Interpreting The Bible
Experiences we have in life will impact on our thinking and our understanding.
Early experiences during childhood and first considerations about Christianity have coloured many people’s understanding of Christianity.
For some, guilt was encouraged in their thinking with their impression of God becoming an angry overseer, always ready to judge and condemn. The keeping of rules is seen to over rule life and freedom is taken from them. A natural desire to rebel from this onerous and unattractive lifestyle arises and faith is abandoned.
For others, ancient artworks, classical style music, robes and old-style liturgy can make Christianity seem very out of date, suitable for previous generations or perhaps only for the elderly.
For Borg, in his childhood the big question was where we would spend eternity; in heaven or hell. He saw God loving us like a parent and telling us how to behave so that life consists of behaving properly so as to ensure our place in heaven. Fortunately, forgiveness is available in Jesus, but the very need for belief and right behaviour meant that the emphasis was on the big question of our eternal destiny.
As he grew away from a literal view of the Bible his understanding of this changed.
My experience of becoming a Christian was quite different and I have described how I became a Christian here. The result is that I have never had any question about where I would spend eternity and my life is lived with that question settled. My interest is in living out my eternal life starting now! I explained this in a previous chapter.
Reading the Bible.
What if the Bible is not inerrant and is not to be taken literally?
We can still give it status as the “Word of God” without necessarily believing that the Genesis story did not happen is six 24-hour days, that the story of the Exodus with its plagues and parting of the Red Sea and the Ten Commandments inscribed by God on tablets of stone have some meaning but that they did not really happen?
If “the Bible is Christian sacred scripture and the most important book there is” and is in some way still the “Word of God” but is to be regarded as containing mistakes and not to be taken literally, then how do we understand its contents and interpret its message?
If some passages are simply to be disbelieved or regarded as having some message and meaning but not taken literally or be put aside as mythical folklore then one person can have their own interpretation while another person holds their different one.
So, if one person takes the Bible on face value while several others have their own interpretations and yet others dismiss the Bible altogether perhaps one of these is correct; perhaps none of them. We all live in a state of uncertainty, variety and even of division.
Even the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross becomes a matter of conjecture when the straightforward meanings of the Bible passages are opened for dismissal or interpretation. Perhaps it never happened. Perhaps we are not forgiven. Perhaps we are lost. Perhaps we might as well be atheists!
I wonder at many of the stories and events in the Bible and cannot explain them or persuade others to believe them but I cannot be confident of any of the many interpretations which can be applied. Which, if any of them, is correct? Rather than abandon all hope or to wander in a morass of options and interpretations and meanings I simply accept the Bible as is, on face value, even “literally”. This is, after all, one of the may approaches and at least it is just as likely as the others to be correct. In subsequent pages we will see how this approach plays out.
In any case, there will come a day when I expect I will know whether I got it right and in the meantime it seems to me I lose nothing by taking this approach. Indeed, with it much is to be gained! Without it so much is lost and I am adrift!
With it I have assurance of forgiveness and cleansing and an understanding of my relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and all I can know about my God and Saviour is shown to me in the Bible and I love to have it. It is my confidence in the Bible that lead me to quote from it so much in the previous chapter and I do this without hesitation and with confidence.
I understand that readers might not be so accepting of the Bible and thus not so accepting of some of my views but at least they will know where they came from and why I hold them.