How the Bible’s format affects us

scrollsI’ve been sharing some thoughts and musings about the format of the Bible, the fact that we have it as one volume when it is in fact many books put together. Some of my thinking on this came from a conversation I had in Cuba.

A man who was visiting Cuba from another Latin American country shared with me some thoughts on sin. As he laid out his arguments, he pulled together passages from several different New Testament books. No regard for context. No regard for differing authorship. Sentences and phrases cut and pasted together to make an unusual point.

As you can probably tell, I was quite dismayed at this man’s approach. (He was there to do training) Later I got to thinking that people might be less inclined to build unbiblical arguments using biblical texts if the different biblical books were bound separately. Maybe we would have a better grasp of context, literary style, authorial intent, etc. if each book were a separate volume on our shelf.

Maybe, maybe not. As we ponder such things, we also have to think about the nature of inspiration… but that’s a discussion for another post.

Anyway, I’m back to the question I raised a few posts ago:

We talk about “Scripture,” viewing the writings as a singular work. One book. The Bible talks about scriptures, the holy writings, a group of books.

Doesn’t it seem like that affects how we view the contents?

Hebrew scriptures

scrollsLike many in churches of Christ, I grew up with an understanding that the Bible basically had two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament contained an old law that we were no longer under; the New Testament contained the law that replaced that old one.

Jews have never seen their scriptures as a single unit, the Old Testament that I grew up with. And they certainly never considered it all to be law.

There is the Torah. This is Scripture, with a capital S. This is God’s Law. This is The Law.

The other writings are exactly that… other writings. The Prophets are a Word from God for his people and are treated as such. (Some books which we consider to be “history” are considered prophetic books by the Jews, such as the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) Then there are the poetic books: Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. There are the Five Scrolls, the five books that are read on the different Jewish feast days. And there are the other books. But none of them compares with the Torah in terms of weight and authority.

There’s a vast gulf between that view of Hebrew (and Aramaic) scriptures and the flat view I grew up with. Again, I have to wonder how the different ways of viewing God’s Word affect our understanding.

The format of the Bible

scrollsI’ve been thinking some about the format of the Bible. That is, the idea of the Bible as a book.

Obviously it wasn’t originally a book. It was a group of books (scrolls actually).

The Jews didn’t have their scriptures in a book. Or I guess their “Good Book” was the Torah; other writings were grouped into separate scrolls.

We talk about “Scripture,” viewing the writings as a singular work. One book. The Bible talks about scriptures, the holy writings, a group of books.

Doesn’t it seem like that affects how we view the contents?

Scrolls” by Clarence is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

The Bible condemns…

kidsBiblesI was thinking about a phrase we hear sometimes: “The Bible condemns…” Can you give me some insights into this phrase?

Can you think of a place where the Bible talks about Scripture condemning something?

What do we mean when we say that? Is it “the Bible says this is wrong”? Or is it “the Bible says you will be condemned if you do it”?

How do you understand it when someone says “the Bible condemns _____”?

Bible-shaped culture or culture-shaped Bible?

Bible in the shadowI realize in talking with others that there are lots of different views as to how the Bible interacted with the culture of the people who wrote it. No surprise, I know, but I understand better now how that deeply affects how we read the Bible.

Some people, for example, take an extremely low view of Scripture. The Bible, for them, is merely a sacred text like other sacred texts written by ancient peoples. Prophecies were written after the fact and adjusted to fit what actually happened. Laws were written to give “divine sanction” to existing situations. The slaughter of other nations is justified by describing it as holy war, while attacks on one’s own people are an affront against God. Women are oppressed and slavery is upheld because the Bible was written to uphold the status quo.

Others see the Bible as coming down from heaven untainted by human culture. If the Bible says God has storehouses for snow, then there are some sort of heavenly structures filled with frozen precipitation, waiting to be sent. If God said not to trim the corners of the beard, then there’s a heavenly reason for that. Laws were not shaped around man; man was shaped around the laws.

Then there’s a myriad of views in between, seeing God as speaking to human culture within the framework of a specific historical context. Heavenly truths expressed through earthly means. God’s word for a particular situation needing to be translated into God’s word for our situation.

That’s why some look at demon possession and say “epilepsy.” Others look at teachings about greeting with a holy kiss and say, “Yes, but that was then.” Others will only take the Lord’s Supper in an upper room.

If you had to state your views on how the Bible shaped and was shaped by the culture of its time, what would you say?

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