The Bible as Human Literature

Lucas and I read this text on Easter while in Kenya together

Photo: Lucas, my youngest son, and I read this text on Easter while in Kenya together

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The Bible is only human literature.

Breathe.

I have a question I want to consider, and I have asked this question at the end of this post. But let’s begin with this lesser question:

Why does embracing the Bible as human literature disorient some of us?

Perhaps it is because many of us are so used to being told that the Bible is a book written by God — The Bible is God’s word. But the Bible is not written by God. It is written by humans.

Having said that, does claiming that the Bible is only human literature mean the Bible is false? Of course not.
The New York Times is also produced by humans. Does that mean it is false? Of course not.

The Bible is only human literature, but it is based on true stories. Yes, the stories are so unbelievable in parts that it is up to each reader to sort out what lies behind it all. That’s where the danger lies. The danger is not that each reader must determine for herself what lies behind it. The danger is what lies behind it. In a sense the Bible is like the shadow of the invisible. Enter the shadow at your own risk.

PERFECT OR ADEQUATE

One of my very favorite classes at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was textual criticism. One thing that my prof, Carlton Winberry, said then still seems very timely and important. Dr. Winberry said that the scriptures were “adequate” to perform the task God intended.

In hindsight, this struck a chord for me because it aligned with my own thinking on the subject. But beyond this, the word “adequate,” when used of scripture, seemed to me to resonate with an important truth in the otherwise often deluded ethos of the SBC.

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(Scot McKnight’s recent post, The Bible and Knowledge 2 (RJS) also mentions this word “adequate” when it comes to scripture. Though, in fairness to Scot, you must not mistake this mention as a way of trying to equate my mystic wanderings with his solid evangelical writings. (To listen to my recent interview with Scot about his new book, The Blue Parakeet, click here.))

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I know that both my opening line and the use of the word “adequate” may be unsettling for some of you. Let me make that worse. Let’s turn my opening statement into a question:

What exactly do we lose if we consider the Bible to be exactly what it is, only human literature?

I know that there are three words in this question that some of you won’t like when used in regards to the Bible: “literature,” “human,” and “only”.

There are other related questions underneath this one.

  • Does the proclamation of the gospel include a call to believe “in” the Bible?
  • Is the canon of the Bible revelation?
  • Is the Bible revealed? (another way to ask the same question)
  • Is the Bible culturally conditioned?

To me the answers to these questions are No, No, No, and Yes. (For some of my ideas about these things see my prior articles: Scripture Part 1, Scripture Part 2, Bibliolatry). But today, I’m playfully questioning the language that we choose when we speak about the Bible.

God did not write the Bible.
Humans wrote the Bible.
Thus the Bible is not God’s written word if by that we mean that God wrote it.

The Bible is human literature and humans are the authors. Just to be clear, the Bible is not co-authored by God and humans either. The Bible is only (by which I mean that the Bible is not divine) human literature.

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To keep you centered and balanced — even though it makes me feel queezy when someone refers to the Bible as divine — here’s  an argument for not considering the Bible as “only” human, see Scot’s Jesus Creed post The Bible and Knowledge 5 – Inspiration and Incarnation.)

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I think that after a little while, you will think obvious the simple claim that the Bible is only human literature. But I may be deluding myself here. I am reminded that the Baptist Faith and Message places the Scriptures as the first Article directly above article number two, God.

There is a lot at stake in these issues. The main issue in my sights as I write this is the continued global conversation between Islam and the West. This conversation may shape anew how Christians think about the Bible.

The way many of us think about the Bible today — as the foundation of our faith over and against science and reason — was shaped by the rise of science and reason. This era is often called the Modern Era and many consider René Descartes the philosophical father of the Modern Era. Many Christians today are more shaped in their thinking — at least when it comes to the Bible — by Descartes than by scripture itself. (For more on this, read my article, When it comes to the Bible, Many Christians are disciples of Descartes. )

The way many Christians think about the Bible was reinforced when they set out to defend this foundation against the anti-foundational attacks of postmodernism. Against science and reason, the arguments revolved around “which” foundation was “the” foundation. What had the last word, science, reason, or the Bible? Against the postmodern element of anti-foundationalism, which corrected Descartes and rightly maintained that no indubitable foundation for knowledge exists, the argument revolved around whether the Bible was the authoritative foundation for certainty against a view that maintained that our knowledge and certainty could not be absolute.

Today we have another challenge. Many Christians will need to learn to think about the Bible, not in contrast to “unbelievers” who trust in reason more than scripture, or in relativism rather than absolutes, but in contrast to fundamentalist believers who also have a book written by God.

Muslims, like Christians, have a book written (well, at least revealed to Muhammad who then dictated it to scribes) by God. Their book is the Qur an. I see a time coming when Islam will enter the modern era in which some will apply to the Qur’ an the same critical methods applied to the Bible. Some or much of Islam will begin to wonder if God did in fact write (reveal) the Qur’ an. That will be a good day when it comes. That day hasn’t come for Christians who still believe that God revealed the Bible.

FOUNDATIONS FOR FAITH
When I converted towards God through faith in Christ, I entered an evangelical world that was in the midst of a battle about the Bible. In essence the battle raged over a single question: what are the foundations for faith?

On the one side of the valley were the troops that battled under the flag of inerrant scriptures. They believed that, as God’s written word, the Bible was The Truth Objectified. What is truth? The Bible.

On the other side of the valley were those who rallied under the flag of reliable experience. They believed that, as God’s written word, the Bible pointed to a truth that could be subjectively embraced. What is the truth? The peace in our hearts.

In other words, the foundation for faith on one side was the scripture and on the other side was experience.

When asked about the actual Bibles we held in our hands, some of those who stood on the foundation of scripture immediately retreated to mysterious “original manuscripts” that had been lost to us. (Sounds like competition for the DaVinci Code to me). But even though lost, these manuscripts imputed their “inerrancy” on our modern Bibles. But it was imperative to insist that the Bibles we had in our hands were perfect and inerrant. All their shouting and war cries had been a rouse. The real matter was that they did not believe the Bibles in their hands to be adequate.

Same for the Subjectivists. When asked about the Bible, some who stood on the foundation of experience retreated to the sphere of emotion and subjectivity. The content of the Bible itself is not at issue, but what the reader gets out of it. That’s what matters. How do we know what is true? If it warms the heart, then it is true. The Bible is God’s word in the sense that, when we read it, God speaks to the heart. So, whatever anyone feels regardless of how it relates to the Biblical content, that was God’s word. The real matter here was that, like their objectivist rivals, they did not believe the Bible to be adequate.

Both had made sinking sand the place of their last stand. I’m sure these are oversimplifications. I also know that there are really smart people on both sides of the valley. But, it’s weird how often rivals are kissing cousins. They were both right and wrong in the same ways.

How were they both right? The Bible is NOT adequate. The Bible alone is not adequate. In order for anyone to share the faith of Israel or of the Christ following community, God must encounter each of us in a way that is adequate for us to believe. And, both my experience and my reading of the Bible inform me that God isn’t limited to the Bible or to feelings as the foundation of his work. Neither the Bible nor Experience can do the work that only God can do, and he works in plural and mysterious ways.

How were they both wrong? The Bible IS adequate to perform the work the communities that wrote, edited, and sustained it desired. The Bible is one human community’s way of explaining how it came to be the community it is. Their story is that God encountered them and shaped them in particular ways. Their aim is that the readers would have their sensors awakened to the presence of this same God around them.

CONVERGENCE

In fact, the way most of us come to faith is not based on one foundation such as “the Bible” or “an experience”. We all rely on multiple and converging lines of evidence or urges:

  • we grow up in a Christian context
  • we grow up in a non Christian context but some one tells us the story of Christ
  • we read the Bible
  • we admire someone who believes
  • we experience death, disease, or demonization
  • we experience a Jesus community
  • we have a mystical experience
  • we gain insight from a sermon
  • we “remember” God in nature
  • we take a leap of faith
  • we think and reason through truth claims
  • we have a vision
  • all or some of the above

At some point we

  • (1) consolidate these converging lines of evidence into one cohesive but messy transmission about the meaning of everything or, at least, the meaning of something
  • (2) begin to suspect that all these things make sense in light of Jesus and his story
  • (3) awaken to the encroaching presence of God through all of them
  • (4) make a commitment to move in Jesus’ direction

There is no one foundation for faith besides God, but there are plenty of clues.

HUMAN AND SPECIAL

Just to be clear, just because something is written by humans does not automatically make it false. Again, we read the New York Times and don’t require that it be penned by God to believe that we’re getting something that resembles the truth.

In fact, I think the Bible exists because God encountered people — encountered not in the Bible but out here in the real world — and some of these people lived to tell about it.

(1)
So at a primary level, the Bible is inspired by God in the sense that the movie Chariots of Fire was inspired by the life of Eric Liddell and his journey towards the 1924 Olympics in Paris. In other words, the Bible (and the communities that created it) is inspired by people whose lives, according to their testimonies, were interrupted and forever changed by the activity of God.

This is a first clue we are given: Is God active out here in the world outside of the literature? But it doesn’t end there.

(2)
To add another layer, the Bible is inspired by this encounter between God and humans and the sustained relationships (both individual and societal) that follow. Real people engaged in real encounters that sustained their life transforming energy and community forming genius through story telling and ritual re-enactment.

This is a second clue: Where does religion come from? To be more pointed about it, what explains the emergence of Israel and of the Christ following movement? To bring it to an even finer point, how did those who came before us work out their lives and fashion their communities after their encounter with God? But there’s more.

(3)
To add yet another layer, I hear in the Bible a story that resonates with the trajectory of the universe. I think it is esteemed — and will continue to be esteemed — as human literature because the stories it tells corresponds to something that is happening out here where all of us live, and think, and have our being. But in the end, it is these humans that tell us their stories of extraordinary things and we are seized by the realities behind them or not.

This is a third clue: What is this all about? Where, if anywhere, is the universe taking us? Where does consciousness, morality, religion, and art come from? What am I?

The Bible is great human literature, but its importance is secondary to the believer. For the believer the scripture has no authority in and of itself. In fact, quite the opposite of being authoritative, the Bible is dependent. The bible is dependent on the events that happened out here in the real world. For example:

  • Jesus is not raised from the dead because the Bible says so. The New Testament exists because Jesus was raised.
  • Israel did not emerge on the stage of history because the Bible says so. The Bible exists because Israel emerges.

The Bible is secondary, it follows events. The events themselves are of far greater importance than the text that documents them. The Bible is the story of a community that gives witness to the extraordinary events that shaped them.

Persons of faith were prior to the community of faith that was prior to the scriptures. But the initiative of God to engage the persons of faith is the genesis moment of it all. Everything depends on the reality of that genesis moment.

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tR of Jesus >>>>> Persons of faith >>>>> Community of faith >>>>> Scriptures

GOD

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So I have arrived at the final form of the question I want to consider:

If Jesus is really raised from the dead, what do we lose if we consider the Bible as only human literature?

Just in case you ran through that last line without really reading it:

If Jesus is really raised from the dead, what do we lose if we consider the Bible as only human literature?


What do you think?

Other Links:
When it comes to the Bible, Many Christians are Disciples of Descartes

Contexts and Trajectories for Faith: The Kinds of People the 21st Century Needs Part 3

Contexts and Trajectories for Faith: The Kinds of People the 21st Century Needs Part 4

Bibliolatry

See you in the mystic…

108 thoughts on “The Bible as Human Literature

  1. Alex, great thoughts. Wish I had time to mull this over some more, but let me push back a little, just off the cuff:

    First, I really like your little causality-progression line:
    “tR of Jesus >> Persons of faith >> Community of faith >> Scriptures”

    I suggest that it may be a repeating cycle, at least in a phenomenological way: the initial, actual, historical resurrection of Jesus resulted in persons of faith, who created a community of faith, who then wrote the scriptures… which were written then, and which still function now, to help people apprehend the resurrection of Jesus>> become persons of faith>> join or birth a tribe of faith>> write their stories of life with God>> which help people apprehend the resurrection of Jesus…

    Of course, as you say, it isn’t merely the scriptures alone that bring people to faith in Christ.

    [[I love your concise list of influences, actually, and will share them with other writers– one tough nut we must crack, in writing fiction, is how to realistically depict a person making that shift from “NOT a Christ-follower, thanks” to “Kill me if you like, I won’t renounce Christ”. Your thoughts here are hugely helpful grist for the mill.]]

    So rather than see this as a simplistic loop, perhaps it ought to be more like a hundred different-sized hula hoops held by a single hand, the resurrection of Jesus– like a Cartesian grid projected onto a sphere , and the resurrection of Jesus is the projection point.

    But consider that potentially-infinite series of hoops, all beginning and returning at the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection: I believe the reason the scriptures were written, the reason each of the Councils were held, was to keep the hoops true, so they would connect with the life, death and resurrection of Christ (and all the historical context that helps us grasp its import and implications)– the true one, not a false one.

    This concern with truth and context has been central to the life of faith at least since the first sermon, and apparently was a central concern of Jesus’ as well.

    On the other hand, this brings us back to your New York Times analogy… hmmm…

  2. Mark,

    Nice turn of phrase. In answer, nothing. Notice that I answered you with an answer. 🙂

    If Jesus is raised then the Bible is in fact human literature inspired by the activity of God in the world. Indeed, that’s what I think. It is like a film based on a true story. The film is human but can be truthful. Chariots of Fire was the example I gave in the article.

    However, I’m still asking this question: If Jesus is raised from the dead, then what do we lose if we consider the Bible as exactly what it is, only human literature.

  3. First, thanks for this serious of posts. For a long time I’ve wrestled with the contradiction that if the Bible is the foundation for all truth, where does the idea that the Bible is the foundation for all truth come from?

    But to try to answer your question…I think what we lose is what Imre Lakatos called the “hard core” or “kernel” of a belief community (he was speaking of Science). He said every belief community must accept a set of ideas AXIOMATICALLY – that is, without evidence. They don’t accept these because they are demonstrated to be true, they accept them because they make the rest of the belief system work better.

    In a sense, the “kernel” gives the belief community a common ground to stand on while adjudicating other truth claims. A “foundation” if you will, but one that is accepted for pragmatic, not evidentiary,reasons.

    Thus, by accepting axiomatically that the bible is true (being written by God) rather than “truthy” (like the NY Times) we can focus our attention on how to interpret, understand, and apply that truth. Which is a big enough job in itself.

    I part from some post-modernists who say the real world does not exist objectively. Its really out there, its just that we see it through the glass darkly (as Paul says) and all of our statements about that reality are open to question. Similarly, I like the idea that the TRUTH is there in the bible, but our ability to understand it is imperfect. This shifts the debate to our ability to understand and doesn’t let us off the hook as easily when we come a cross a passage that may be an “inconvenient truth.”

    Saying “that may be YOUR truth” but “this is MY truth” is an intellectually lazy position. If we don’t agree on a set of things we’re going to take as “given” I think we’re going to wind up in just that position. At which point the truth exists to serve us, rather than we it.

    • Thanks, Bill. Thanks for sharpening me.

      Yes, I would say that I am arguing that the Bible is NOT the foundation of all truth. However, I agree with the point you make via Lakatos with one distinction. He said that every community “must accept a set of ideas axiomatically – that is, without evidence.” For the Christ following community we have to think in terms of accepting “Jesus” rather than a “set of ideas”… a personal relationship instead of a system.

      The “kernel” or “foundation” is the historical gospel — the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection — in continuity with the stories of Israel but transcending them for all humanity. But rather than “kernel” or “foundation”, I prefer the metaphor of “catalytic agent” or “catalyst”.

      When we accept Jesus as being true, and the gospel as the “catalyst” for faith, our attention can turn what does this mean for us? And, how do we live this out?

      I agree with you. There really is something out there. However, I would stay with that line of thinking and say that, TRUTH is really out there (versus in the Bible) and the Bible is the literature deposit left to us by those who had been seized by that truth out there.

      Again, I agree that our ability to comprehend that truth is imperfect, and that doesn’t change the truth that Jesus is risen and out there in the world transforming lives, and that telling the gospel is a crucial part how people come to “know” this.

      In this way, the Bible is support (versus “foundation” or “catalyst”) — another clue — for “seeing” the truth that is out there in the world.

      I totally agree with the laziness of absolute subjectivism…the “this is MY truth” approach to things. However, my given is not a “set of things”. Here are my givens: Jesus is risen. The gospel is a main “catalyst” by which Jesus begins to come into focus. There are supporting clues — the birth, rise, and existence of the Church, the history of Israel, the scriptures, communities of faith, nature, paranormal experiences such as visions, dreams, etc…the list goes on. There is no one foundation for why we believe…faith accumulates then consolidates.

      Because of the historical nature of the claim “Jesus is risen”, from among all these supports to faith, the writings that are rooted in Israel and from the earliest days are the human literary deposit without peer for discovering how others who encountered “truth out there” ordered their lives around him. In other words, we are not alone in this.

      I should quote a verse here.
      1 Tim 3.15 and 2 Tim 2.19 are read by many, I’m sure, to mean that the Church is the foundation of truth. I think they point to God and the resurrection of Jesus, respectively, as the foundation for truth. Nevertheless, I will turn to the Old Testament and the words of Isaiah:

      “See, I lay a stone in Zion,
      a tested stone,
      a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
      the one who trusts will never be dismayed.”
      Isaiah 28.16

      Bill, loved this. Thank you.

  4. Alex,
    I think you are on a slippery slope here. You are a smart guy and all of your articles I read exude intelligence, but there is no wisdom in this one. Scripture is inspired by God. It was written through fallible men by an infallible God. We hear Him speak to us through scripture. You are compromising this in your article, by putting scripture alongside of writings of Plato, Socrates and any other notable philosopher you can think. of. Be careful, Alex. 2nd Timothy 3:16 says “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
    Now before you push back and say how can we say what inspired means, in the greek it means given. God has given us HIS word. This should be enough for you. Beware, Alex. It seems as if your desire to be cutting edge and provocative has taken you past a spirit of submission to almighty God and into a place of entitlement, of which you and I have none.
    I have heard you speak at Mosaic, and have appreciated you greatly, but you need to confess this as sin and repent, bro. You have missed it. God’s word is to be protected, spoken highly of, memorized that we might not sin against Him, to be submitted to, and to be honored, not to be questioned. Question why Lebron James is so stinkin good, or why american beer on average tastes horrible. Question why violence is such an american past time, and humility is a lost form. Don’t question the Bible, Alex. It has been here before you and I, and it will remain forever.
    I love you brother

  5. Fascinating article, Alex. I would add that the distinction between Christians and Muslims is not Jesus and Muhammed, but Jesus and the Qur’an. For us, Jesus is the Living Word of God; for Muslims, it is the Qur’an; Muhammad is the messenger. That is a huge distinction. And further, on the Day of Pentecost, God did not drop the Scriptures on the Upper Room- it was the living Spirit of the Crucified and Risen Jesus that filled those present. As Martin Luther says, “The Bible is the Word of God as it reveals THE Word of God, our Savior Jesus Christ…”

  6. Thomas, Thanks for the nice things you’ve said about me. Here in the mystic, we question everything. All questions are welcomed here. Even mine.

    We have different starting points. You’re at the top of the slope afraid of sliding down. I’m at the bottom and discovering there is a way up. Jesus was at the bottom too. I think He thinks we can make it. 🙂

    I think the common sense of acknowledging the Bible as human literature will grow on you if you allow yourself to question everything.

  7. Interesting indeed – I have often wondered what would happen if you became a gentile believer in the first couple of decades after Jesus resurrection – would you be given a copy of the Tanakh and asked to study it? I am guessing not, which made Christ followers a people without a book.

    Would you agree with the idea that there may be levels of inspiration? That God’s words on Sinai might be more “inspired” than David’s? Or that Jesus words might be more inspired than Pauls?

    Some great ideas here, with much to mull on.

    Thanks, Alex. . .

  8. Thomas (#11) correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the sense that you’re worshiping the bible, rather than worshiping God.

    Chris (#12), quoting Luther, I think gets it right – Jesus is the Word. The Word is not words written on parchment – materialism and virtuality are not the stuff of Spirit. Jesus points us beyond superstitious reliance on our own interpretations – that we might die (daily) and be drawn to Himself, rather than words on a computer screen or parchment.

    Respect, follow, be inspired, be led, be enlightened, be edified, be taught … all of these seem proper descriptions of how we should honor the Bible. But the Bible is not God. God died on the cross. John Wimber used to say “the Bible is the menu, not the meal.”

    It’s like if we had DV cameras in AD31 and we had thousands of hours of DV of Jesus teaching and healing. The videos themselves would not be God. They are neutral tools that echo good news of the Kindgom. The digital images of Jesus on the film are not God. They are pixels.

    You say, “God’s word is to be protected, spoken highly of, memorized that we might not sin against Him, to be submitted to, and to be honored…”

    I fail to see where Alex says anything that would contradict any of this.

    But you also say that the Bible should “not be questioned.” Besides the fact that this flies in the face of the great Jewish tradition of arguing with God, I think when we stop questioning our assumptions of spiritual reality, we too easily stumble into that realm of dead religion that Jesus seemed to really disliked.

  9. no, I don’t worship the Bible, but I worship its writer.
    2 Timothy 3, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God] may be competent, equipped for every good work.
    What do you do with this scripture?

  10. In terms of questioning, where do you as a believer enjoy acceptance? I understand questioning theological thought and struggling with that, but not the authenticity of God’s word and the fact that he uses this to speak to us.

  11. Thomas, When you write, “I worship its writer” and then quote 2 Tim 3, it sounds weird. I know you’re not meaning that you worship the writer, Paul. But that’s what it sounds like and what you’re actually saying but not meaning.

    I’m writing precisely about the authenticity of the Bible which I also believe God uses to speak to us. The Bible is an authentic human witness to the acts of God. That’s how I understand that verse.

  12. My apologies. Let me clarify. I worship the writer of 2nd Timothy and his name is almighty God. This was written by Paul, a fallible man, but instructed by an infallible God.
    Hope that clarifies. Thank you Alex.

  13. “2 Timothy 3, All Scripture is breathed out by God… What do you do with this scripture?”

    I believe it. Scripture is inspired by God to teach, reproof, correct, train… But scripture is not God. Pixels are not Jesus. The veil mediates Spirit no longer.

    Look at it in terms of infinite vs. finite, creator vs. created, and maybe it will make more sense.

    “where do you as a believer enjoy acceptance?”

    at the foot of the cross.

  14. so when you speak to me, what I hear is not you?
    It makes complete sense what your saying, bro. I don’t think I have to look at it any other way.
    Are you inferring scripture is finite? If so, then you and I are on separate teams.
    1 Peter 1:25 “The word of God remains forever.”
    Do you believe that also?
    Please use a better illustration than pixels and Jesus. I understand the difference there. However, I don’t think you get that when you are reading scripture, you are hearing almighty God speak to you. If you don’t think it is, then you have devalued an amazing gift, and you have missed it.

  15. I’ve enjoyed disseminating and philosophizing about how we view the bible in our present day as much as anyone. But while we have been postulating, the type of thing you will red in this article, http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=33599 is happening right here in North America. And I wonder what we lose when this happens?
    (don’t be put off by the fact it published in a religious publication. Ther article has nothing to do with that religion. And I think we’re all more large-minded that that kind of judgment, right?)

  16. In terms of questioning, where do you as a believer enjoy acceptance? I understand questioning theological thought and struggling with that, but not the authenticity of God’s word and the fact that he uses this to speak to us.

  17. Hey Alex,

    Great post! I love your knowledge and courage. You’re a true leader of a movement; not many are, but you are.

    Regarding the question I think you’re saying the foundation of human life is Jesus, and the power of his resurrection, not the scripture? Is that accurate? The scriptures are the medium to view power, not inherently power themselves. It would be like praising television networks for something an athlete did, just because they are the ones that broadcasted it. To that point, i agree.

    However, would you agree that viewing the bible as human literature severely weakens Jesus’ credibility as the Messiah?

    The gospels are told in such a way as to demonstrate the fulfillment of old testament prophecy; namely, that Jesus is the Christ- the messiah. If these documents are merely human literature and did not have the prophetic capacity to install criteria for the messiah, the resurrection doesn’t really matter. In the same way the scriptures are ancillary to Jesus’ resurrection, his resurrection is secondary to him being the messiah. More to the point, his messiahship is based upon the inerrancy (or at least Divine authorship (in the form of prophets) of old testament documents.

    Here’s an outline of my thoughts:

    1.) If The Bible is human literature

    2.) Then, Jesus’ messiahship is not proven nor authenticated (even if he did rise from the dead)

    3.) Therefore, “Christ” does not have Divine authority.

    Put another way:

    – Jesus as the “Christ” revolves around his authenticated messiahship

    – his authenticated messiahship is dependent upon Old Testament inerrancy in the form of prophecy.

    – If the old testament is not inerrant, then Jesus is not the Christ, regardless if he rose from the dead.

    I’ll enjoy your thoughts below 🙂

    • Scott, Thank you. About your comments…nice. Here are my thoughts.

      Really like your summary of my thoughts in the first paragraph. I wonder, if the TV fails, or loses reception for a moment, does the athlete also fail and stop for a moment?

      Here are some bullet points:

      1) There are no conditions under which a resurrection would not matter to me …or to the world. I mean, think about it!
      2) There is no sense to me in saying that the Messiahship of Jesus is based on the inerrancy of the OT. I mean, you are absolutely right, the gospels are “told in such a way” as to demonstrate…etc. The resurrection required a rereading of the OT for Jews and a reframing of everything for the rest of us. I think that Jesus establishes that God was working with, in, and through Israel rather than the OT establishing that God is working in Jesus. Yes, of course Jews who encountered a Jesus raised from the dead, who was a follower of the God of Israel, and a teacher of the Kingdom saw that “everything” points to him. As a subset of that, Yes, 1st century believing Jews argued to prove that the OT pointed to Jesus. Can you imagine any Jew seeing Jesus in the OT, apart from an encounter with the gospel and the risen Christ? I mean, honestly, I have had an encounter with Christ and believe the gospel, and I look at some of the ways the NT uses the OT and think…nope. So for me, Jesus and the gospel establishes the OT and not vice versa…and his resurrection doesn’t establish them as “inerrant” but as anticipatory. (For more on this…check out the “True Religion” conversation on M: http://bit.ly/CZxu8 — OT prof, Brian Russell, Michael McManus, and others have lots of good thoughts. My thoughts on page three of the comments are relevant to our talk here).

      3) I think that the resurrection is not secondary to his messiahship, but secondary to his relationship to God.

      Ok, these are thoughts “shot from the hip” but everyone should know that since this is a blog. Good hearing from you.

    • Hey Thomas…No, I mean more generally like as I read the NT writers quote the OT, then go back and read the OT passages, I develop the sense that few would have, could have attached those passages to Jesus, without the resurrection. It is the resurrection of Jesus that required them and requires us to look for him everywhere including the OT. So (oddly enough) the prophetic elements of the OT are “clear” in hindsight –as seen through the resurrection–not in foresight. And, even then, this “clarity” seems strained at times.

  18. thanks for responding, Alex. I appreciate the dialogue.

    I understand why the resurrection has value outside of it’s establishment of Jesus’ messiahship. However, I don’t think the writers of the gospels did. Moreover, the “Christ”ians of the first and second century did not either. It is abundantly clear that the resurrection was just one of other miracles Jesus did to confirm his messiahship – John includes 7 such miracles in his book. Pauline theology is based upon the notion that Jesus was the messiah, not merely that he rose from the dead. His resurrection was just the smoking gun so to speak of his proofs. I mean, he was mostly attempting to convert Jews to Christianity. In order to do that, he had to establish Jesus as the Christ. Even when he spoke to gentiles, his first goal was always to validate Judaism, then conclude Jesus was the culmination of that religion in the form of the Messiah.

    Regarding the NT establishing the OT, i would say that’s not at all how Jesus and the gospel writers viewed it. Their writings show that they believed the OT established the NT. Without the OT being true, then nothing they are said ultimately mattered. The first Covenant must be established and used to validate the second, not the other way around. Any other interpretation of the relationship does not fully incorporate the way the writers looked at it; which is what matters most.

    what i’m saying in summary is that Jesus’ messiahship is what matters. His inauguration of the kingdom of god by rising from the dead and establishing himself as the “Christ” is what matters. Both of those things are entirely and 100% dependent upon the Bible being more than Human literature. There must be revelation from God to prophets. If the Bible is human literature, then these mystical claims cannot be asserted. The tight correlation of God – prophet – Bible is the doctrine of inspiration, which necessitates inerrancy (otherwise, how do we know what came from god and what didn’t? It all must be inspired and if it is all inspired, then it all must be without error)

    thoughts here?

    • Hey Scott (Comment #33).
      Thanks for refining my thinking. I like your approach. Very integrated. Everything depends on everything else.

      Just a couple of things to begin with.
      To you it is “abundantly clear that the resurrection was just one of other miracles Jesus did to confirm his messiahship…”.
      This is not abundantly clear to me.

      First a quibble about the word “just”. There is no sense in which the resurrection could ever be qualified this way. It was “just” a resurrection? Really? Is this a clue that indicates why you miss the centrality of the resurrection and how it shapes everything else? Is the resurrection “just” a story, a fable, a myth? If it is a historical claim, then it can never be thought of as “just” anything. 🙂

      Secondly, Jesus did not perform a resurrection, as you say he did. He may have performed other miracles — “just” miracles, you might say. But the resurrection was performed by God. Jesus did not raise himself from the dead ala a David Blaine event or a Criss Angel stunt. God raised Jesus from the dead. God raised him from the dead to point to the fact that He was the one through whom He would make the universe right.

      But you don’t let up…”Pauline theology,” you write, “is based upon the notion that Jesus was the messiah, not merely that he rose from the dead.” Has the “notion” of a “mere” resurrection become this bland for you? Apart from the resurrection there is no convert named Paul. It was the resurrection that required a rereading of the scripture to find Jesus there…not vice versa. The resurrection was not the “smoking gun”…it was a resurrection! It’s not like he pulled a rabbit out of his hat.

      Ok, this comment is getting too long, and I’m not even out of your first paragraph. I have to close with this: You write: “Even when he spoke to gentiles, his first goal was always to validate Judaism, then conclude Jesus was the culmination of that religion in the form of the Messiah.”

      What?

      I’ll get to paragraph 2 and 3 soon. Thank you for doing exactly what I asked–helping me to think through the question, If Jesus is raised from the dead, what exactly do we lose if we consider the Bible only human literature?

      🙂

  19. (#33) “he [Paul] was mostly attempting to convert Jews to Christianity.”

    Which is unfortunate if we understand that Jesus points the way to freedom from religion – freedom from “isms” and “itys” that plague us today even as it did then.

    We can and should have the greatest respect and honor for scripture as God’s own breath, but that’s not the end of the story. Scripture points us beyond itself: beyond words, logic, propositions, religious rationale. It’s not that we abandon these abiding truths and principles, we simply mature beyond the point of finding religious security in a God reduced to our own understanding.

    Maybe it’s like boating into Kauai’s Kalalau Valley. We don’t downplay the absolutely critical value of our boat in getting us to the valley, but now that the Valley begins to come into view, we start to realize the profound grandeur and mystery and limitless depths of majesty of our destination. Words on a page, no matter how much Godly power we mentally ascribe to them, cannot adequately describe that which God is.

    It reminds me of Paul’s experience being drawn up into the “third heaven.” Nothing in this experience contradicts scripture, yet Paul says that words utterly fail to describe what some have called Paul’s second most pivotal life event.

    Christ’s ultimate gift is not received in a cerebral understanding of words. And the most pivotal words of scripture (I would propose) must rely on poetic metaphor rather than logical proposition. This kind of metaphor points us beyond our own linear understanding – to a place of ever-new relationship.

    Alas, it’s the fundamental nature of the cross to subvert our most cherished religious opinions and replace them with the very heart of love itself.

    Love one another.

  20. So I have a question:
    If the Bible is literature, as is Moby Dick, or Spurgeon’s autobiography, will all of them pass away? What would keep one from having staying power? After all, they are all just literature, maybe the Bible has more in depth analysis of God, but like you said, John L, it can’t possibly do credit to whom God is, right? So all will pass away by definition.

    • Hey Thomas (comment #36).

      Will the Bible pass away, like Moby Dick and the autobiography of Spurgeon?
      Yes.
      Perhaps, one might imagine in eternity: Father, Son, Spirit, and Bible — a kind of “quadra-unity” instead of trinity…but I don’t.
      On the other hand, God’s word, versus the Bible, never passes in the sense that God will do what he says he will do.

      Look at this way: before these books (i.e. Moby Dick, Spurgeon, The Bible) pass away, will they have enjoyed the same kind of shelf life?
      No.

      The Bible is human. The Bible is also special (versus “divine”).
      The Bible is special because it points to something special, namely, the activity of God in Christ as he reconciles the world to himself.
      To the extent that the Bible points to what God revealed of himself to the prophets and to us, it is pointing to truths that will never pass away.

      Something like that. Thanks for your questions. I’ll take you up on the beer one day.

  21. Mark (comment #16), Thanks.

    I reserve my highest attention for Jesus. I accept Moses and other writers/prophets as important because Jesus does. I like Paul because he thinks Jesus deserves the highest attention. Follow the link and instructions I provide in comment #30 for more on this.

    Perhaps this could be transferred to the Bible, but I prefer to simply accept the whole collection as a unity. How I pick and choose which portions of this collection to accentuate are explained in my posts on the Bible to which I have linked.

    Thanks.

  22. Hi Alex,
    I have no problem with your terms “human” or “literature”, just the “only”. “Only” seems (not trying to be confrontational here) so dogmatic.

    For me, Peter Enns incarnational analogy (ie. scripture is both fully divine & fully human, just as Jesus was fully divine and fully human) is really helpful. This is covered in the Scot McKnight post you referred to above (as well as others by RJS)). I guess I’m puzzled why we need make an either/or choice between divine & human. I agree that many Evangelicals have a warped view of scripture (see David Congdon’s brilliant <href=”http://fireandrose.blogspot.com/2006/08/heresies-of-american-evangelicalism_26.html”Heresies of American Evangelicalism post), but do we really need to swing so far in the other direction? (side note: Are you comfortable with Barth’s view of the Word as Witness?)

    Your question:

    If Jesus is really raised from the dead, what do we lose if we consider the Bible as only human literature?

    maybe we could ask “If Jesus is really raised from the dead, what do we lose if the guidance of the Holy Spirit is no more than Human ideas / choices in tune with God’s will?”

    And I think the answer to both is “an understanding of how God communicates to his people”.

    I do concede that explaining exactly “how” scripture is divine is a difficult (but interesting!) question.

    • Steve (comment #40), Thanks for the comment. I hear you and appreciate your thoughts.

      In one sense, you’re right. I added the word “only” because I think to say that the Bible is “human literature”, while not common among evangelicals, has a common sense to it. I’m not surprise that this causes you no trouble. I added “only” because we can be so creative about working around things …:) …and because it allowed me to get closer to my meaning. I thought “only” would eliminate the “co-authorship” idea as a solution, as well as the Bible is “divine human literature” option.

      As for me, the incarnational analogy fails on every level, to the extent that I understand it. How can anyone stomach saying that the Bible is fully divine? Especially if we make that statement by analogy to Christ? It confounds me to hear anyone argue this without laughing or vomiting the same way it confounds (and disturbs) some of my very smart reading audience that I would say the Bible is only human literature. I am trying to understand how smart people can make such comments about a book.

      I can see why we wouldn’t want to make a choice between human and divine when it comes to the Bible given that religions characterized by a scripture that is considered divine go back almost to the beginning of writing…human writing, that is. Not only that, in our tradition in particular, we are so used to hearing that the Bible is the word of God that we take this as a given and anything else as blasphemy. ( Thinking out loud here — Sometimes I wonder if the prehistoric art of the caves in southwest France that date to the earliest days of our species were considered divine? Perhaps. In any case, I tend to think they were definitely a part of the most ancient forms of religious expression.) What’s more, humans are often considered divine, even “gods” by some (namely, Jesus). Our historical formulation for the person of Christ is a both and formulation: fully human, fully God. In other words, we have no problem with a “both/and” orientation and thus can be perfectly in tune with our anti-“either/or” age.

      I like both/and. I like either/or. I’m not bound to either….or…neither…or both.

      Having said that, I don’t think that claiming the Bible to be “only human literature” is a swing “so far” in the other direction. I’m not reacting to fundamentalism or liberalism. I’m just stating what seems to be an obvious truth, an elephant in the room, if you will. I don’t think God wrote the Bible. I think humans did.

      I’m not sure I get the way you revised my question with the Holy Spirit. I’m sure I’m missing something here, but I’m not getting it. My question is fairly straightforward. Your conclusion is exactly what I’m after. You say that what we lose is “an understanding of how God communicates to his people.” This is exactly the help I needed. I wanted thoughtful ideas here to test and challenge my unspoken thesis which is that we lose nothing if the Bible is only human literature.

      Lastly, I do have to say that there is a sense in which I agree with your conclusion. I agree that if we are not prepared to assert, embrace, and even delight in the fact that the Bible is only human literature, we have indeed lost an understanding of how God communicates to all of us.

      The really interesting question to me then is not “how scripture is divine” because that is not an option, in my view, at all. The really interesting questions become, Can human literature be special and unique? Can humans and their literature communicate a real encounter with God? And…when did we stop trusting other humans anyway? And… Why would God require that we trust humans to communicate such truths? And…what is the relationship of this human literature to God and his activity in the world? And… if Jesus is raised from the dead, what do we lose if the Bible is only human literature? And…what does it mean for this human literature to be inspired by God? And…what can we mean when we say that this human literature has authority? And…why should this human literature be a part of the 21st century Christ following conversation? And…does God still speak to us through this human literature?

      Excellent contribution, Steve. Thanks for sharpening my thinking.

      Btw, Because I write these from the hip, please forgive any portions that come across as ungrateful. I love and anticipate comments (what blogger doesn’t?) and I wouldn’t want to come across in a way that would discourage any one from hashing out their ideas here. Thanks again.

  23. Okay Alex, your comment about quadra-inity was a bit snide, don’t you think? I haven’t inferred that I worship the Bible at all, just the writer of it, of which I think our understanding of who that is is a big difference between you and me. You believe men wrote it, I believe men wrote it through the divine power of the Holy Spirit.
    You also said that the Bible will pass away, just like other literature. So what do you do with verses like Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.? Oh, I guess this is only referring to Jesus words? This would hold true to what you said later in your response when you said, “The bible is human. The bible is special, but not divine.”
    Hey I love you bro, but I think we may be playing for different teams.
    What do you do with Psalm 119:160? which says, ” The sum of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting”
    I mean, either you believe the bible and you submit to its God given instruction or you don’t, Alex! You can’t pick and choose my friend! Maybe that is what you think you can do?
    You and the rest of your boys can talk circles around simple dudes like me, but I’m calling your motives into question here. As a follower of Jesus, the Bible is given to us that we might be transformed by the renewing of our mind THRU SCRIPTURE, not by our incredible wit and catlike speed and reflexes! Be careful bro.

    • One thousand pardons, Thomas (comment #41). I love and anticipate comments and want to respect every contributor. Your thoughts are welcomed here. My replies are in good humor. But I was trying to make a point that you should be careful not to make the Bible equal to God or even divine. Be careful there.

      Having said that, i think we are so close…
      You believe: “men wrote it through the divine power of the Holy Spirit”
      I believe: men wrote it because they were inspired by the activities of God.

      Your focus is God’s act to have the Bible written.
      I focus on God’s acts (i.e. the exodus, the resurrection, etc) that give rise to both believers and their writings.

      Ok, we may be on different teams, but remember that neither you nor I do the picking. Who picked you? I’m guessing you know who I believe picked me.

      All those verses you quoted…do you read “The Bible” everywhere they write “your word”? I don’t.

      I believe first and foremost, not in the Bible, but in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I think that loving him and others is superior to obeying laws.
      I also think that everyone picks and chooses –listen to my interview with Scot Mcknight about this — and I have outlined how I pick what I pick. I also agree with you, as does my experience with the Bible, that the Bible is special and has transformative properties. This is what happens when that which is human aligns itself with God.

      Thanks again, Thomas. Your questions and challenges are welcome here.

  24. “I believe first and foremost, not in the Bible, but in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I think that loving him and others is superior to obeying laws.” -Scarey stuff. Very dangerous to continue to exploit typical christian doubts for your own benefit. We know Jesus because of the word. You can contiue to minimize this, but thank God that the word will be here long after all this sillyness.

    • Jacob (comment #44), Thanks for your comment.
      You write: “We know Jesus because of the word.”
      Do you mean the Bible?
      I assume you do because that is the topic under discussion.
      In other words, you think that “We know Jesus because of the Bible.”

      Also, when you write, “We know…” — to whom are you referring? Who is “We”?
      Everyone?
      The saved?
      Me and you?
      Because of the attitude of your post, I assume you are projecting your individual opinion
      and imposing it on all of us.

      Thus it may be that you are saying…”I know Jesus because of the Bible and therefore so do you and everybody else out there.”

      Thanks, but no.

      I am not sure how I benefit from Christian doubt?
      My quest here is to break out of the whirlpool of fear and doubt and discuss the underlying clues to our faith.
      Sorry if that scares you. It may be that you are on the outer rung of that whirlpool.
      Best to you…Alex

  25. I’m in complete agreement with Jacob, Alex. We know Jesus, because we know His word, the holy scripture, where he speaks to us. For myself this is my foundation, my base. It is where wisdom and knowledge begins (Proverbs?).
    So what is your base my friend? What is your absolute, your foundation for what you believe? Is it your thought? Your experiences? Paul says the heart is untrustworthy, and even if you don’t want to go with his teachings, you and I have been around long enough to know this is true.
    What is your base, Alex? Where do you begin from?

  26. To the point, now the original article was kind of interesting and thought-provoking, but some of the responses and comments are just…let me politely say, sounds like some folks like to hear themselves speak to admire how smart they are. I mean it’s all over the place. There are no concrete thoughts here. There’s always a back door to any critical debate. So I’ll tell it like I see, babble or not.

    In a manner of speaking, yes the bible is human literature. It was “penned” from the hand of man. Its “voice” is of man too—otherwise God is schizophrenic. I mean the voice from Psalms is not the same voice in Peter is not the same voice in Revelations and is not the same voice in Isaiah. The Gospel of John is nowhere near the same voice of the Gospel of Matthew. And that’s what I found fascinating in the original post—that is what was recognized…almost.

    It got me thinking and agreeing along the way, that God did NOT dictate word for word the entire bible, or at least not in most of it. Perhaps some prophecies were literal dictations, but overall, perhaps not. Not each and every word. I thought what Alex was laying out was that God inspired man in broad strokes, to write in essence what God wanted to convey and reveal to humanity. And I would agree. It’s quite obvious different writers used different literary techniques and devices to convey deep truths. Some spoke plainly, some used similes and metaphors, some parables, some used very esoteric imagery. But I doubt any of these writers thought or even imagined for a minute they were that bright or possessed enough gnosis to speak for God. And they were NOT just recording history. If that were the case, the bible would be so contradictive it would have never lasted the ages. It would have faded long ago.

    Weaver is right. These are God-inspired writers. Perhaps these were experiential recordings, but it was NOT a historical recording. These were experiential recordings from a different plane. And that does indeed make them God-inspired. One only has to read Revelation 1:9-20 to understand how this works. Likewise with Ezekiel. If the other books aren’t so obvious of their out-of-body experience, that doesn’t mean they weren’t in that same spiritual realm. These writers are NOT a Josephus. Or even like him. They recorded—in their point of historical and cultural reference—great spiritual Truths. I would venture to many great writings and works of art and music likewise are Spiritual inspired as well—to this day, though not canonized.

    >>>> I believe first and foremost, not in the Bible, but in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.<<<>>>What do we lose if we consider the Bible as only human literature?<<<<
    If “only” is an operative term here, then we indeed loose complete authority of Truth. Everything is then subjective. Everything is in question. No, everything is in doubt. I mean, in the post-modern era who would even believe in the Resurrection if it weren’t for the authority of the Bible?

    Now I’m all for thinking out of the orthodox and believe many a fault can be found in strict literalism, but much of this discussion is skating on the thin ice of Lake Gnosticism. And it’s getting hot out.

  27. >>>> I believe first and foremost, not in the Bible, but in the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.<<<
    That’s a contradiction in terms. Either can’t be certain without the Bible holding authority. How would you even know of Jesus Christ no less of the prophecies that foretold his coming and mission? The Resurrection you say? Prove that even happened without the authority of the NT. Islam claims otherwise. Science claims otherwise. Post-modern society jokes about it. Where’s the evidence?

    • John (comment #49), you ask for “proof”. Proof on what terms?
      Again, I think you have things backward.
      The resurrection did not happen because the Bible (NT) says so.
      The Bible (NT) happened because of the resurrection. You must remember the order. The resurrection
      is true if it happened whether or not the Bible exists. God is who he is with or without the Bible. However,
      the Bible is the human witness to Him and His activity among us. It only has authority to the degree that
      it reflects who God is and what he is doing.

      How would I (or anyone else) know of Jesus, you ask. Here’s my story: Someone told me. I observed a community of faith. I read the NT. Others prayed over me. I had a vision.
      I said a prayer. I told someone else. I heard a voice. I felt forgiven. I began to care about others. All of these were threads that weaved a reality web for me.
      The Bible was not foundational. It was an important thread in my reality web.

      Thanks for offering some good challenges. They help me formulate and refine my thinking.

  28. This blog dropped a bunch of my answers to your questions bracketed above, so I’ll reframe them:

    …….The really interesting question to me then is not “how scripture is divine” because that is not an option, in my view, at all…….
    Really?

    ……….The really interesting questions become, Can human literature be special and unique?……….

    ……….Can humans and their literature communicate a real encounter with God?………….
    Ezekial, Daniel and John of Patmos seem to indicate so. And so does Dostoevsky, CS Lewis, and JRR Tolkien seem to, as well as countless other writers, poets, painters, and filmmakers.

    …………..And…when did we stop trusting other humans anyway?…………
    Dan Brown

    ……………And… Why would God require that we trust humans to communicate such truths?………….
    Because some angels were said to get jiggy with our ladies.

    ………..And…what is the relationship of this human literature to God and his activity in the world?………….
    It gives a fractal view of the invisible.

    …………And… if Jesus is raised from the dead, what do we lose if the Bible is only human literature?………..
    Previous post.

    …………..And…what does it mean for this human literature to be inspired by God?And…what can we mean when we say that this human literature has authority?……………
    Previous, previous post

    ………..And…why should this human literature be a part of the 21st century Christ following conversation?………
    Because then empiricism is the only option, and faith and hope be crushed under rationalism and reason.

    When we listen. That is when we shed our gnosis, our taught beliefs, our rites and rituals, our religious indoctorations, our pride. When we shut out the noise of the world and our lives, and listen. The Bible is mystical because Truth transcends cultures and ages, time and space. And the Bible is a recording of such Truth in relationship to humanity. It a recording of Israel not because Israel is so Godly (far from it in much of its history), but because God chose these people for one, to illustrate many truths through: God’s relationship to not only humanity, but also a glimpse of God’s relationship in the heavenly realms; a glimpse of some of God’s attributes such as justice and mercy, grace and love. Secondly, God used the Chosen People to deliver the messiah into humanity.

    And God speaks to us through the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ to this day to illustrate a righteous way of living life and to promote hope and faith and the way to the salvation of humanity.

    And I believe the Bible reveals deep Truths that words its composed of fail in themselves to deliver, because an intimate understanding of Scripture reveals the face of God.

    In that The Bible is of utmost importance in an age of rationale, reason, and empiricism. When the essence of Scripture is understood in its entirety, it is a book of reason and rationale.

  29. John (Comment #48),

    Thanks for the comment.
    I can’t go with you on the historical vs experiential distinction.

    Just one example should suffice: the resurrection narratives. These narratives are NOT about some spiritual truth. They are about a happening, an event, a historical event. They are in fact a historical recording.

    They are also, as is everything, experiential, a faith based narrative. The original witnesses experienced the history they spoke about.

    Interestingly enough, since you brought up gnosticism, without the historical aspect which you seem to resist, you’ll be headed towards a type of gnosticism.(Not that I know that much about gnosticism). I would suggest you reconsider the importance of the historical in the Christ following faith. It matters.

    I also can’t go with you on the relationship between authority and human witness. Truth doesn’t lose its authority because a witness to it is only human. That is backward. On the contrary, a human witness, such as the human literature we call the Bible, gains its authority by witnessing to the truth.

    Thanks for the contribution.

  30. You are right of course much of the scripture is a historical recording. I didn’t intend to sound so dogmatic as to say it was one or the other—historical or experiential. But I don’t think the intention is for scripture to be a Josephus-like historical recording for historical-sake. There are more to these “historical” stories than just that. They ARE indeed about spiritual truths—all of them—even the ones that seem nothing more than historical.

    I don’t think its intended to read any scripture at a superficial surface level. That’s what leads to contrived dogma. I would say the scriptures leave all kinds of clues that they are reflections of much deeper truths. Truths we could not even begin to fathom without such blatant historical metaphor.

    For example, the history of Israel may not be JUST the history of Israel, but I suspect is also a metaphor for deeper spiritual truth. What that might be is far above my understanding, but there are simpler examples throughout the bible that leads me to think along that line of reasoning.

    For example, in the OT, the strict directions to the specifications of the Temple is for what? Because God says so, because Jehovah is God and that’s the way God wants it? No it’s very symbolic of heavenly order.

    Or, what is the story of Job about? Most people say it is God testing man. An explanation of why bad things happen to good people. That may be incidental at best. It’s a far deeper revelation into the entire dynamics of good vs. evil, of free-will vs. determinism, perhaps even the existential reason why humanity is here in the first place. To just accept it a historical event of some good, righteous man who got a bum deal yet didn’t falter in his faith is just a superficial reading of a VERY deep, revealing peek into the mystic.

    *******The original witnesses experienced the history they spoke about.*******
    Granted. And there was much more history that wasn’t recorded. For example, John says in regards to the things that Jesus did just in his, let’s assume he’s speaking of Jesus’ three-year ministry, that these events and miracles and teachings would fill all the books… (paraphrased). Sure it’s a hyperbolic statement, but what it reveals is there are only four small eyewitness accounts that are deemed sufficient for our understanding of who Jesus is, what he did and what he’s about. What writer wouldn’t naturally like to elaborate more fully? It’s likely because these accounts were “inspired” by a divine editor as pieces of an overall whole. Likewise with the OT stories. They are nowhere near a comprehensive historical accounting of a nation. These historical stories are but individual threads that weave beautifully into a tapestry of Truth.

    I’m not “resisting” the historical aspects of scripture, I just see history more as incidental. It’s a vehicle to convey an understanding of truth. Truth doesn’t exist because of a historical event anymore than a Giant Sequoia doesn’t exist until we see it with our own eyes. Would the resurrection have the mystical significance it bears with just a historical accounting of the rise of a nation that preceded it? ABSOLUTELY NOT. It would have been a wondrous spectacle for sure but nothing more.

    “The Lamb of God” means nothing without the symbolic act of OT sacrifice that preceded it. And that OT sacrifice is nothing but paganism without the fulfillment that symbolism prophesied. Historical event is the incidental vehicle that connects the two. History isn’t the cause that created one or the other.

    • John (comment #54), I don’t distinguish between “spiritual” truth and truth. The resurrection narratives, for example, are not about the spiritual truth that Jesus was raised from the dead. They are about a historical truth.

      My claim is that the Bible is only human literature. What I mean by “only” is that it is not written by God. It is a faith based account of the historical encounters between some men and God. It is also the stories of two communities (Israel and the Church). I also use the term “literature” to point to the fact that we should expect literary devices (metaphor, analogy, foreshadowing, etc) and read them as such. I also think we should listen to their history as they tell it.

      I think you take a huge leap to land on “…likely because these accounts were “inspired” by a divine editor as pieces “, and to tell you the truth, the way you wrote it tells me you’re having a hard time buying that too.

      You missed my point about the order because you abstracted it. The R of Jesus is not true because the NT says so. The NT exists because of the R.
      Here’s another way to look at it: God doesn’t exist because the Bible says so. The Bible exists because God acted and men wrote about it. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible matters. That’s why I write about it. But the Bible is not our foundation for knowing God, truth, etc. God is.

  31. ********How would I (or anyone else) know of Jesus, you ask. Here’s my story:*****

    Here’s my story: I probably first understood who Jesus was from an elementary school “after school bible study” (when they still did that in public schools). I then went to church, a Catholic church in the neighborhood. I read a big, fat Catholic bible my grandmother bought me. But I didn’t get it. None of it. I understood what the historical aspects were, but I didn’t feel it. Then I went prodigal. Big time. For a good decade.

    But it wasn’t until that quiet little voice spoke to me, at about the time when I stood on the edge of the abyss. For a couple weeks. “Get that bible out of your parents’ attic.” I did. And when I did read it, starting with the Gospels, I was bowled over. I got it. I understood and I felt it. It talked to me in a manner of speaking.

    It wasn’t reasoning or an examination of historical significance that got me. It was an invitation to examine the character of God revealed through the words I read.

    Now you may say that’s because people wrote and recorded their [historical] experiences, and I probably couldn’t empirically argue against that. I can just say that’s not it. Believe me or not. It was first that mystical invitation, actually it was a warning. Had I not heeded that quiet whisper, I’m quite certain I wouldn’t be here today discussing such matters with you. What I’m saying is it wasn’t the historical eyewitness accounting that convinced me of anything, but that it talked to me in a way indescribable via words. And it does to this day. If I’ve ever experienced anything that can be described “mystical” it’s in reading the bible. And I am a history geek. I love history books and history documentaries. Biographies. All that. But I don’t ever really feel the bible in such light. Yes, there are historical accountings, but that’s NOT what the scriptures are about.

    • John (comment #55), There it is in your own experience. It was not the Bible. It was the “mystical invitation”, “that quiet little voice” that spoke to you on the edge of the abyss, “that quiet whisper.” You “experienced” or “heard” God through the Bible, and by standing “on the edge of the abyss”. I have too. But others, most noticeably the recent published conversion story of Francis Collins of the Genome project, experience that “mystical invitation” though nature. IMHO, the mistake you, Thomas, and Jacob make is to confuse the the vehicles of communication — human literature, nature, disease, experience, etc — with the “Voice” behind them. No doubt the Bible is extraordinary human literature. No doubt God has used the Bible in many lives to speak. But in the end it is not the Bible that even you point to…but the “mystic…” The Bible is not The Foundation for faith but it is one thread in an entire reality web that God spins. Thanks. Glad you listened to that voice.

  32. Alex, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I certainly agree there are numerous ways people find and connect with God. I’ve read Collins’ book. As a matter of fact the way I found Collins’ book was mystical. I was in a mall shopping with my family. I was “led” right into the book store as we were passing by, right to an aisle and faced with Collins’ book. I picked it up, put it back down, looked at a couple others, but “urged” to pick the Collins’ book back up. I bought it and it was a fascinating story. This was about the time when I first started attending the Journey and a small group with several “science is the devil” members. That book gave me some great evolutionary ammo to support some arguments I presented. One of the guys in the group borrowed the book and I haven’t seen it since.

    So I definitely agree there are numerous ways God perks the ears of mankind. Cornelius is a non-bible example. The magi. Well I take that back, most likely scriptures were instrumental in the magi’s quest. But Cornelius IS a perfect example of your argument (which I don’t disagree).

    My argument is the bible is not JUST human literature. It’s not JUST an historical accounting. Those scriptures are as much a part of the mystic as any Godly experience. I say they are indeed God-inspired—as I originally said—with broad strokes of Godly enlightenment. These aren’t just the thoughts and words of some smucks giving an accounting of some historical event. Yes its an accounting, of some smucks telling what they’ve “seen” in the mystic. Some deeper in the mystic than others.

    The bible may not be from the very hand of God—because it is a physical thing and God is spirit—but the meaning and essence within it is of God, that essence jumping a synapse gap from the mystic to man’s minds.

    And I don’t have “a hard time buying that too.” Tell me, how would you explain the cohesiveness and non-contradictory nature of the Bible with the dozens of writers transcending time and cultures had it not been at the inspiration of God.

    Peace, enjoy this exchange.

    • Hey John (comment #59), I think the Magi were not guided by the Bible but by the stars, but I’ll have to go back and read it again to make sure.
      Good, so you agree then that it is God speaking that grounds us in Him, and not the Bible. I think we’re making progress.

      I think that you may be missing the common sense of my premise because you travel from one extreme to the other. For example,
      you write, “These aren’t just the thoughts and words of some smucks giving an accounting of some historical event.” Not every human
      who has “thoughts and words” are smucks.

      How about this instead: These are the thoughts and words of ordinary people who encountered God in a life changing way.

      The fact that the Bible is physical and God is spirit has nothing to do with his potential authorship. For example, The Bible tells us that God wrote the ten commandments
      on a stone tablet. If we had those stone tablets, we could say that humans claimed God (who is spirit) wrote those (physical) tablets.

      Your focus, it seems, is of a message within the Bible that is from God. My focus is on what God does in the world out here, outside the Bible, and the humans transformed by that activity who write the Bible for the benefit of their communities and the world.

      What cohesiveness? What non-contradictory nature of the Bible? If you want cohesiveness, try a newspaper. If it were so black and white there would one denomination of Christians.

      Excellent, John. Ttyl.

  33. One more thought that struck me a moment ago that might strike closer to home to illustrate my thoughts on God-inspired writers.

    I remember reading in your brother’s first book that he doesn’t touch a keyboard, or didn’t then, that he brought on someone to transcribe his thoughts. Now that award-winning book wasn’t the work of the woman who did the actual typing even though she may have been very instrumental in crafting it. The book was all about the thoughts swirling in Erwin’s mind correct? Who is Unstoppable Force attributed to? Who is the author? Likewise with the scriptures.

    • John (comment #60), I think God inspired the Bible too, but not in the way you do. The analogy with Erwin’s writing style fails on every level. What’s more, I thought you mentioned earlier that you didn’t hold to the dictation theory of inspiration any way? You argued that a dictation theory would make God seem schizophrenic. You made more sense then than now. It seems you’ve retreated to the weakest of the all the arguments about inspiration. We’re going backward now. Let’s keep going forward.

  34. I’m saying broad stroke inspiration my friend. Not word for word dictation. I’m not retreating or going to extremes. I’m saying the exact same thing I started with. I’m just trying to put it into a baser perspective, that you may get what I’m trying to say. I guess my gift is not articulation. But tell how does the Erwin analogy fail on all accounts? From what I understood, and correct me if I’m wrong, did the gal simply type word-for-word what Erwin spoke. If that is the case then you’re right—bad analogy. My misunderstanding. I thought the account was she had worked for some famous writer, left to help Erwin craft his book.

    So let me reiterate the analogy. Say a devote Christian… gardener…a gardener will work fine. A devote Christian master gardener is inspired by the Big Guy, through his profession realizes combating evil is like tending a garden. One tills the ground with rich soil, plant choice seed, but MUST constantly weed the garden lest the weeds choke out the choice plants. Sometimes the weeds even look like the plants and that one must really know their stuff lest they pluck the choice plants with the weeds. Etc and etc with the metaphor. The gardener MUST tend to the garden but conveys these thoughts to one of his assistants who gets the concept. He knows enough about gardening to understand what the master is inferring, as coincidentally studies writing. He takes the master’s thoughts and articulates it for publication. But the master knew all along his aptitude and chose this assistant to share these deep truths.

    Does that make any sense?

    ———————

    The magi did indeed use the stars, but they must have known of Jewish prophecy as well. Where is such prophecy transcribed.

    As far as smucks, do you really think I think these prophets were smucks. Just trying to be a bit funny about all this lest this back and forth get too tedious. My apologies.

    ######How about this instead: These are the thoughts and words of ordinary people who encountered God in a life changing way.#####
    That’s an oversimplification.

    !!!!!!!!!!!!Your focus, it seems, is of a message within the Bible that is from God.!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Precisely.

    ________My focus is on what God does in the world out here, outside the Bible, and the humans transformed by that activity who write the Bible for the benefit of their communities and the world._______
    That’s noble. But that too is not the entire way it works and that doesn’t negate my perspective. As I’ve said all along, I’m just telling it the way I see it, and supporting it with the reasons why. Where is your concrete support for saying, “The bible is just human literature?” Like I said originally, the original premise was interesting and thought-provoking. But there wasn’t anything concrete to justify what you pitched. It was interesting consideration. What got me dropping the edited f-bomb was in your retort to Weaver and from that debate found you bouncing all over the place with no justification.

    *********What cohesiveness? What non-contradictory nature of the Bible? If you want cohesiveness, try a newspaper.*********
    That’s trite my friend. It’s not a matter of wanting, it’s a matter of observance. I do find the Bible cohesive. It doesn’t contradict itself. Where are the contradictions?

    ^^^^^^^^^If it were so black and white there would one denomination of Christians.^^^^^^^^
    One would hope. But there’s the wild card of evil infiltrating the world, including religions, including mere Christianity.

    Once again, the way it appears to me.

    Where did everyone else go?

    Shalom

    • John (comment #64), thanks for dancing with me around these ideas. It helps me think through my writing about the Bible.
      * John, I think if you’ll look at your earlier statement and then compare it to the analogy, you’ll see they contradict each other.
      * Why must the magi have known of Jewish prophecy?
      * Why is it an oversimplification? It is sweet, simple and true, I think.
      * I thought the exchange with Thomas was more linear than this conversation with you, John.
      * About everyone else, I don’t think we’re covering a new ground for others to comment on. These are more stream of consciousness exchanges that cover the same stuff in more words. 🙂

      * Again, my premise that the Bible is only human literature is common sense. I’m pushing forward an idea that (I think) is self-evident except to those of us that are trained to see through fundamentalist glasses.
      * Btw, I have another post coming on how this human literature can have authority. That should be fun.

      Best to you,

      Alex

  35. You’re right, this is all over the place. To move forward, let’s distill this down first.

    Your perspective is the bible is just human literature. Correct?

    Mine is that the bible is God-inspired, though your original post did get me thinking that God did so in broad stroke essence.

    What are your arguments to support such a premise? I will consider mine to present as well.

    Okay?

    • Ok John (comment #65), Just to recap: common sense is my argument. God did not write the Bible. Humans did. This is what I mean when I write, the Bible is “only” human literature.
      You use the word “just” as if all human literature were of equal value….equal low value. I use “only” to mean that “only” humans wrote the Bible but the subject matter is inspired by God (see next paragraph). Thus the Bible is only human literature of the most extraordinary and unique kind.

      I think of it like this — the Bible is only human literature that is written, edited, and compiled by humans in the wake of the activity of God. Thus it is human literature inspired by God’s activity.
      This human literature gives witness to both what God has done and to what God is doing. Because it points to God, it resonates with the divine (versus being divine), and as such it can move the human heart to vibrate at a sympathetic vibration (i.e. resonance) with the God of creation.

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