Friday, 21 August 2009

What is the Bible?

Another Facebook based one:

What is the Bible?

Whilst discussing the Bible yesterday a comment was made to me saying, "The Christians that I know don't believe anything close to what you believe." This gave me the urge to explain what the Bible is to me and I will attempt to expand on the explanation I had given to him before his comment.

The Bible is the foundation of Christian belief, containing works by numerous authors over hundreds of years written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. It is a record of the history of the ancient Hebrews and their relationship with God, the people among which Jesus was born and lived. It contains the only remaining witness to the life of Christ. It contains insight into the beliefs of early Christians and how they dealt with new circumstances.

The Bible contains books of many different genres and in many styles of writing. These books convey many different messages about God and about the religious traditions and understanding. Within Christianity there are different views as to how the Bible was written, which affects how it is understood.

The main verse consulted here is 'All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness' from 2 Timothy 3.16. There are those that hold the idea that God-breathed means God wrote the Bible through men, using them like pens to convey His words. From this view the different styles emerge in the same way that we can write with different coloured pens, yet the words stay the same. This view does not appear to be the intended meaning of the verse. When God breathed into man He gave him life, but God did not control every human action. The breath allowed for freedom, allowing the Spirit of God to flow, but did not control or dictate.

When we discuss the writing process of the Bible we often refer to them as being 'inspired'. This suggests not that God wrote it, but that God allowed for creative freedom. The Bible contains God's living word, all that is necessary to salvation. It is written in fallible human language; time bound cultural expression was used to convey timeless spiritual truth. Our language could never do Him justice, but it can allow for a window of insight into the infinite mystery and majesty that is the Lord.

The writing of the Bible is perhaps best viewed through analogy, as are many aspects of the material meeting the Divine. God's message was placed in the hearts and minds of the authors, they used their own understanding to interpret and translate it to words. Imagine the spiritual truths being set out on a pedestal, sat around are several of the world's greatest artists. Each is told to interpret the image they see and to use their favoured media to convey what they see. Like the different languages and dialects found in the Bible, the artists use different materials; there are painters, sculptors and sketch artists. Like the different styles used in the Bible, the artists use their own styles; Hieronymous Bosch would paint a very different image to Da Vinci. Each artist would be sat in a different position, seeing things from a different perspective, catching the light in different ways; in the Bible we find that many of the books are clearly the product of a particular time and culture.

In order to fully understand the subject matter we must look at all the separate views as a whole, examining the subtle differences along with the big. We must never forget the different cultures and times from which the Scriptures emerged. Both colours and words are limited, yet we use them to convey truth about the unlimited Divine. We must not elevate the Scriptures to a divine level, but instead use it as a cornerstone of our faith, turning to it for guidance and submitting ourselves to its scrutiny. We should not put it beyond our own scrutiny; for it is culturally bound in the mode it is given. Our scrutiny should inevitably give rise to an understanding which was always present, the intended message within.

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