Holey Bible vs. Holy Bible

June 21, 2010 at 4:04 pm 1 comment

   Here’s a comment you’re not likely to hear around the water cooler:  Let’s talk some more about the Good Book.  I’ll walk you back to the last “Advice” blog where you were introduced to Getting Acquainted with the Bible, by Martin Hegland, which I discovered tucked away in my collection a few weeks ago.    

That same session of letting my fingers do some walking across dusty basement bookshelves turned up another interesting title, The Jefferson Bible.  I had given this (according to a reviewer) “odd and fascinating document” to my father in the 90s because, at a glance, it sounded like good fodder for discussion.  Reading the cover flap and the introduction today has left me stunned and distressed.   

I should first say that in my teens and twenties I was surrounded by religious skeptics.  In my college years I allowed myself to be caught up in that net of human arrogance which insists that everything worth grasping is entirely explainable in a tangible way, so I understand the defensive reflexes by which agnostics scoff at the notion of Divine Mysteries knowable only to a Creator God and at the concept of unseeable forces moving among us, influencing our hearts and minds.  And by definition an atheist will reject the very possibility that the Bible is the true Word of God. 

This I accept.  But I can’t make sense of professed Christians’ failure to comprehend that a God capable of Creation – think of it:  by the sheer power of His Word, in a mere six days, the spinning, out of nothingness, of the full fabric of existence; of material entities of every nature, from the one-celled amoeba resting on the ocean’s floor to the supervolcanoes of Yellowstone and North Sumatra – is equally capable of inspiring and preserving His Words of instruction for mankind.  That I find baffling. 

When news drifts about of church bodies setting aside those portions of scripture that might cause squirming in the pews, I am flabbergasted.  Once we have carved away all the “outdated” bits, which portions shall we then believe?  Can any of what’s left be Truth if the excised chunks are discardable at whim? 

Any section of the New Testament which troubled Thomas Jefferson apparently received just such treatment in his redacted version the story of Christ’s life.  The publisher notes, in an alarming case of situational irony, that Jefferson “struggled all of his life to make sense of the life of Jesus.”  Admitting that Divinity could choose to dwell among us apparently didn’t compute in Tom’s stubborn human intellect. 

The Jefferson Bible, the author of the cover notes continues, is the result of his “Audaciously cutting, rearranging and pasting selections from the four gospels,” to create an account of Christ’s life that allowed for “eschewing the mystical accounts of Jesus’ birth and death,” and resulted in Jefferson’s finally understanding and respecting the legacy of the man, Jesus of Nazareth.  That he is now understanding and respecting a lie is less important, it seems, than that his comfort level not be nudged; that he robs from others the very foundations of salvation to suit his own fancy matters not at all. 

In his introduction to the book, Forrester Church exalts over this “accomplishment,” paradoxically referring to the “saving power” of Jefferson’s version, which omitted all of that clumsy supernatural nonsense that made it hard for Mr. Church to accept scripture as it was handed down to us.  “Being skeptical by nature and upbringing, such miracles figured prominently in my resistance,” he notes.  Reading it marked “the first time religion made any sense to me,” he crows, sadly missing the logic that all the religion had been washed away in the retelling. 

Scrambling back to Dr. Hegland, I plant my feet on the solid ground of insight – not the self-centered introspection of Thomas Jefferson’s “audacious” exercise, but the reasoned approach of a scholar humbled by the material before him.  In my view, Hegland’s introduction provides background for the origins of Christianity’s sacred texts which reveals Jefferson’s efforts to be a tragic waste of his precious time on earth:

            “An abundance of evidence indicates that the various books of the Old Testament were written at different times throughout a period of about a thousand years prior to 400 B.C.  In the case of the New Testament the books were written from about 50 A.D. to 100 A.D.

            The writers of the books of the bible were, of course, human beings.  But it has always been the historic Christian belief that they wrote under the influence of the Holy Spirit which has been called ‘Inspiration.’

            This fact of inspiration makes the Bible qualitatively different from all other books in the world.  It is different not merely in degree but in kind.  It stands in a class by itself, unique and unparalleled.  It is in very truth the Word of God.”

How were the Books of the Bible selected?  To paraphrase the author, from the many books circulating in Bible lands in both Old and New Testament times, godly people made selections based on a Spirit-guided consciousness: 

            “In order to appreciate what this statement really means, let us note the activity of the Holy Spirit in the affairs of men.  Both scripture and experience make it abundantly clear that in the lives that [have been led to surrender]to God there is a definite light and guidance that come from the Holy Spirit… Jesus spoke of this to His disciples when He assured them of the Spirit’s help whenever they came into a difficult situation:  ‘The Holy Spirit shall teach you in that very hour what ye ought to say.’  (Luke 12:12)  And on another occasion He told them that the Holy Spirit ‘shall guide you in all truth.’  (John 16:13)”           

For those called to the task, divine teaching illuminated the way to detect evidence of inspiration.  Standards also evolved regarding authorship, time of writing, and language used.  But the bottom line is that from these Spirit-guided judgments of godly people reaching common accord across Christianity emerged specific writings which were found to be authored under God’s direction.  No shifting sands, no Swiss cheese passages, just the product of the Almighty’s inconceivable powers.  Solid ground, indeed.

Entry filed under: Advice For Life. Tags: , , , , , .

Frankfurter Fantasies and Quick Quiche Summer Suppers and Questionable Quotes

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Keith  |  June 21, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    as well stated as from many MDiv theologians I have heard and read. well done!


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