How we should use the Bible

The Bible contains everything needed for salvation. If you were stranded on a desert island with only a Bible and no preconceived ideas rejecting it, you would become a Christian. Of course, people have added doctrines and traditions and established many kinds of churches over the centuries.

Perhaps we should go back to a Bible-based Christianity without all these trappings, a desert-island kind of Christianity, merely repeating Bible passages and letting the power of God's Spirit contained within wash over our thirsty soul.

But our mind won't let us do this. It tries to understand the meaning, to apply the truths to daily living, to interpret the conflicting and confusing messages.

To properly understand and apply the Bible we need inspired interpretation by the Church, by the Holy Spirit. Here's why...


Historical Context

At one time it was impossible for scripture (the New Testament) to be the sole authority for the Christian faith because the books and letters of the New Testament were not yet written.

The several time periods of Christianity in relation to the scripture...

Time Period Authority for Faith
Apostolic, phase 1 — before they wrote anything
  • Apostolic verbal teaching was authoritative.
  • The apostolically-ordained bishops were also authoritative; the apostles were aware they needed to pass on the faith and chose worthy successors via ordination.
Apostolic, phase 2
  • Same as previous, plus:
  • Some of the apostles had written books and letters (some are part of the New Testament).
  • These were read during church service and were considered authoritative.
  • Christians at large did not read these themselves.
  • Other apocryphal writings were in common circulation and were treated as authoritative.
First generation after the apostles
  • All the writings of the New Testament were in circulation.
  • These were read during church service and were considered authoritative.
  • Christians at large did not read these themselves.
  • Other apocryphal writings were in common circulation and were treated as authoritative.
  • The apostolically-ordained bishops were the authority for the faith. But they began to disagree with each other.
Subsequent generations
  • Same as previous, plus:
  • Heresies and councils to determine the true faith from the false.
  • The Nicene Creed in 325 A.D. containing doctrines accepted today by Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox: Christology, the Trinity.
  • Many opinions about which books to include in the Canon with the implicit assumption that these books were the inspired Word of God.
Nicene Creed to Canon
  • Same as previous, plus:
  • The Canon of scripture (list of books) was defined in the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D.
  • This list included the Deuterocanonical books (called Apocrypha by modern anti-Catholics).
  • Note that Christians at large only had access to the scriptures by hearing them read during mass. (The first written reference to the term "mass" was by St. Ambrose in 386 A.D. but the Eucharistic service with scripture readings and a sermon existed from the time of the Apostles).
Up to the Protestant Reformation
  • Same as previous, plus:
  • A few people (Waldo, late 1100's A.D.; Wycliffe and Hus, 1330's A.D.) taught that scripture was the authority for faith.
  • Martin Luther and the other Protestant Reformers all based their teachings on the idea that the scripture is the sole authority for faith.
  • The Protestant Reformers removed the Deuterocanonical books from the Bible.
Up to modern times
  • Protestants still teach that scripture is the only authority for faith.
  • Catholics accept scripture as authoritative but also accept other sources of authority (such as the Nicene creed, ecumenical councils, the Church).


The Word of God — the Bible

Is not:   the words God spoke

        but...

Is:   words reflecting a tradition of history that God's Spirit endorses/inhabits and written by people God chose

Example: listen to the Beatles, then the Bible. Observe what thoughts / images / ideas / plans / dreams fill your head.

Effects of the Beatles...

Effects of God's Word...

Yes, God's Spirit inhabits the Bible. When you read or listen to it your soul is bathed in God's presence and grace.

Here's how God revealed his inspired, inerrant, infallible word to the writers of the Bible: via stories which they repeated to various audiences before finally writing it down. First God initiated an idea then passed it along to the writer into their mind and brain and soul. They had a mental perceptual experience of all this and converted it into a story having dialog and characterization and plot etc. They did this so they could share it with others; the mental images can't be directly communicated otherwise. The stories and dialogs are fictional but express the essence of God's idea, his word. These verbal stories were improved upon from telling to telling becoming more and more effective in delivering the proper message. This is one way God's word was shared with us. People often ignore the mental aspect of the communication of ideas thinking (assuming, but not saying so) the exact words are what God originally communicated. Sometimes so, but usually not.


The Text of the Bible

I believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God.

Fundamentalist evangelical Protestants typically believe the following...

  1. Moses wrote the Torah / Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible).
  2. Each book and letter having a person's name in the title (starting from Isaiah; and including Joshua, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, and Song of Solomon; and excluding Paul's letters) was written by that person.
  3. The writer of each book or letter usually wrote the whole book, perhaps referring to other documents.
  4. It is not always known who wrote a writing, but the standard Protestant commentaries can be trusted.

My view...

  1. Many of the writers of the New Testament used scribes who wrote as they dictated. The same is true for writers such as the prophets who wrote in their own name. The writing style of the writing is the writing style of the scribe.
  2. The Old Testament (also called the Hebrew Bible) was compiled probably during the Babylonian exile using various writings having inconsistent and conflicting perspectives.
  3. Some of the books of the Old Testament were compiled from other writings and verbal traditions with no attempt to combine them into a harmonious whole. Thus, they seem choppy and jumpy.
  4. Moses may have written things included in the Torah, but various other writers having various agendas and purposes wrote most of it.
  5. Some books and sections of books are fictional. Examples: Job, Esther, sections of Daniel (not the prophecies).
  6. The New Testament was written by those as mentioned in the standard Protestant commentaries.
  7. The Old Testament contains much prophecy of events future from the time of writing.
  8. True prohecies were not written after the fact. Thus, I accept miracles.

Errors in the Bible are because of...

  1. The writer thinks it's OK to include fiction within historical passages. Modern writers of historical fiction do this.
  2. They have an incorrect view of certain topics, for example, thinking the earth is under a dome, the firmament.
  3. Their thinking was trapped within the culture of their day, limiting their views. Examples: multiple wives, genocide during war, abandoning foreign wives (with their children).
  4. The writer thinks it's OK to incorporate past history into their current narrative as if it is happening now.

The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God not because it is free from errors of fact and history but, rather, because the writers sincerely attempted to transmit the truth of God as they received it. We must discover and reject the errors.

Those claiming the Bible as the only authority of truth about God and faith might find the ideas in this article shocking, but consider...

  1. For the Bible to be true in every detail, this implies God wrote or approved every detail. Otherwise, human writers would make errors.
  2. Saying the Holy Spirit guided the writer and certifies the truthfulness of every word means, simply, the Holy Spirit wrote every word, by proxy using humans.
  3. Most Christians reject the dictation theory, that God wrote every word as if dictating to the writer. But the only view of who wrote the Bible guaranteed to be true in every detail is the dictation theory. Anything not dictated by God was written by humans, and humans are fallible, or at least not dependable sources of truth. Only a procedure such as the scientific method has any hope of discovering truth.
  4. If there is some residual aspect of the personality and concerns of the Bible writer present in his writings, these must be detected via interpretation. But where are we to find an authoritative interpreter? (Hint: not in the Catholic Church.)
  5. Sadly, the Bible does not teach how we are to sort out all these considerations. I look to science and archaeology and philosophy and history as providing essential information in determining truth.

Modern Interpretation

Modern non-orthodox and liberal Bible interpreters discredit the truthfulness of many key Bible passages, but we should discover their assumptions. Basically, they seem to wish to disprove the Bible at all cost. For example, if there is archeological evidence supporting biblical passages, they discount it by claiming the dates don't match, but they should instead say it's in the Bible but with different dates (but even so there is no clear historical narrative that can be constructed).

Assumptions of modern Bible interpretation...

  1. Miracles do not occur.
  2. Predictions of the future, prophecy, is impossible. A "prophetic" passage accurately representing history was written after the fact.
  3. You can date when a passage was written by observing historical events mentioned: it was written after these.
  4. The Bible contains fictional writing, sometimes blended together with accurate historical accounts.
  5. They wrote to persuade others to adopt their views or enhance their respectability or make their enemies afraid.
  6. Two books or letters having a different writing style were written by different authors.
  7. The disciples of Jesus were illiterate fishermen and, therefore, did not write anything at all.
  8. We should only accept passages as true if they pass these tests: (1) they occur in multiple disparate sources, (2) they contradict standard Christian teaching (because the writers would not have made up material opposed to the views they were espousing). Naturally, the conclusions from this procedure are that the only true parts of the Bible are those contradicting Christian teaching.
  9. The books and letters in the Bible were edited (redacted) many times and are composites of many writers using various sources.
  10. Interpret each book or letter in isolation. No using proof texts from other books and letters to support your interpretation.
  11. Ignores tribal boundaries when knowledge and ideas are shared. For example, since the Babylonian account of the great flood is earlier than the writing of the account in the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites copied it. No account is made for whether the Israelites had their own traditional account and that they would resist accommodating the Babylonian story when they heard of it.
  12. If history, archaeology, anthropology, and other social sciences can't clearly support a passage, assume it's untrue.
  13. Don't use the Biblical texts as source documents to confirm other information gleaned from archaeology and anthropology. In other words, never trust the information in the Bible to be factual.
  14. Most writings of the Hebrew Bible were written during the Babylonian exile or shortly after.
  15. They assume the existence of writings no longer extant (in existence) today used as source materials by the writers of the Bible (J, E, D, P).
  16. No spiritual realm having souls, angels, demons, God.
  17. The Hebrew Bible is primarily the story of the birth of the nation of Israel, its development of the notion of monotheism having a priesthood with animal sacrifices and laws, its struggles with competing views in the nations around them, and ultimately its destruction.
  18. The Hebrew Bible contains no prophecy or typology regarding Jesus and the gospel.
  19. Assumes that similar accounts in different books and letters (for example, the Olivet Discourse in Matthew and Luke) are the same and that the differences reveal the writers' bias and agenda.
  20. Assumes that if stories seem similar (for example, an elderly wife who can't have children, or a husband saying his wife is his sister) that they are all copies of the earliest.

There is no attempt to fit events of the Hebrew Bible into the historical framework obtained via archaeology. Instead, these modern interpreters use provably wrong Bible dating, then claim there is no archaeological evidence for the Bible events. For example, the destruction of Jericho is indeed in the Bible, but the dating doesn't fit. Skeptics are quick to point out it is impossible to construct a consistent historical narrative matching the Bible from the various findings from archaeology — that may well be, but at least ascribe a Bible event to an archaeological discovery that matches rather than saying no such event occurred. Using a provably false Bible dating scheme devised by Christians apart from archaeological evidence as the measure of truth is madness.

Another blunder: they consider most (all?) of the events before King David as fiction (myth) yet they construct alternate histories of these same events. For example, Abraham is considered as a fictional character who worshipped the god "El" of the Canaanites, ultimately bringing "Baal" worship to the Israelites. But how can a fictional character interact with history? And there is no mention of Abraham worshipping the god "El"; the text says "Yahweh". But they assume the text was doctored later to fit the purposes of the priestly writers who wanted Yahweh to be the god of the Israelites during a civil war of religion. Where do they come up with this stuff? They invent texts that don't exist and then refute them as unhistorical? Madness!

Differences in writing style or writing by illiterate men are explained by assuming scribes wrote as they dictated. The process was slow and caused the authors to wander off on tangents. The writing style of the writing is the writing style of the scribe.

My view...

  1. The Bible contains many errors (but is nevertheless the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God).
  2. The Bible contains many passages that are fiction and a couple of fictional books.
  3. The Hebrew Bible contains many passages claiming to be the command of God that are not from God. Examples: (1) genocide, (2) the death penalty for minor crimes, (3) expelling your pagan wives and children.
  4. Some (many?) social structures described in the Bible are horrific. Examples: (1) slavery, (2) exploitation of women, (3) only farmers provide social services for the poor.
  5. The Bible writers were loose in their concept of factual journalism, meaning, they fabricated details when they didn't know the facts.
  6. We should judge the content of the Bible based on our modern scientific and moral views. We should not be shy about claiming there are errors in the Bible. (Some prefer to call them "cultural", but they are errors — error proclaimed as truth.)

History of God

Modern liberal Bible scholars make much of the origin and early history of monotheism, ascribing it to the Israelites.

Whether the Old Testament was written very early: the "word of God" doesn't have to be written down. It may be a disadvantage to write it down if corrupt copies survive the ravages of time but accurate copies are destroyed.

In my view, God revealed monotheism to Adam and the idea was passed-down through the Patriarchs. When they interacted with the ideas of paganism having the gods, they rejected these.

The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of God but it has errors. How can something infallible contain error? In two ways...

  1. The ideas and impulses are generated by God but these get mingled with merely human content. When we properly interpret the teachings and statements of the Bible, we obtain the original infallible content.
  2. The entire tradition leading to the writing of the Bible and its teaching is infallible because it is loyal to truth and to the supreme God as he actually is.