Don’t get me wrong – I love the Bible. I read it every day, preach from it every week, learn from it all the time, and promote it to everyone I meet. I think the Bible is the inspired word(s) of God – not without errors – not perfect – but truly inspired. If we are honest, however, we will probably need to admit that the Bible does sometimes let us down. So let me explain.
When I do Bible Study, I always begin by telling the group the lens by which I understand scripture. I read it and ask myself some questions – Who benefits from this passage? Does this passage lift up the blessing of being human? Does it show God’s love? Is a particular group lifted up while others are put down? Is there grace or condemnation? There are more questions, but the crux of the issue harkens back to what Jesus said about the Law -Love God, Neighbor, and Self. ALL the other commandments depend on these three loves.
So when the Bible says that slavery is permissible, or that women are inferior to men, or that King David and Abraham were great guys, I have to question the veracity of the text. We know that history – that includes what we consider to be holy writ – has, for most of human existence, been written by the men who won. We know that Jesus did not treat women as inferior. We also know that the letters of Paul and pseudo-Paul that mention slavery and the degradation of women always include both of those lies. They may have been added to the original or written by someone else. Either way, the God of Jesus – the God of love – would not sanction owning people or mistreating women.
When the Bible lets us down, we shouldn’t run away from it – we should confront it! We should ask hard questions and look at the text as a whole. We should take it seriously, not literally. When we do these things, I think we open up a beautiful and bountiful path to seeing the humanity of those who wrote what they believe God was saying. They were flawed and broken, just like us. They took God’s messages and twisted them into their own images – just like us. We shouldn’t give up on God just because some of God’s followers don’t see the message perfectly. They are and were just like us – good folks grappling with unfathomable concepts as they tried to help others understand.
So – read your Bible. Challenge it – critique it – question it – and then, learn from it. It can be an inspiration, if you are willing to let it move you. Peace.
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary United Church of Christ in Reading, PA, since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), an MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin in Christian Ethics from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD in Leadership from Alvernia University (PA).