Thinking “Outside the Box” about the Bible

My friend Cliff Martin has written one of the best, most concise descriptions of the nature and purpose of the Bible that I have ever had the privilege of reading. He also makes some interesting remarks about the usefulness and validity of orthodoxy, something I’ve discussed here and there on this blog.

I strongly suggest that you go over to Outside the Box and read it. But in case you’re too lazy, and because it so well expresses my own current thoughts, I’m going to reproduce a substantial part of it right here.

My friends who read the Bible as if it were the very inspired words of God see themselves as standing on the solid high ground of Fundamentalism, and see me as skidding down the slippery slope of that dreaded disease of Liberalism.

My detractors consider their beliefs to be orthodox, and mine to be aberrant. They are correct, of course, if by orthodox, they mean “traditionally accepted”. But orthodox (ortho = right, doxa = opinion) simply means “the correct view.” To claim that only a verbally inspired–inerrant–infallible–literalist view of Scripture is orthodox involves a good deal of presupposition. That is, it must be correct before it can be truly orthodox.

What if the correct view of Scripture is that it is not the inerrant, verbally inspired “Word of God”? What if the orthodox, correct view, is that it is an accurate journal of an historic people of faith, written by human beings, subject to their errors and misconceptions, but recording for our benefit their quest to know the Living God? If that is the case, then we should expect to find within its pages a rich heritage of growing, developing understandings about God; but we should also expect to find mistakes, discrepancies, contradictions, and a variety of other inaccuracies. And this is exactly what we do find!

Perhaps it is time for those of us with a less rigid view of the Bible to boldly declare our view to be orthodox! If my view is, in fact, more orthodox (as I believe it is!) then the less orthodox view of Inerrancy is both dangerous and misleading. This, I believe, is the case.

Inerrancy leads to distortions of the character of God. Sometimes, horrendous distortions. A few examples should suffice: In an inerrant Bible, God becomes one who endorses the practice of selling one’s daughters as sex-slaves (Exodus 21:7-11). The God of the Inerrantist commands that children who sass or stubbornly disobey their parents are to be killed for their transgressions (Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21). If God were speaking through Moses in the pages of Numbers 31:9-18, then God followed the pattern of many military conquerors, rewarding soldiers with virgins for their sexual indulgence (or please, Inerrantist, explain what else is going on in these verses!). The God of the Inerrantist was, on occasion, confused about biology, as when he identified rabbits as ruminants in Deuteronomy 14:7. Furthermore, an Inerrantist must view God as sometimes raging out-of-control, one who had to be talked out of venting his rage upon the Israelite nation by the cooler-headed Moses (Exodus 32:7-14). This list could be expanded. We haven’t even ventured beyond the first five books! But my point should be clear by now. Inerrancy is dangerous to a healthy view of God and his character. It leads to theological confusion and distortion.

On the other hand, if we understand these stories to be of human origin, expressing the views of Moses and his contemporaries, we understand these misconceptions to reflect an understanding of God in its infancy; we can excuse Moses as a human being who was in the process of getting to know his Creator, and who was inspired to record what he was learning, complete with theological misconceptions and factual errors.

There is much more in the original post, and he asks some good questions at the end. Do check it out!

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  • *
    Well, I have been one to puzzle over how to take the Bible “at face value”, as Walton intimates.
    Somehow it seems a stretch to force scripture into a doctrinal framework that it does not make for itself.
    The Bible presents more as “reliable witness to” rather than overtly and inherently the “Word of God”.
    Likewise, the doctrine of the Trinity strikes me as an overwrought attempt to do something like carving a five-sided staff down to a triangular peg so it might fit into a round hole.

    My question is: “Why is all this necessary?”
    Isn’t this like trying to tailor Saul’s armor on one that is clothed in faith and skilled slingmanship with only a need of a few smooth stones to complete his accoutrement?

    The concept of an “Immaculate Conception” is only necessary under particular presuppositions about “Original Sin” which is of questionable interpretation. How much of cherished doctrine is based more on reiteration rather than sound provenance?

    Wind
    .-= Windpressor´s last blog ..The Smith-Suprynowicz Test =-.

  • *
    Well, I have been one to puzzle over how to take the Bible “at face value”, as Walton intimates.
    Somehow it seems a stretch to force scripture into a doctrinal framework that it does not make for itself.
    The Bible presents more as “reliable witness to” rather than overtly and inherently the “Word of God”.
    Likewise, the doctrine of the Trinity strikes me as an overwrought attempt to do something like carving a five-sided staff down to a triangular peg so it might fit into a round hole.

    My question is: “Why is all this necessary?”
    Isn’t this like trying to tailor Saul’s armor on one that is clothed in faith and skilled slingmanship with only a need of a few smooth stones to complete his accoutrement?

    The concept of an “Immaculate Conception” is only necessary under particular presuppositions about “Original Sin” which is of questionable interpretation. How much of cherished doctrine is based more on reiteration rather than sound provenance?

    Wind
    .-= Windpressor´s last blog ..The Smith-Suprynowicz Test =-.

  • It’s been interesting to read more and more about these “unorthodox” views of Scripture. I’ve been chatting with my dad about related ideas here and there as well. For instance, my dad’s recent post on Jonah: http://johnscorner.blogspot.com/2009/10/jonah.html We chatted about the validity of Jesus equating this story to His own death and resurrection if it were not historically true. I pointed to Paul’s quoting of pagan poets to help communicate his message.

    Very fascinating stuff!

    ~Luke

  • It’s been interesting to read more and more about these “unorthodox” views of Scripture. I’ve been chatting with my dad about related ideas here and there as well. For instance, my dad’s recent post on Jonah: http://johnscorner.blogspot.com/2009/10/jonah.html We chatted about the validity of Jesus equating this story to His own death and resurrection if it were not historically true. I pointed to Paul’s quoting of pagan poets to help communicate his message.

    Very fascinating stuff!

    ~Luke

  • G3 (or whatever you wish to be called),
    Thanks for your comments. I agree that both of the concepts you mentioned need to be treated to more scrutiny than they have been hitherto because of issues of “orthodoxy”.

    Luke,
    I quite enjoyed your father’s post, which incidentally I read when he first posted it. I love that he’s taking issues of genre so seriously, as I believe should be done with all Scripture (and other literature, for that matter). His question about the validity of Jesus’ parallel if Jonah was not a historical story is closely parallel to the issue raised when people mention that Jesus alluded to Genesis 1.27. Suffice it to say here that nothing about these references necessitates or depends upon their precise historicity.

  • G3 (or whatever you wish to be called),
    Thanks for your comments. I agree that both of the concepts you mentioned need to be treated to more scrutiny than they have been hitherto because of issues of “orthodoxy”.

    Luke,
    I quite enjoyed your father’s post, which incidentally I read when he first posted it. I love that he’s taking issues of genre so seriously, as I believe should be done with all Scripture (and other literature, for that matter). His question about the validity of Jesus’ parallel if Jonah was not a historical story is closely parallel to the issue raised when people mention that Jesus alluded to Genesis 1.27. Suffice it to say here that nothing about these references necessitates or depends upon their precise historicity.