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"What 'is' and is 'not' the Christian Bible?"

Posted by danaduanecraft on September 10, 2013 at 5:50 PM

What ‘is’ and is ‘not’ the Christian Bible By Pastor Dana Duane Craft

I doubt that anyone ever stood up in front of an audience, with all their eyes glued intently upon them, or even one on one with a close friend, and “quoted” significant or profound statements about Melville’s, Moby Dick, or Garcia Marquez’, One Hundred Years of Solitude, without ever cracking the cover of either one. Yet alone, would they even pick up a random sentence from their twelve year olds’ American History book and proclaim it as the Ultimate authority on the American story. However, sadly, this is exactly what is being done countless times across the world every hour of every day with regards to the Bible. And the worst part about it is the very people who profess to be followers of Christ haven’t the slightest idea of what this God-man meant to His first century followers nor what He means to those of us alive today. But they are professing His teachings; as with authority and conviction, all the while not having a clue to their profundity. Hence, the lives they lead are far from the true Gospel of Christ and those around them, instead of being edified, are hardened and angered by their hypocrisy! Since we know that far too many people, who “religiously” quote from the Bible, have never really peered within its pages, let us first take a look at what the Christian Bible actually is and is not.

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To begin, the Bible is not [what we in the West] would openly call an Icon.  Yet for most people, both Christians and non-Christians alike, the Bible; while aided by mega-secularly owned and operated- “Christian” publishers, have undoubtedly come to see it in such a way.  There are, defined, two distinctly differently related, or types, of icons.  Firstly, there are traditional Icons which are referred to as, “Particular material objects that are believed to mediate a transcendent reality, and their ‘power’ to do so is created and maintained by various rituals people practice in relation to them.”

Secondly, there are Cultural Icons.  The defining of cultural icons are not nearly as precise as they represent something far less tangible, albeit, just as real in the sense that they are an anmorphism, of a belief, or system of values. They are not handcuffed to any particular material object (or person), visual image or, even, a ritual practice.  It [a Cultural Icon] can be related to a seed, encapsulating the beliefs, morals and/or judgments of the various supporting peoples who formed it.  Then, as almost always, it is planted into the most fertile of soils where it takes root and grows into something larger than life.  Let me place the two icons into contrasting analogies to better gain a foothold on where in the 21st Century Bible fits in.

In this violent, antitrust of the government, the fear of a coming police state and vigilante “Bernhard Goetz”1 type, Post-Modern America, the assault riffle (for better or worse) has become a, “Cultural Icon,” representing the fierce independence, raw power and a kind of twisted beauty which reflects America’s [assumption of the] Founding Fathers or even the extremism of the Tea-Party and its religiously devout conservative enlistees.

Given that a normal Icon has gone through a, sort of, distillation process, it is acutely adept at representing a certain segment of people at large.  A powerful reflection of this intoxicating phenomenon is to look at any major U.S. city who hosts a dominating professional sport franchise.  Take for example Pittsburgh, PA. What comes to mind first, one might hypothesize, would be; icy rains, coal mines and rusty factories long past their glory days.  In fact, most will likely, at first, think of the head smashing and bone breaking of one of the NFL’s toughest and most celebrated teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their hallowed halls are home to multiple Lombardy Trophies, busts of Hall of Famers and their stadium is full of bare chested fans, braving the cold, whose self-worth is measured by each Sunday’s performance on the Gridiron, from September through December.  They actually “live” in and through their Icon…or rather their Idol.

Unfortunately, the Holy Bible has become such a relic of a fallen society.  It has become the epitome of a Cultural Icon, in fact, an “Icon of Faith.”  To quote Timothy Beal, “The cultural icon of the Bible represents religious faith as what ‘closes the book’ on [all] questions about the meaning and purpose of life.  It puts them to rest in the name of God.  Faith is about ‘believing the right things,’ and the Bible is the place to find them.”2  No wonder when I preached this past week, in a large colonial style church here in Guatemala City, I had the audio/visual assistant project, on the suspended screen hanging behind me, and image of a large black leather Bible emblazoned with “Santa Biblia,” in gold foil, on the front … and it was standing upright yet closed…very sadly closed tightly! And, it is this, an unopened and unread Bible which is all too common among the followers of Christ Jesus today as the icon of our faith.

While a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life3 recently stated that 78 % of all Americans say [and] believe the Bible is the “Word of God,” and over half of those say that it should be taken literally.  Compare that with a study done by the Barna Group4, among those claiming to be, “Born Again,” and that number grows to nearly 9 but of 10 people (who believe the very Words of God are to be found in the Bible).

 

·        Yet (as of 2012) less than half of all adult Americans can name the first book of the Bible.

·        The same percentage number applies to those with the wisdom to name even one of the four Gospels. (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

·        More than 80% believe the Bible actually states, “God helps those who help themselves,” (which is the very antitheses of the Christian World View).  They also believe that, “The Serenity Prayer,” is actually present in the Bible and not merely beautifully crafted words of an American theologian (Reinhold Niebuhr), and commonly used by Alcoholics Anonymous.

·        Greater than half of High School, graduating seniors, believes Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife … and Joan of Arc was Noah’s Wife. 

·        Greater than a third of Americans cannot name even half of the Ten Commandments, including many Senators/Representatives and, to the surprise of the obtuse, even many Tea Party number.

 The reason(s) for these profound and discouraging facts are multifaceted and complex…far too detailed to go into here.  But in brief, this “idea” of the Bible as a Cultural Icon stems, in a great part, to a reactionary move within the Fundamentalists movement and their fear of a growing rise of Evolutionary Theory along with the propagation of German and British “Higher Criticism” of the Bible and, finally, the public spectacle of the 1925 case of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes5, aka, The Monkey Trial (please look it up).

All this head -butting and jockeying for pole -position caused a split, or  rather, a new Fundamentalists movement, to take on as a rallying cry a slogan from way back among the Reformers, “Sola Scriptura,” or, “Scripture alone.” Only this time in a dangerously radical and extreme form!  This “new” literal word-for-word interpretation has flattened the mountains, while raising the valleys, of the greatest literary work ever composed; a unifying book which unites 66 individual books [31,101 verses], written over 1,500yrs by about 40 different people ranging from kings, shepherds, attorneys, an army general, fishermen, priests, and a physician, to name just a few, and within varying cultural & historical contexts, however, ever so beautifully, conveying one universal theme: “The world is not condemned by it’s beginning to a certain ending, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”6 

Now, ordinary people, who had a natural hunger and thirst for God’s Word (yet, no structured theological education) came to expect that the Bible was merely, “An index for, easily, finding the solutions for life’s most difficult questions.”  They, unfortunately believed, that being good Christians meant that they had to believe in and follow this new trend [a consistent literal interpretation] even when the Spirit within them urged them otherwise. Interestingly, this myopic lens for viewing Scripture has only been around since the mid-nineteenth century. 7 Thus, they assumed, life’s difficult questions could always be quickly broken down into basic words and then applied to Scripture the way Google is utilized in our own culture. However, the Bible contains poetry, prophecy, narrative, epistles/letters, genealogical, history, laws, parables and wisdom literature. (It is truly a sin to apply this kind of interpretative technique as a blanket to all of Scripture) and it is impossible to feed upon God’s living Word in such a generic means. Then upon actually picking up the Bible, they quickly became discouraged, frustrated and eventually used it solely to list familial births and deaths or as a fancy bookshelf adornment. All the while they were left on their own in this harsh world to seek out varying deceptive religions, or spiritualisms, to be their guide instead of the true Word of God.

Thus, the relatively recent Fundamentalist approach has caused dire cultural damages way beyond anyone’s dreams (except for the Devil himself), and as Biblical literacy has plummeted the major publishing houses have made a killing, in revenue, by recklessly offering “newer” and “easier” to read and understand Bibles tailored to one’s specific needs and wants. 8 The reason seems quite clear for most…since the Bible can’t be copyrighted9 publishers have been forced to seek alternative avenues to allow for humanity’s natural hunger for God’s Word to become the motor to drive an incredible revenue engine.10 Thus, we now have for example, “The Manga Bible,”11 (by the Christian publishing giant, Zondervan-owned by News Corp., who IS Rupert Murdoch), see image below:


 Also, among the “new take on God’s timeless Word,” we now have, The Bride’s Bible, The Celebrate Recovery Bible, The Strength and Honor Bible for Young Men of Color Bible,” etcetera.  Their profits lines are in a direct inverse proportion to our societal ills.  People are still hungry for God’s unadulterated word and while reading some spoon-fed, specialty bible, driven by money-hungry publishing giants…which are telling them in what way and how to interpret God’s Word, they “think” they are satisfying that appetite, but they are starving to death!   All they are doing is filling up on hollow calories, like eating a candy bar when your body need actually wants/needs fruits and vegetables to fight-off cancer.

I’ll take a look, in greater depth on these various issues in future blogs. For example, I hope to expose, “how” so many of these highly specialized and nitch-marketed bibles offer hundreds of pages of “notes” supposedly to illumine the text for us. Or in other words, to spoon-feed our Souls the water-downed Word of God as, in His ignorance, He chose to communicate to us in a method which is way above our heads. I have read countless “synopses” of incredible biblical events summed up in a mere (21st Century) sentence or two. Where is the “space” for the Lord to speak to us or to show us a different/unique or even an unseen point of view? Is the story of King David and Goliath only about a young boy’s bravery against an ignorant brute…or is it way deeper than that? Let’s take the time, and effort, to explore these issues together.

 

I’d like to end this blog with a quote from Annie Dillard, which seems to sum up this incredible (and intimate) journey each of us undertakes each time we pick up God’s Word…and open its cover, “…trusting that it’s not about the end product but about the process.” Doesn’t this represent our authentic walk through life’s ups & downs with Christ? Why shouldn’t we think that an infinite Creator and Lord wouldn’t chose to provide us with just as profound a text with which to seek Him out?

                         

NOTE: As this began as a simple blog entry & not a thesis, the footnotes are brisk and somewhat lacking in detail. However, for anyone interested, I will happily guide them in the right direction…thanks for understanding.

 

1  http.//eightiesclub.tripod.com/id311.htm

2  Timothy Beal, The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book. (Boston, MA: First Mariner Books, 2012).  Beal continues, “...so the cultural icon of the Bible often becomes a substitute for a vital life of faith, which calls not for the obedient adherence to clear answers but thoughtful engagement with ultimate questions. The Bible itself invites that kind of engagement. [However] the iconic image of it as a book of answers discourages it. Pg. 21.

3  http.//www.pewforum.org/

4  https.//www.barna.org/

5 Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever? Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes. (Oxford University Press, 1974).

6  Peter Leithart, 1 & 2 KINGS. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006).

7  Timothy Beal, “The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book”. Pg.8.

8  2005- there were 6,134 different copyrighted Bibles sold. (600 more than in 2004)  -Timothy Beal, “The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book”. Pg.49.

9  2007-over 25 million Bibles were sold, producing revenues of $770 million (US) this equates to a 26% increase since 2005. (I believe the financial shock, unpopular & immoral wars along with the rise of grave domestic social ills played a major role in this increase, thus, in 2008 alone, revenues of $823.5 million! [While all other revenues on books sales declined] -Timothy Beal, “The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book”. Pg.34.

10 The Bible itself is not copyrighted, but many translations are, such as the Phillips, NIV, Moffatt, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, Amplified, The Message and NASB. According to US law, a work is automatically in the Public Domain if it is pre-1923. Thus, the only way for a publisher to profit from printing & selling Bibles is to “somehow” alter them. In layman’s terms, to create a Biblical text which can be placed under the protection of a copyright a new paraphrase, or translation, must be written. (I will speak, in a future blog on the distinct differences between a translation based on a purely “Functional Equivalence “vs. one done under the guise of having a “Meaning Driven” translation philosophy. 

11 Shin Lee, Brett Bumer, Bud Rogers & Jung Sun Hwang, Manga Bible, Vol. 1: Names, Games, and the Long Road Trip (Genesis, Exodus), (Zondervan, 2007).

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