The Bible argues with itself, so we can too.
Friday 11th August 2017
The Bible (according to Rev. Ray Vincent in his book 'Let the Bible be itself ', published by O-Books in 2008).
This is a summary of our meeting on 6 August 2017.It is difficult to summarise the talk I gave, since that itself was a summary of key points from the book.
A key message is that people within the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths have always argued with each other on a range of issues, but we must realise that the argument begins in the Bible itself. Often when people approach the Bible as the word of God, all its contradictions are assumed to be different facets of the truth, when often we should accept that the different authors actually disagreed with one another. We too can disagree if we have good reason with the writer of a particular passage.
Apart from the obvious problems for those who tend to take a literalist approach, there are two dangers in seeing it as the whole word of God. First, whenever a church or group of Christians make the Bible its supreme or sole authority, in practice that means the group or church ends up being the authority. Secondly, there is inevitably an element of self-deceit. The authority is not just scripture itself but ideas from outside scripture which condition the way scripture is read. We cannot avoid this, which comes from the social and cultural environment and the latest knowledge and understanding of life. This applied to the people who wrote the books of the Bible.
We find significantly in the Bible, literature of the underdog, major expressions of people's pain and anxieties (rather than examples of right attitudes to follow), imagination often at play, passion (often opposing other ideas or actions) and many disagreements implied or explicitly written down. Although the Reformation brought a refreshing release from the legal and political authority of the church, its later followers sometimes pursued a path of a free for all that allowed reading of scripture without any perception or knowledge of its origins, historic function, types of literature and meanings of the original Greek words.
"If we can dare to take the step of saying that not only were stories embellished in the telling (as all stories are), but that some of them were simply invented ... we can see the Bible in a whole new light. It loses its false authority and comes alive as a truly marvellous work of the human spirit. And is not the human spirit a creation and reflection of the divine spirit ?" At the centre is the teaching, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Furthermore, if we take the Bible as a vehicle through which God speaks and are honest about it, we find there the kind of God who interacts with people (as they are and as they perceive God) but does not provide a final definitive revelation; this revelation does not cease at the moment when the last verse of the Bible was written. We ourselves are a part of the story. The Bible is a vital part of our story, but it is a part, not the whole.