To some people, especially those who come from conservative churches, my beliefs seem to come out of left field. I must be crazy or want to start my own religion or something. Quite the contrary, actually, but there are a lot of things that I take for granted sometimes which many people just don’t know. Here are 5 things that I wish I had known earlier about the Bible. I’m going to give you a very broad overview of some somewhat small but very challenging facts and positions. I’ll leave you to research them further.
We don’t know who wrote any of the Bible
Most of the common thought on who wrote the Bible comes from tradition. This includes the thinking that Matthew wrote Matthew, Mark wrote Mark, Moses wrote most of the Old Testament when he was with God on Mt. Sinai, Paul wrote most of the epistles, etc.
On the contrary, there is no really solid evidence for any of that, and the church assigned names and authors to the books long after their authorship. Now, of course, many of the epistles bear Paul’s name, but many people wrote pseudonymously at that time, so it’s very possible that someone was writing in the spirit of Paul while not actually being Paul. Paul may have in fact written a few of the epistles, but in no case is a book’s authorship ever certain.
A lot of the Bible didn’t happen
There was no Adam. We know this from genetics. There was no flood. We know this from geology. There was no Exodus. We know this from archaeology. When each of these fields got started, everybody was scrambling for proof of the Biblical account, but it wasn’t there. Not only was there a lack of evidence, but there was actually strong evidence for contrary positions.
We don’t even know how much of the New Testament actually happened. There are contrary genealogies of Jesus in different gospels. Christians are unanimously in agreement with the idea of Jesus’ historical death and resurrection, but we really don’t know where to draw the lines elsewhere.
The previous point isn’t a problem for theology
Many Christians feel that it is absolutely necessary to confirm the historicity of the entire Bible, but honestly, it’s not. This is a very new idea within the Christian faith, and it runs contrary to much early Christian thought. Christians in Alexandria, for example, believed very strongly in an allegorical interpretation of the Bible. St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, Origen, and many others shared varying degrees of allegorical interpretation.
A better understanding of ancient genres of literature makes this even less of a problem when we realize that no one really wrote history books. There were a few historians mostly commissioned by the Roman government, but what we sometimes call “history” when we read the Bible is actually more like a mythic origin story to give the Jewish people a sense of identity.
The Bible wasn’t meant for you
Some of my readership probably includes pastors, philosophers, and/or clergy, so this isn’t entirely true, but the Bible was not meant for the common person to pick up and read. Most everyone was illiterate, and they depended on the priests to study the Bible and give spiritual direction. And there is so much heavy philosophy underpinning many of the books of the Bible that it honestly requires an academic person to read properly.
That may grate against our modern democratic ideals of equality, but equality of value does not mean equality of skill or role. We sometimes forget that, and it leads to the absurd conclusion that everyone should be a theologian. This is so entrenched that it might sound offensive, but consider this: does everyone need to be a rocket scientist? A computer engineer? A doctor? We do need theologians, but honestly, we need far more people to stop worrying that they’ve got all the beliefs straight and get out there, live their lives, and love people as Christ would love.
The Bible has some objectionable material
This one took me a long time to accept. In fact, I might have only really come to terms with it within the last few weeks. The fact is, though, for all our fancy methods of interpretation, our apologetic strategies, our impassioned sermons about the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, our carefully-crafted Statements of Belief, etc., there is really a lot of stuff in the Bible for which there is no excuse.
Taking women as sex slaves/unwilling wives is pretty abhorrent, and we can’t really wish that away by saying, “Oh, that was for the ritual purity of the Hebrew people.” No, it wasn’t. I can’t say exactly why it’s in there, but there is really no good possible reason. But it extends beyond just taking women as slaves to prejudices about women, slaves, homosexuals, foreigners, and a long list of other things.
So one might think, “What now?” Well, if you were a Christian beforehand, you’re still a Christian now, but if you accept these things, you’re free to live your life without fear of having to cross every t and dot every i on the True Christian Theology Checklist invented by modern conservative Christians. You’re free to learn to love in a way that doesn’t involve making sure you did everything precisely according to specification. That doesn’t mean we cease striving for perfection and let our morality slide into oblivion; rather, it means that we actually have to work to discover what it means to love properly.
I hope you will take the time to research some of this. If you have any questions about any of these issues, feel free to ask in the comments below, and maybe I can point you in the direction of some good sources. Thanks for reading, and God bless.