According to a 2017 Gallup poll (the latest one I could find), most Christians believe the Bible has something to do with God. But exactly what they believed differed.
34% of Christians believed the Bible was the actual word of God and should be believed word for word.
52% of Christians believed the Bible was inspired by God, but open to interpretation and shouldn’t be taken literally.
10% of Christians believe the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts
This is a cause for concern. If we can’t agree on how to look at the Bible, how can we agree on the truth found in it?
Let’s look at what the Bible is – and what it isn’t.
The Bible is not one book. It’s actually a group of books written in different styles by different people, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don’t think any of those people were in a trance and wrote as God dictated to them. Well, maybe Moses – I don’t know what happened when he was up on that mountain surrounded by clouds and wrote for 40 days all the rules and directions God wanted him to give to the Israelites (Ex 34:27-28). But for everyone else, they wrote what they saw, what they remembered, what they were feeling, and what they wanted others to remember. Some wrote on their own, others were told by God to write down what they remembered. Here are some examples (emphasis in the scriptures are mine):
Exodus 17 8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. 14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
Moses did not write this account while he was holding the staff, nor did God dictate to him what to write after the battle. Moses wrote from his memory. Human writing in human words, in obedience to God.
In contrast, God Himself wrote on the tablets. Those words are literally His words.
Exodus 31:1 The LORD said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.
Here’s another example. Jeremiah gave prophecies to the Israelites for about 25 years. And then one day God told him to write down everything he had said over those 25 years.
Jeremiah 30:2 “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you.
And again in Jeremiah 36:2 “Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today.
Can you imagine? About 25 years of words? Jeremiah got Baruch to help him. Baruch wrote as Jeremiah dictated. It doesn’t say God dictated to Jeremiah who then dictated to Baruch. I believe Jeremiah was writing everything he could remember, with the Holy Spirit prodding his memories. I believe this because when he had to do it again, after the king burned his first copy, he added more to it.
Jeremiah 36:28, 32 “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. Then Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote on it at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the scroll that Jerhoiakim the king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them. (emphasis mine)
If the Holy Spirit had been dictating it, wouldn’t He have put it all in the first copy? It’s not like He had memory issues like we do. I can’t see Him saying, “Hey, wait, I remember something else.”
Habakkuk was told to write down a vision he had seen. Habakkuk 2:2 And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who read it.
Luke told about writing his book based on what he had learned after researching and observing for years. Luke 1:3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
Paul wrote his letters based on what he learned from Jesus, addressing issues in different churches. He was not giving word-for-word prophecies from Jesus to those churches.
The bottom line is – the Bible contains God’s word, but was not channeled, nor was it the result of automatic writing (both of which are of the occult and forbidden by God). It was also not written by God’s hand and delivered to us as was the Ten Commandments. The Bible was written by humans inspired by God.
Christians who believe the Bible was written as God dictated and is to be taken literally word-for word will run into more problems because the Bible was not written in English, and it wasn’t written in our western worldview and culture.
Everyone knows that interpreting one language into another word for word is hard and sometimes impossible. Imagine translating the phrase ‘beat around the bush’ into another language. A word for word translation would most likely make no sense to the target audience. Bible translators work to avoid this by using words that would provide the most accurate meaning, which is great in that it helps us understand what was written, but is not the original word. Believing that every word is straight from God raises a question. Which language contains those words?
Another problem relates to worldview and cultural differences. The Bible writers were Middle Eastern men writing to Middle Eastern people. Misunderstandings can occur when we try to interpret the Bible’s family-and-community-focused worldview with today’s individualistic North American worldview. Biblical worldview is more God-centered (God is big, man is small) while Western worldview is more self-centered (Man is big, God is small).
The people in Jesus’ time and culture would have understood the implication of what He said, but in our time and culture today we need others to explain that implication. Examples are Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the woman at the well (several implications can’t be seen without looking into that culture), and women being told to cover their heads in church. The following pdf by Charles H. Craft discusses this in depth. I suggest scrolling down to his four areas of interpretation. https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/21/21-4/21-4-pp357-367_JETS.pdf
An easier read is by Lindsey Sullivan: https://pepperdine-graphic.com/dont-interpret-the-bible-through-a-cultural-lens/
Another group of Christians believe that the Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts. Well, there is plenty of history and moral precepts. But for the rest, here’s what the Bible has to say:
2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness,
1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Numbers 23:19a God is not man, that he should lie…
John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
1 Cor 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
So if the Bible is inspired by the God, and He does not lie, then what he said happened happened. And we need the Holy Spirit to understand it.
That leaves us with the third group of people – the ones that believe the Bible was inspired by God, but open to interpretation and shouldn’t be taken literally.
Again, there are problems here. If we are not to take the Bible literally, then what about the Ten Commandments? What about Jesus’ miracles? What about Jesus’ death and resurrection and salvation? What about the message about loving and forgiving and being kind to each other? Obviously there are parts that are supposed to be taken literally. So which parts do we not take literally? The parts we don’t like? The parts we don’t understand? The parts that are hard?
Most Christians – as defined as a person who has anything to do with Christ –tend to treat the Bible like a buffet. They pick and choose what they take literally and what they don’t, and what they will follow and what they won’t. They interpret the Bible in light of their worldview, and use it to support their ideology. The live by values that make sense to them or that they’ve adopted based on those around them instead of on Biblical values. Instead of being lights as Jesus wanted, they have become lizards, changing to blend into the world. I love lizards, but I don’t think we’re supposed to be one.
Disciples – as defined as a person who is totally committed to following Jesus and all He said – accept all of what Jesus said, and study/pray for understanding of how to live it out in today’s culture. They take the whole message of the Bible seriously, and conform their lives to what they learn. This is hard because most of the time the Western worldview is at odds with the Biblical worldview causing them to stand out from those around them like a light on a hill. Jesus knew that would happen, and warned his disciples that it was not going to be easy.
Do we – you and I – stand out in today’s culture? If not, maybe we’re not the disciples we thought we were. Or maybe we don’t care. Jesus called us to be disciples, but maybe being Christian is enough for us. It was for me for many years, but being Christian is no longer enough for me. I hear Him calling, drawing me to Him. It’s time to trade my lizard skin for a lamp. If you feel the same way, you’re welcome to join me as I pray.
Lord Jesus, I know You love me, and You know I love you. That’s not the point. Many people loved You that chose not to follow You, yet Your love for them didn’t change. However, I did choose to follow You all those years ago when You rescued me from my pit. And I did follow You for a while. But over time, it became easier to blend in with those around me. It became easier to hide my light rather than face ridicule and estrangement from others. It became easier to walk the path of least resistance when life became hard and I grew weary. You never stopped loving me, and I never stopped loving You. I just stopped following You. I stopped reading the Bible for how You wanted me to live, and began reading it – when I read it – for comfort and support for how I chose to live. I wanted to hear about Your love and care for me, but not about what You called me to be or how You wanted me to live. I’m sorry for the number of people who missed out on Your light had I shone it all these years. Forgive me for my self-centeredness. Forgive me for choosing me over You. Forgive me for choosing my way over Your way. I know You forgive me, because that’s who You are, and I thank You for it. Help me to begin anew to live for You. Show me where I am falling short. Help me to see the Bible the way You intended. Help me to understand and to walk in all Your ways, not just the ones I like. Help me to be the light You called me to be, and not the lizard I became. Help me to be Your disciple.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.