Reading the Bible for the First Time… Again

Sometimes I wonder if the Bible we have is less divine than it’s often hyped up to be.

Like many of you, I grew up on the Bible. My family wasn’t particularly religious, but we weren’t that irreligious either.

As far as I can tell, my dad never stepped into a church, yet it seems he read the Bible more often than my mum, who took us to church every Sunday. Apart from the little blue Gideon’s New Testament bibles we were given in school, I never read much Bible. My dad owned a copy of the New World Translation Bible (given to him by some Jehovah’s Witnesses who frequented our home and debated him).

Nevertheless, I grew up believing the Bible was the Word of God —  whatever that meant. For years, I always assumed we got the Bible the way Muslims got their Qur’an, that is, as a single book with 66 chapters. I would later learn that this wasn’t quite the case.

Apparently, the process that led to the Bible we have today was a very “human” process, and could only be described as “divine” if we chose to look at it providentially. Many who have argued for the canon usually say God “guided” the actions and decisions that led to the canonisation of our present Bible some 300 years after Jesus died.

The arguments sound convincing, but sometimes I would come across some work of literature that casts new doubts on my mind. Sometimes I am not even so sure about the inerrancy of our current Bible, not with the kind of history it has. Many scholars try to get around this difficulty by saying that the Bible is inerrant in “the original manuscripts” —  manuscripts that we no longer have.

Then there is the issue of what some books of the Bible say about the Word of God. For instance, 2 Timothy 3:16 is often quoted to support the claim that the entire Bible is the authoritative Word of God:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Seems clear enough, until you consider when this verse was written and what “scripture” it was referring to. At the time of Paul, scripture used to refer to the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) and perhaps the other writings of the prophets. So, was Paul talking about the 66-book Bible that would be compiled three centuries after his death when he wrote this verse?

Difficult questions, these ones. Or when Apostle John, in Revelation 22:19 tells us:

“If anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”

Many preachers use this verse to speak against those who try to “edit” the Bible by either adding some books or removing others. But was John referring to the book of Revelation when he wrote these words or was he referring to the collection that will come to existence much later on —  our present Bible?

These are just a few of the many questions that sometimes make me wonder if we have not deluded ourselves concerning the “Word of God”. What I mean is, when we insist that scripture is the ultimate authority on God’s will and not our churches, preachers and religious traditions, what scriptures are we referring to?

Isn’t our current Bible compilation more or less a product of decisions made by certain preachers belonging to certain churches and following certain religious traditions some 1700 years ago?

I am sure I will come across some book that will convince me that the Bible we have right now is the real deal, without needing to add or remove or modify anything in it. But sometimes I am not so sure.

Now, this does not mean that I am doubting the existence of God, or the gospel, or the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Although I have learnt about these realities through the same Bible that I find shaky, my belief in them does not really depend on what constitutes the true “scriptures” and what doesn’t.

But I cannot help but wonder how many of us believe certain things about the Bible because of what the religious human authorities in our churches and inter-webs and denominational documents say about them. How many of us are suppressing our questions and doubts because we do not want to be sidelined as heretics?

And did you know that CS Lewis, that famous English apologist and “the patron saint of evangelicalism” had some quite unorthodox views about our current Bible? Many of us who love his writings do not like to consider this side of Lewis, but it is worth looking at. You can begin here.

Perhaps it is time we all paused and read our Bibles again, for the first time. Perhaps not. Some people may see these as just muses of someone who is on the way out of the church, on the way out of true faith and Christianity. Am I just flirting with the deceiver by voicing these questions? I don’t know. But God does.

May His will prevail. And I sure hope and pray that I am in it.

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