Wait, That’s the Book for Me?


The B-I-B-L-E!
Yes, that’s the book for me.
I stand upon the Word of God–
The B-I-B-L-E!

–A Children’s song I learned years ago.

I’ve read the Bible perhaps a dozen times in my life. I rarely open it now, and when I do, it’s the Greek or Hebrew texts sitting on my shelf.

For people thoroughly confused by the concept, the Bible, as it stands today, is 2,000-4,000 years old, depending on the portion of the text being read. I read the Protestant Bible, 66 books, and not the Catholic versions (containing a couple extra psalms, and a smattering of BCE texts written in Greek, rather than the predominant Hebrew). As a result, I’ve never really read Judith, Tobit, or the Maccabees in full.

The first time I read the Bible through, It was to earn a badge. It was for a church boys’ group, much like the Boy Scouts, called the Royal Rangers. I was perhaps fifteen at the time, and didn’t understand large portions of it, or was left with a confusing morass of questions that nobody could seem to answer. The letters written by Paul were particularly enigmatic to me since the words he used — faith, grace, justification — made very little sense to me. I felt like I was on my own, unguided, and when I tried to ask questions, I’d get vague responses, if anything. I earned, but never actually saw, the Bible badge, by the way.

The second time through, I was a young evangelical Christian at a Bible college, where I actually had to memorize a long list, in “Bible Study Methods” class, of “how Jesus is evident” in each book of the Bible–even the Old Testament ones. Seems silly to me now. I had to memorize the books of the Bible in order – I already knew them. And I had to read it–from beginning to end–over the course of fifteen weeks. It was a devotional read. You had to tie in the doctrinal “truths” the college was trying to teach us, and be able to prove these statements by scripture. Holy Spirit? Point to His presence throughout the Bible. Why god hates gays? You should be able to point to that. Still, I realized the vast lack of ethical issues the Bible never spoke to: abortion, for example, or war, or more dangerous still, peace.

In Bible college, I was also asked read it chronologically, but in terms of the historical events the text narrated; So, of course, the creation accounts in Genesis first, then, halfway through the book, reading Job. It was like receiving a history lesson, and a rather embarrassing one, through that lens. How could Moses have written the Pentateuch if he died partway through it? And why would anyone bother to write Deuteronomy? It introduced me to the concepts of Yahwist and Priestly schools, and of ideas challenging the timeline.

Simultaneously, I scoured the Bible for answers to questions in science. That was stupid.

In my decades of study, I’ve become grounded doctrinally in the Bible. I know the stories, the arguments, what it has to offer, what it doesn’t say, which questions it can and cannot answer. It’s been expressed for a few centuries that the Bible is the living, breathing Word of the Lord. Last summer, I audaciously referred to the Bible as a “musty old tome.” I’d never received as vitriol from a single post since I began blogging 3 years ago. One reader even said that my words ” had done great harm to the Kingdom of God.” I doubt she’s my reader anymore. After all, thinking your beliefs aloud can hurt God irreparably. Sarcasm again. I should have earned a Royal Rangers badge in sacrasm, too…

I’ve told myself for years, “I’ve paid my dues. I’ve read through this book a dozen times. What more could it possibly show me?” I guess I’m still at that point in my life. Should I re-read this book? I think I’ve got all the “truth” I can possibly squeeze from this old turnip. But what if I’m wrong? I don’t want to re-read the Bible to re-confirm theological truths I’ve long ago learned, nor do I care to use the Bible as a history, or science or ethics lesson.

Do you regularly read the Bible? Does it give you anything, ever, that you didn’t already know or understand, or couldn’t get from a good talk with a close and wise friend? Maybe the Bible is your wise and close friend. If so, and pardon my frankness, I find that really creepy. Isn’t that what’s referred to as Bibliolatry?

I guess I’m asking my readers–what more truth could it possibly show me? I probably sound like a non-Christian muleheaded jerk to many of you. To you other’s I probably sound like I’m spitting at you from an ivory tower.  I promise you, I have neither intention in mind. In short, I am not asking these questions to be a smartass. I truly want to know.

[This post is an expansion from an earlier comment I wrote at another blog I frequent…]

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7 thoughts on “Wait, That’s the Book for Me?”

  1. I read somewhere recently that the church does the best job of hiding God. It is the place where we give answers to questions no one is asking, and don’t allow the ones people really have about God. The Bible is a hard book to understand and to read. And it says that if we don’t do something by faith then it is sin, even reading the Bible. So the question begs asking-for me, then why encourage someone to do it for any other reason?
    And I hope I am like the father who comes to Jesus and admits, I have unbelief but I still need your help. So can I really read the bible, or do anything completely in faith? No. But I do lack the wise friend you are talking about, who will listen, understand me and understand my questions. Lets throw out the caricature of God, but i don’t know where else to find the real portrait if it isn’t in the Bible.

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  2. I like exactly one book of the Bible at the moment. It is the only one I *can* read without getting angry. It is the only one that sounds *real* to me. Can you guess? No? Ecclesiastes.

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  3. Seems like your question is geared to Christians. I use to be one, and like you read it a few times. I eventually got very bored. As I studied other religions (my undoing), I saw other well intentioned folks doing exactly what me and my fellow Christians were doings. Since then, I have found the comparative method of reading still inspiring — even if the believer perspective is no longer meaningful for me. I just did a post comparing, for instance, Judas and a Hindu Villain. I think the comparison is potentially instructive to Christians.

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  4. I used to read the Bible through in a year every year, till the Lord called me on it 😉 I needed to feel I was accomplishing something and it felt good to say I had done it at year’s end. I took a break and read as I felt led. But as Zac and I, and now Jonathon, read it yet again, I find myself seeing it through fresh eyes. But I asked for that. I asked to see it it in a new way, to have my heart opened again. I want to feel like a little kid again. And you know what? The Bible doesn’t disappoint. Oh, I still find Deuteronomy and other books yawn-inspiring (Judah begat so-and-so), but I see things in David and other characters I didn’t see before. And spending quiet time alone with just me and God, well, that’s pretty priceless, too.

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  5. Brian…Let me first say I like your blogs. They make me think about why I do some of this crazy Christian stuff. I may not agree with you a lot, but at least it makes me make the conscious decision to do what I do.
    With an intro like that, you would think I’m gonna “blast” you. Nope. I hate reading the Bible. I can remember only one period (of about 6 months when I was in high school) where I enjoyed reading it.
    I grew up in the church, confirmed in the Methodist church, spent time at Bethany both as an employee and as a student, I have participated in music in the church for almost 30 years now. I have prohesied on occasion. I have written songs to be used in the church…and I hate reading my Bible. This is one thing about my walk of faith that I am embarrassed about.
    That said, I have read through the Bible many times. I find that when I read the Bible (at least a little bit) sometime during the day, it helps my attitude/faith/outlook/whatever. I think of my daily reading like I think of vitamins. I really should take them so that I will feel better.
    Most of the time when I read the Bible, it’s just so I can check it off my list. Every so often I am struck by something I never saw before (how that happens when I have read through it multiple times, I will never know), but that happens maybe one a month at best, and usually it’s something not worth mentioning to anyone else.
    I found a great app for my phone and tablet which makes it easier. Everything is better with technology, right Mary Poppins? http://www.youversion.com. Kinda cool. I would always get lost on those printed daily reading charts/plans/bondages. This one I can choose a plan, click a button and I’m reading. Less time wasted…more time for other things. I can usually finish my reading in under 10 minutes. under 5 on a light day…or when I skip over parts I know…or when I speed read…or when I just don’t give a rat’s ***.
    Which reminds me, I still need to do my reading for today. Probably something about David and his kingdom is on tap for today…my attitude needs a little tweaking and it always cheers me up to check something off my list…

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  6. I really have no very good theory at all as to what I mean when I say that the Bible is the “Word of God”. But I still think that it is. One of the reasons I think that is that it has a sort of strange power in it, one that shines through the debates about authorship and sources, or the ages of the earth, or anything like that. I also think it’s very helpful to read the Bible through the lens of church history. Oddly enough, if you do that, you sort of end up back at the “finding Jesus in every book” perspective, but in a much more interesting and satisfying way. I can testify from personal experience that it has the power to change crusty, ivory-tower semi-Christians. A two-decade break from a book like that is maybe just long enough to help you read it with fresh eyes again.

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    1. So, like Justice Potter in 1964, (admittedly he was talking about pornography) you know the Word of God when you see it.

      That’s a rather vague statement, Ken. Could you give some thought about what you DO mean when you say that the Bible is the Word of God, and either post it here, or blog about it? I’d love to hear your answer.

      I agree with you about viewing the Bible through the lens of Church History as leading us back to “finding Jesus in every book.” It reminds me of those Where’s Waldo books. Yes, I found Jesus/Waldo, but why? and who cares? How did it change my life once I closed the book and started my my morning’s second cup of coffee?

      You can’t possibly know anyone who’s a crusty, ivory-tower semi-Christian! I think a good dose of Windex might clear away the crust. 🙂

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