Conceptions of the Bible


Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge, a UCC pastor and author of the book Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, has written an article for the Huffington Post that suggests that it is pointless to argue about what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, one way or the other. I have felt this way for a long time myself, and not just about what the Bible says on homosexuality, but about any attempt at drawing an authoritative answer from the Bible as if it were a Holy Answer Book. I think that such efforts really miss the point of what the Bible is or should be about.

For one thing, she points out (correctly) that the Bible was written in a particular time and place in history and correspondingly reflects an often mistaken pre-scientific cosmological worldview:

The most important reason, however, that gays and lesbians should never, ever argue about scripture is because the Bible has nothing much to say about homosexuality. We have to remember that this is an ancient book. It was written at a time when people believed the world was flat and that the earth was in the middle of a three-tiered world with heaven above and hell below. It was written at a time when people believed that the whole of human reproduction was held in the sperm of a man and a woman was merely an incubator. Speaking of women, this was a time when they were seen as chattel -- property to be passed along from father to husband, from husband to brother and so on. It was written at a time when slavery was seen as God-ordained and animal sacrifice was the way to cleanse sins.

In short, we cannot extract modern ideas from an ancient book. The writers of the Bible no more understood homosexuality than they understood that a spherical Earth orbited the sun. At most, we have a commentary on same-sex sexual behavior involving lust and abuse, but nothing -- pro or con -- about the modern concept of sexual orientation. We don't take the Bible's word for it that the earth is flat and women only incubate babies and contribute nothing else to the process. Why on earth would we take it as an authority on sexual orientation?

What I particularly like about what she wrote is how she views the Bible:

The Bible remains a holy book because it maps humanity's journey with God, and not the other way around. Because it maps our journey with God, it maps our evolving understanding of how the Holy works in this world. Humanity has moved from seeing God as a harsh judge and lawmaker to a seeing God as full of grace, mercy and love.

We don't learn about God by pulling out tiny details of the book and proclaiming them as true for all time. Instead, the Bible puts us in touch with God when we recognize its overarching message, which can be summarized by 1 John 4:7-8: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."

If the Bible charts a particular cultural and theological stream of human attempts at understanding God, then sometimes in the details it is going to be just plain wrong . But the value is to be found in the questions and the journeys that the Bible documents, not the answers that it allegedly provides.


Cynthia said...

Thank you for this!

Sooner or later this will be the accepted norm of viewing the Bible (or any scripture or religious text) - another step in our evolutionary relationship with the divine.

Does this mean the Bible still has authority? It seems to me that when we ascribe authority to something, that somehow it trumps our own intelligence and experience, but that seems more like a misinterpretation of what authority is.

Mystical Seeker said...

Good point, Cynthia. So how, then, should we define authority?

Cynthia said...

I've been giving some thought to your question. Authority, from my point of view, is defined by three things: trust, loyalty and truth, all of which are born out of experience. Do I trust the Bible, does it engender my loyalty or faithfulness in relationship to it? Does it contain truth (not facts or doctrine) about the journey of God and human beings?

LC David said...

Bible is great, it is mine lovable book...Bible Studies
Thank you for post.

4 Men in a Den said...

If the bible records mans journey towards God is it possible the final destination is that God just doesnt exist ?
Given the evolution from stern war-mongering rule-maker to loving merciful God, the next phase may be to start to say that there is no evidence of God at all. Or at least that this God concept is too abstract for us to ever grasp or understand in any meaningful way.

I suppose if we are searching for truth we have to be open to all possibilities