A problem with The Bible

For someone coming to Christianity through The Bible, there are a few problems that can easily trip one up.

1. ‘The Bible’ means ‘The Book’, but The Bible is more accurately a collection of texts. It is in a sense better understood as a library than a book.

This means you have different authors, writing in different times, with different intentions, styles, and so on.

These texts were selected because early, prominent Christians thought they were important and at least in some sense divinely inspired.

2. The Bible is arranged roughly in a chronological order. It is not arranged in order of importance to a Christian. For example, the first book in The Bible is the First Book of Moses, known as the Book of Genesis (‘genesis’ = ‘creation’, and because The Bible is arranged roughly chronologically, it’s at the beginning).

Yet, the First Book of Moses is not central to most Christians’ theory or practice. Rather, it is the four Gospels (near the end of The Bible) describing the teachings and actions of Jesus of Nazareth that are the most central, then probably followed by the letters (‘Epistles’) of St. Paul and St. James. This is because what is central to Christianity is not Judaism (from which you get the Old Testament and therefore the bulk of words in The Bible) but (not surprisingly) the Christ, which is the focus of the New Testament, and which occurs late in a chronological ordering.

A more natural ordering of The Bible would array things in an order of importance.

The standard Universal view is that the Book of Genesis is a mythological work – of spiritual and moral allegory. Starting with that book and trying to figure out Christianity would probably not be much easier than starting with the last work in The Bible, The Book of Revelation, which is (more obviously) full of symbolism and allegory.

3. It’s easy to not be able to see the big points amid the details. Befitting what is actually more a library than a book, there are lots of details in The Bible. Different settings, people, themes, literary genres, and so on.

As a start, The Bible is about the character of Moses (Law) in the Old Testament, and Jesus of Nazareth (Love) in the New Testament. Yet, if you were to start reading the Old Testament, it would be easy to not even get to the parts about Moses.

4. Similarly, it’s easy to try to understand The Bible in a legalistic, point-by-point fashion, instead of trying to understand the arc of the narrative, and how parts in one place are answered in another place. For example, in the Old Testament there are ordinances against eating certain things, and reading just that you would think Christians are against eating pork or shellfish. Yet, in the New Testament Jesus says that it is not what a person eats that makes them unholy. It’s very easy to miss context, especially when the relevant context ranges over a large number of books, contexts, authors, and so on.

Which is all to say, it’s important to get the gist of Christianity vis a vis The Bible first, then work on the details, and those while focusing on what is more central to Christian practice.

However, here it is important to keep in mind that different versions of Christianity have different takes on what the gist is. Calvinism is different from Mormonism which is different from Catholicism which is different from Baptist views which is different from New Thought, and so on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *