In visiting some churches recently (retirement has its options now on Sunday!), I have been struck anew with how much reverence and adulation is given to the Bible. People have called it the Word of God, kissed it, held it high as a new born baby, and repeatedly quoted from it as if the words were directly from God Almighty. It’s been years since I held the Bible in such reverence, and even then, not to the degree I have seen in recent weeks. Is the Bible really than important? Do people really need it in order to find peace, healing, and eternal life? What is the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of sacred writings taken mostly from a summary of Jewish history with a smaller, later addition taken from early Christian history. Writing was invented by the Greeks around 550 B.C. so the Hebrew writings were compiled after 500 B.C. down to around 100 B.C. using the oral traditions passed along. The Christian writings what later came to be called the “new testament,” were compiled from about 55 to 100 A.D. There were many other letters and writings of the early Christians, but they were left out when the Roman Catholic Church canonized what is now the Bible in the 4th Century, around 350 A.D. These have been the core of Christian sacred writings ever since and referred to at times as the “Word of God.” Early on, the church’s tradition and interpretations were the rule over the actual words of the Bible, but after the Protestant Reformation, a much stronger emphasis was placed on the Bible as the “authoritative Word of God.” Even now the RC tradition refers to the Bible a the “word of God.” Is this really so?
I think of the Bible as a very old book having some parts and words which speak of that which is eternal. One can’t read very much of it without at times being very moved and directed into a sense of transcendence. The Bible, like any attempt to write of transcendent and eternal subjects, connects with a part of humanity that has long felt that some entity beyond our visible, mortal world, is possible and “out there.” However, such words don’t necessarily need to conclude that it’s all “God’s Word.”
Many parts of the Bible are brutal and violent, sexist, racist, and demeaning to large numbers of people. Writers such as John Spong have written on the “sins of the Bible.” Jesus appears as one who sought to broaden the narrow religious views of his ancestors but created so much opposition and hatred, he finally was killed. Indeed, many so-called “sacred writings” of old had similar transcendent aspects yet lapsed into a narrow, nationalistic exclusivism of those who didn’t fit into the plan envisioned for only a special people.
I would recommend reading several religious books, ancient, traditional, and contemporary in seeking for a divine, transcendent peace and release from guilt. The Bible, the Koran, those ancient Eastern writings such as the Vedanta, the Bhaghavad Gita could be in that selection as well as famous and well know expositors and teachers such as Rumi, Francis de Sales, Calvin, and a host of contemporary writers. Around 1970, a group in Americans calling itself the “Jesus Seminar” began publishing and exchanging articles in a serious attempt to locate Jesus in a more historical, unbiased setting. Scholars such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan and others added much to our understanding of what may have happened in the first century of the Christian Era. I would suggest people visit several places for inquiry for more contemporary writings and teachings. Most importantly, spend time in silence to ponder, ask questions, asking the Spirit, the Teacher many of us believe surrounds us and directs provides the ultimate answers we seek.
Many people have found God and a release from guilt, anxiety, fear, and sense of purposeless by simply seeking and listening. Many have never read the Bible or even heard of Jesus. Indeed, many who have read the Bible and can quote sayings of Jesus have often been quite bigoted and dangerous. The bottom line, as they say, is an awakening and awareness of God’s Presence within, and the recognition that bodies, forms, matter and the physical universe just aren’t “real”. It is the Unseen, felt, and intuited Spirit which brings release and peace.
So read the Bible, learn and teach it, but do it in full awareness of its limitations and spurious claims. Let us have faith, but also be bold to use our reason in questioning everything we are told or read, listening to the Voice within and without, which in the end, brings us peace, release, and unspeakable joy and love.
In the future, I will share more ideas which have helped me to find freedom, peace, and love, and perhaps can assist you as well. Feel free to comment and leave any questions, and I’ll do my best to reply.
Peace and love to all.