The writers didn’t claim to always be talking to God directly; they often wrote about their impressions from God. Besides, the writers’ words are subject to interpretation and we may get their correct views wrong so the Bible can’t be our absolute understanding of God. Many may admit God accommodated writers’ less than perfect understandings of God but insist the Bible is God’s inspired or authoritative word. But, why would God inspire or claim authoritative false understandings? We must be careful misrepresenting God, so others don’t reject God for the wrong reasons. I address here questions, as briefly as possible, that come to mind when questioning if the biblical writers understood God perfectly. A link for more detailed explanations listed at the end.
Can we prove or disprove writers understood God perfectly?
It is circular logic to suggest the Bible is infallible or inspired because biblical writers make such a claim. Many who accept the Bible being infallible would not accept the Quran being infallible because it claims to be. Writers weren’t claiming they heard an audible voice when writing “God said.” God’s freedom-giving nature doesn’t support God performing a lobotomy on OT writers’ impressions of what they thought God was telling them.
Even if we could prove writers understood God perfectly, are interpretations perfect?
The Bible can’t be the definitive guide what God is like because interpretations of literature aren’t infallible. Scholars disagree what God according to the Bible thinks about divorce, gender roles, homosexuality, hell, end-of-the world views, etc. The fact that we may disagree, even if we had the original autographs, make infallibility an impossibility. We can’t know if a writer may advise another audience differently, since no circumstances are exactly the same. Jesus said turn the other cheek but would He give such advice to a wife being beat by their husband?
Why we have every right to question if God inspired all of the Bible?
I Samuel 15:3 says God told Israel: “Now go, attack the Amalekites… put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” There are hundreds of passages like this in the Old Testament. When believing writers understood God perfectly, one is tempted to rationalize how a good God could endorse genocide. This renders goodness nonsensical and unknowable! It is appropriate to ask if God really inspired such a thought. Reading the Bible with a questioning spirit rather than blind obedience can lead to a more accurate understanding of God.
Is a fallible Bible really worse than an infallible Bible?
When one is certain what God thinks according to the Bible and fails to acknowledge their interpretation could be wrong, this can lead to forcing supposed certainty on others and other unloving actions. It has led to claiming God condemns gays and women can’t serve as priests or pastors. A fallible Book can lead to acting more loving by listening to differences openly, leading to new understandings and creative solutions. Different opinions, that don’t violate the physical rights of others, can stand side by side as we continually evaluate the most loving approach which is God’s approach (I Jn. 4:8).
How can we know God if not through the Bible?
Our moral outrage hints of a common, human Creator’s influence through our moral intuitions. All are opposed to murder, abuse, thievery, etc. whether you believe in God or not. All object from being stolen from. We just know if something is moral or immoral. The only reason some condemn gays or women entering the priesthood is because supposedly a Book disapproves in God’s name. Even the Bible seems to suggest Jesus was a more exact representation of God than prophets (Heb. 1:1-3), so we should interpret all of Scriptures through Jesus’ example and words as best we can.
Are there dangers in assuming biblical writers understood God perfectly?
An infallible or inspired view of Scriptures has led down the slippery slope of assuming interpretations are inspired. Not questioning if writers always understood God perfectly has led to justifying slavery, killing infidels, and other atrocities in the supposed name of God. Different opinions must stand side by side as we continually evaluate the most loving approach, rather than forcing our opinions on others in the name of God.
Might the Bible actually defend what you believe true about a perfect God?
Hell is not biblical. No Hebrew or Greek word pictures what our word Hell suggests – a fiery torture chamber. The Bible doesn’t deny women entrance into priesthood, or say husbands are leaders over their wives. My Bible suggests women need unselfish men who have the heart of a servant (Eph. 5:28-29). Many, many biblical scholars who believe in the authority of Scriptures do not believe the Bible condemns monogamous, gay relationships.
Why bother reading the Bible if we can’t trust the writers always understood God?
The Bible claims to be God-breathe which can literally mean God-spirited (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible didn’t exist as we know when the Apostle Paul wrote this statement. Could this passage mean God uses writings on paper about God to touch our spirit? The Bible records beginnings with God culminating with the life of Jesus that we don’t possess in any other documents. God can draw us to do good and shun evil when talking or reading about God. But, the majority born never had a Bible so God can speak to us by other means.
Keep in mind most biblical scholars accept that the Gospels – stories about Jesus – were written within 30-50 years of Jesus’ life. Legends do not develop within such a short time, as eyewitnesses can dispute claims made. Historical research can only suggest probabilities not certainties, but the Bible’s historical reliability far surpasses any other ancient literatures. When making up stuff you don’t report your leader was crucified, that your hero was rejected by their family, and followers doubted Jesus’ claims including being God in flesh – unless you are reporting the facts. Jesus simply was not the stuff legends were made up. See here
Do God-Followers have to read the Bible or are we better off without the Bible?
The Bible can be used to unite and encourage or divide and discourage. Don’t read the Bible if it discourages you from loving others like you want to loved. Keep in mind that billions of people have lived and died without any knowledge of the Bible or who Jesus was. We may be better off without the Bible if a Book replaces our relationship with God and common moral sense. But, it can be helpful for individual religions to have written records so contradictions can be weighed respectfully to determine what is more likely truth about a loving God.
Was the Bible written to answer my specific question?
The Bible is often read as if an answer Book for our particular dilemma. One may read the passage about turning your other cheek and assume God says we can’t defend ourselves against violence. When I write I am not hoping one picks a random sentence (aka verse in the Bible) to address their problem. The Bible can’t record all the speaker didn’t say in a situation or might say differently if speaking to a different audience with their unique circumstances. Divorce is not ideal but in some circumstances, it might be best. Jesus didn’t always answer questions directly but spoke about our hearts. Can you imagine a world where all looked out for the interests of others and not just themselves when dealing with difficulties?
How can we read the Bible?
Read the Bible reflectively than for solutions to specific problems. The issue is our heart in solving problems as circumstances vary. Read the Bible with an open-mind motivated by love. Don’t check your moral conscience at the door as you consider what a loving God is really like. Unquestioning obedience has led to justifying slavery, killing infidels, and other atrocities in the name of God. Reading the Bible reflectively rather than with blind obedience can continue to influence millions to live a more selfless life.
Why would God allow so much uncertainty?
It is more logical to suggest we can’t be certain what an invisible, inaudibly God thinks, but supposed certainty has led to justifying atrocities as slavery and theologians such as St. Augustine not opposing the execution of those not agreeing with their theology. God doesn’t get enough credit for communicating through our moral senses, but God’s overpowering presence in our lives may only lead to consuming guilt or fearful obligations to obey. How is human physical presence working in keeping you on the straight and narrow and not hiding actions from human partners or friends? Beliefs are seldom life-changing or lasting if not freely chosen. God may know human nature benefits more through a relationship than being told what to do.
Why do we hold on to an infallible or inspired view of the Bible?
I know pastors and professors may lose their job speaking openly by questioning the Bible being the definitively guide on what God is like. I didn’t always speak openly about my profession – Mental Health. When you have written books with one view, it isn’t easy to go in an opposite direction. See my journey with the Bible here. It is commonly suggested if the Bible isn’t inspired, “then you can’t know God for sure.” This assumes of course interpretations are infallible. Many leaders aren’t comfortable claiming uncertainty. It is much easier giving advice due to supposed certainty rather than listening and helping one make their own decisions. Even the Bible tells us the Word of God isn’t a Book but flesh in the body of Jesus (Jn. 1:1-14), whose Spirit now lives in us (Jn. 14:16-17).
Can you imagine a world where Bible folks didn’t assume they were right about God according to the Bible?
- Imagine a world were women were treated equally and gays were not condemned according to God
- Imagine a world where all followed the main teachings of the Bible by looking out for the interests of others and not just themselves with God’s help
- Imagine what a perfect God is like if the Bible didn’t exist
- Imagine the Bible is worth reading but it matters how we read it
- Imagine a journey getting to know God as opposed to be told for sure what God is like
Do you use others’ perceptions of God to not seek understanding of God on your own?
If seeking more explanation of questions asked above, please see here.
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