The Bible

Humanist_March_April12.inddIn “Seriously, But Not Literally“, I talked about how progressive Christians view the Bible. That view is at odds with more fundamental, conservative Christians who see the Bible as inerrant and even some more moderate ones who believe the Bible is infallible.  I’ve written about this several other times since I started this blog and I’m going back to today because of a Facebook status posted by Mark Driscoll, which said “If you edit the Bible, it is not the Bible you believe but rather yourself.” –Augustine (paraphrased). Sounds good, doesn’t it? I’m sure Driscoll thought so. The only problem is that every version of the Bible we have today has been edited to some degree so, according this Augustine quote, even Preacher Mark doesn’t believe the Bible.

Oh, I can hear it now, someone is saying that their Bible hasn’t been edited because they have a 1611 Authorized King James Bible, which is (according to one Baptist minister) “God’s preserved, inerrant, infallible word of God”. Um, sure it is. You know the old saying that “There are two things you don’t want to see being made—sausage and legislation”? I’m pretty sure we ought to add the Bible to that list.

To understand why I say that, let’s take a quick and dirty look how the Bible as we know it came into existence. Biblical scholars tell us that most of the Old Testament was written during the Babylonian captivity and later. The earliest books of the New Testament (the Pauline Epistles) were recorded about 20 years after the death of Jesus. But, the fact that the vast majority of the Bible wasn’t written down when it happened is just the tip of the iceberg.

The rest of the story is that we don’t have any original manuscripts of the Bible. The oldest we do have are from the Dead Sea Scrolls with a couple of Old Testament texts dating back to around 150 BCE. Most newer translations make use of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other texts that weren’t available to earlier translators. But, all of these texts were written in either Hebrew or Greek and in the translation guess what happened? Because some words couldn’t be directly translated, they got edited. In fact, the Gospel of Mark has two endings. The original ended at verse 8 of chapter 16 with verses 9-20 being added sometime in the second century. Editing.

If that’s not bad enough, the first collection of scriptures was ordered by Emperor Constantine I who legalized and hijacked Christianity for political purposes (to shore up a crumbling empire). The biblical canon as we know it today was arrived at through several ecumenical conferences. That sausage metaphor is starting to make a little more sense, isn’t it?

I thought maybe old Auggie made his remark about editing because he had access to the originals. Maybe, but seeing as how he lived 300-400 years after they were written, I kind of doubt it. Especially in light of what we know about the end of Mark. Really, this whole editing thing is silly. Being a writer myself, I know how writers think. And, none worth his salt would release something for public consumption without proofing and editing.

Does all this mean I don’t believe the Bible? Not at all. It means I take the Bible seriously enough to learn all I can about it and find the best ways to apply it to my life. As Karl Barth said “I take the Bible too seriously to read it literally”. Do you?