The Bible Tells Me So?

Sitting here at Starbucks this morning – fresh smells of brewing coffee and machines whining in the background. The perfect environment to think about the plurality of the Bible.

Americans are Bible lovers. Well, at least we own a lot of Bibles. About 168,000 Bibles are sold every single day and 88% of Americans own 4.4 Bibles on average. Between 1815 and 1975, it was estimated that there could have been 5 billion Bibles printed (note 1). How many Bibles do you own? I have maybe 9.6 different Bibles in my house. My real question to you is: If you read the Bible, do you understand it or is it a source of confusion for you?

“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” 1 Corinthians 14:33

Abraham Lincoln was well-versed in the Bible and had a sense that it wasn’t clear at times.  Both sides of the Civil War assumed they knew God’s will was in their favor in their opposing causes.  Of course, one side lost. Here’s what Lincoln said:

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered.” Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, Saturday, March 4, 1865.

If the Bible is so easy to understand, why do we have so many Bible-illiterate Christians? According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60% of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. Fewer than half the adults could not name the four gospels. The same poll says that 82% of us believe that, “God helps those who help themselves,” is an actual Bible verse (note 2).

I’m not here to bash Christians or Christianity. I’ve always had problems understanding the Bible. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a pastor, asked me once, “Why do you read so many books about the Bible when all you have to do is read the Bible?” I simply answered, “Because so many people have different answers as to what the Bible is really saying.”

“Both read the Bible day and night. But thou read’st black where I read white.”  William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel

Is it the lack of knowledge or just plain confusion over what the Bible says? If the Bible was clearly written would there be more unity within Christianity? According to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary there are over 45,000 different Christian denominations in the world (note 3).

“All this diversity of belief and practice, and the intolerance that occasionally results, makes it difficult to know whether we should think of Christianity as one thing or lots of things, whether we should speak of Christianity or Christianities.” Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities (note 4)

Why are there so many books on the market about what the Bible really says? In his book, the Bible Made Impossible, Christian Smith has problems with the fact that there are so many books that begin their title with, “What the Bible Really Says About ________” or “Four (or Five) Views on ________ (Baptism, Sacraments, etc.).” If the Bible is so clear on its teachings, why do we need others to try and interpret it for us and why aren’t they all the same (note 5)?

Would there be a need for Christian Apologists if the Bible were clear? An apologists is one who defends and clarifies the objections of the Christian faith. In his book, How to Defend the Christian Faith, John Loftus, an ex-Evangelical Minister and Christian Apologist says that, “God failed to effectively communicate his will. He failed to provide the sufficient evidence we need to believe. Since he failed us, apologists have been given a tremendous work load (note 6).”

The more I research why the Bible is so confusing to me, I just get more confused. Oh well! I can see why only 33% of the world’s population believe in Christianity – it’s too confusing! And it appears that a good percentage of that 33% who do believe are having difficulties understanding its sacred book. No offense. After 40 years plus of reading the Bible, I’m still confused.

Here’s to another cup of that dark roast and to those who know the Bible. As for me – I’ll keep searching!

Notes:

1. 29 Good Bible Sales Statistics – BrandonGaille.com. (2017). BrandonGaille.com. Retrieved 12 July 2017, from http://brandongaille.com/27-good-bible-sales-statistics/

2. The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem – AlbertMohler.com. (2016). AlbertMohler.com. Retrieved 12 July 2017, from http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4/

3. http://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/documents/StatusOfGlobalMission.pd

4. Ehrman, B. D. (2005). Lost christianities: the battles for scripture and the faiths we never knew. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

5. Smith, C. (2012). The Bible made impossible: why biblicism is not a truly evangelical reading of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

6. Loftus, J. W. (2015). How to defend the Christian faith: advice from an Atheist. Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing.

No Master Copy

Coffee! Coffee! The sun has finally risen. After my first cup of dark roast I got to thinking about the master copy of the Bible. Wouldn’t it be great if the original manuscript of the Bible existed? Wait! You didn’t realize that the original, the master copy of the Christian Bible does not exist? It has disintegrated! Poof! I am not making this stuff up!

Over the many, many years that I attended church, none of my pastors ever told me that the original Bible is nowhere to be found. You gotta ask, though! If God can give man error-free instructions on how to live, why would he not provide the materials on which to write that would last forever and ever? Sorry. That was just a passing thought that zipped right through my brain.

So, no original copy of the Bible. But, luckily, man has managed to make copies of copies of copies of copies of this Great Book over the centuries. When the printing press came along centuries later, copying got a lot easier. Up until then, man had to do everything by hand. The original apostles were illiterate so they weren’t able to dictate what Jesus had to say so they went about telling stories. These stories were passed on orally for decades until, poof, some Greek-speaking-writing guy comes along and decides to write them down. Four of them to be exact.

I don’t know about you but that makes me think again. These stories of Jesus, or what we know as the Gospels, were passed on orally for decades. Do you think that these stories might have changed just a bit, maybe exaggerated a little here and there? Oh, come on! There’s proof that the stories must have changed because this guy, Luke, wrote at the beginning of his Gospel that there were many writers out there that were telling their stories and that he wanted to write his own version. Maybe Luke thought that these other guys really weren’t inspired by God. So, if Luke’s is the correct story, then what about the other three guys?

As it turns out, the other three guys (Matthew, Mark, and John) didn’t get it right, either. Well, not if you compare them to Luke’s version. For instance, Mark and John didn’t write about Jesus’ incredible birth from a virgin. Did they not think that was important or did they not hear about it? John thought that Jesus had been around since the beginning. Luke talks about how Shepherds came to visit at Jesus’ birth and Matthew thought they were Wise Men from the East. Matthew also has this strange story about King Herod massacring a bunch of infants sometime after Jesus was born.

Oh well! It doesn’t matter to me whether or not there are any original manuscripts around or not. I’m not sure that not too many of us pay much attention to actually reading the Bible. Who knows which version of the Bible is correct. We don’t have the master copy to compare them to. But, we do things like cherry-pick certain verses that we think meet our needs. We combine the two birth stories of Jesus to make one story without thinking that these two writers heard two entirely different ones. We wouldn’t have any idea where to find doctrines of Christianity – like the Trinity, or Salvation, or the Sacraments. We condemn gay people but not sure where in scripture it says to do it. We certainly don’t greet each other with a “holy kiss” as prescribed by the Bible, either.

It’s time for another cup. Have a great day!