#13 THE BIBLE: GOD’S WORD OR
So you think you want to read the Bible
Where on earth do you begin? First, the Bible is really a library. If you visited even a small library, you would not begin with the books by the door and try to read them all, one after another. Yet this is what often happens with the Bible. I would advise against reading it from start to finish. Jesus of Nazareth is the key, but he arrived a couple of thousand years after Abraham.
If you begin with Jesus, then you have to acknowledge that he was a Jew and knew his scriptures thoroughly.
His thought originated there, and his vision and values came from there. Everything we Christians have that is foundational to our faith, we either borrowed, copied, or stole from the Jewish culture. The Jewish people still 106
stand as witnesses of the place from which our faith comes and labor at preserving that foundation.
The Gospels belong to you
Two thousand years ago, Jesus’ words were addressed mostly to those who felt themselves outsiders and forgotten by the establishment. Today the gospels again belong to those outside the church, for Jesus’ words are meant for those who find themselves excluded by a worldview foisted upon them by our dominant culture: The world of the spirit is forbidden to us as a way of thinking about reality.
How the Church has used the scriptures
What the church has done with the scriptures since the death of Jesus of Nazareth makes interpreting and understanding them confusing. The churches of one denomination after another have appropriated for themselves the job of interpreting what scriptures mean.
Over the centuries, there has been an accumulation of conflicting dogmas and doctrines that make the scriptures incomprehensible to most people who want to pick them up and read the words for themselves.
There are very good translations now. They are even available online, but so also are the people who want to sell their particular interpretation. They have their point of view, assumptions, ideologies, and theologies 107
for which they want to use the Bible in support. We have 2,000 years of other people’s interpretation, which the church drags along. These interpretations sometimes conflict, but somehow none of them ever get discarded. So my suggestion is to ignore them: don’t read books about what the gospels mean but read the text for yourself.
The Church didn’t mean to do it
I’ve been a priest for over fifty years. I have served in all kinds of roles, and have studied, read, and contemplated the church’s origins. In all these years I have never thought the church set out to deceive or misrepresent itself. The 2,000 years of dogma and doctrine is an accretion that we now drag behind us.
The problem is simple. We think we have to make it all agree. All those crazy medieval doctrines were the product of people, men exclusively, who were operating out of profound superstition and ignorance. Now we are stuck with what they came up with, and no one in the church is willing to throw it out. Their way of thinking is, “Somehow all this must be true if we were only able to see the larger picture.” No, the answer is to relegate it to history and for this to be the area of study by academicians. Poets like Dante and other writers might be viewed with curiosity and their thoughts seen only in the context of their environment.
Jesus’ death was the problem
Everything was OK until the first new converts wanted to know more about Jesus of Nazareth’s teaching. His disciples, who had been with him for as many as seven years, had to first explain what he had taught. Then circumstances required they interpret Jesus’ teachings in light of the needs of this new community, called The Way, a very early name for the church. Right from the start, the disciples relied on their memories. This was not too difficult, for most of what Jesus had to say was anchored in parables he told as illustrations.
These were simple stories of commonplace things, but then the disciples had to interpret those parables. As fishermen and farm workers, who were they to tell anyone anything? They needed the authority of Jesus’
own words to bolster their position on things Jesus never mentioned, or conveyed their own very Jewish notions, common at the time of his ministry, such as judgment and punishment.
How does this work?
Let us take the question of what happens after death.
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