to be entangled in useless debate about its efficacy.

We cannot make an idol out of the Bible. It is not the Bible that we worship but the Lord of whom the biblical message of grace, love and redemption speaks. The Bible as a book is not what we should reverence, but the Lord of whom the Bible speaks and the message he wishes to communicate to those who choose to believe it and have given their lives to it. Certainly, it cannot be used as a storage of all kinds of paraphernalia.

A little girl was asked what she saw when she opened her Bible and she answered her sister's boyfriend's picture. The Bible is not a storage bin, and however tattered it may be its message is alive and well to those who would live their lives by it. It is called “holy” because Christians believe it to contain God's word to us.

I do not get into useless debates about the Bible. I will engage fruitful discussions and conversations about it, but debates suggest useless argumentation which will not produce any edible fruits at the end of the day.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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