Jesus Before Christ
Jesus Before Christ
Issues of the Bible
The Bible has usually been a spiritual guide for Christians seeking the mysteries of the divine, but it has also been used as a proof text for numerous issues we have manufactured for ourselves. Some believers proclaim it to be the "Word of God" while others simply affirm it as their sacred writings. Most people, however, have never given a thought to the evolution of the foundational document of our religion. If asked anything historical about the Bible, the average churchgoer would probably draw a blank. Most of us assume, as Jude (1:3) puts it, that "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" was born fully developed and identical with today's beliefs and practices. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible was not written as a whole. It evolved over more than two thousand years and through many different languages and cultures.
How do we know this? Men and women employing the tools of modern critical scholarship have been examining the Bible since the eighteenth century. These were and are faithful people attempting to understand the origins and meaning of the single most important document in western culture. Scholarly inquiry takes biblical texts far more seriously than a wooden, literal interpretation of a relatively few verses.
The Bible carries truth without being literally true. This truth resides below the words in the world of metaphor, parable, poetry and figurative language. The Bible contains some history, but it is not a history book. It contains insight within the human stories it preserves, but it is not the human story. It is not God's dictation book. It is a collection of texts that, despite contradictions, relate our human efforts to understand the divine. The Bible was never meant to be more than a guide to accompany us on our own personal and collective spiritual journeys.
The Bible as the Word of God
Georges Sorel, a French political and social philosopher in the early twentieth century, was very interested in the power of myth as propaganda: he asserted that the historical facts underlying an event were not as important as what people believed about the event. People acted on what they believed happened, not on what actually happened.
Many believers today continue to insist biblical texts are inerrant and infallible. 3 Claims by messengers of the Religious Right that they have a corner on interpreting the Bible rest on well-tested techniques of propaganda-popular myth and the boldness of their assertions.
The Bible, when it is perceived as the Word of God, can easily become an idol-a phenomenon often referred to as "bibliolatry." Joel Osteen, the minister of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, reputedly the biggest Christian congregation in the country, makes the following confession prior to each sermon. He has the congregation stand, hold up a Bible and say:
This is my Bible. I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have. I can do what it says I can do. Today I will be taught the Word of God. I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive. I will never be the same. I am about to receive the incorruptible, indestructible, ever-living seed of the Word of God. I will never be the same. Never, never, never. I will never be the same. In Jesus' name, Amen. 4
Osteen literally turns the Bible into God. On his website, in the section "What We Believe," he states as the first principle:
We Believe...the entire Bible is inspired by God, without error and the authority on which we base our faith, conduct and doctrine. 5
Deconstructing Texts in the Hebrew Bible
Osteen's assertion can be maintained only through an elaborate system of rationalizations. Let's take as our first example the creation story in Genesis-or rather the two creation stories in Genesis. One begins with Genesis 1:1-2:4a and the other