The Bible seems to represent different things to different people,
from 'absolute inerrant' Source, to irrelevant book. These are
some thoughts on what it is and why it might be more significant
than people sometimes think it is.|
As main Editor of the BELIEVE Religious Information Source web-site, I have received tens of thousands of e-mail notes from visitors. If we set aside the children who are trying to get us to do Sunday School homework, and various aberrant angry individuals, the majority of the notes seem to fall into four main categories:
This group of people tend to have intense Faith, and sometimes narrow-minded beliefs, where they see themselves as totally understanding the entirety of the Bible, while they see all other people, including the majority of two billion who consider themselves Christians, to be absolutely wrong, no matter what they believe, if it is different from their views. The fervent Faith of such people is wonderful! However, when they present themselves as totally understanding ALL of God's Plan, they are essentially perceiving themselves as being as Intelligent and All-knowing as God Himself, which seems remarkably arrogant and un-Christian.
Such people certainly know and understand all of the basic Truths of Faith and Christianity, no question there. But it seems certain that their comprehension of God's Plan for humanity, which is entirely based on the Bible, might be less than they assume. The Bible seems to be "intentionally" vague on a number of points, for example, the actual environment in Heaven. But there are enough clues regarding that subject that Christian groups have tended to "fill in the missing parts" with their own speculations and understandings, so most Christians have a pretty convincing idea in their heads regarding what Heaven must be like. The point here is that much of that image is NOT from the Bible but from the creativity of human thought and imagination. The details may or may not actually be valid! But, the important part is that they each know what is required of them to GET THERE!
In other words, when different Devout Christian groups have different understandings regarding Biblical Scriptures, it is NOT because the Scripture itself is different for them, but just that their understanding of it is. The reality is that probably NO Church or human Christian ABSOLUTELY comprehends the Mind of God, and therefore, any human understanding of God's Plan, which IS fully presented in the Bible, probably includes gaps or incompletenesses of understanding.
For such people, it is necessary to add a comment. All Protestant Christian Churches include in their "Statement of Faith" that they believe in the absolute inerrancy of the ORIGINAL Manuscripts of the Bible. This is essentially an admission that all of our current Bibles MAY include minor flaws. Unfortunately, NONE of the original Manuscripts seem to still exist, and the oldest Manuscripts that have been found are from around 200 years after Jesus lived. Many, many thousands of Scribes have copied those Manuscripts over the centuries, particularly before about 1450 AD when the printing press was invented. Scholars have found that those Scribes, even though being remarkably careful, occasionally miscopied a letter or a dot.
Sometimes, Christians will say that this is impossible, that God directs the hand of EVERY copyist of Scripture. That certainly sounds great, and we wish it were true, but reality says otherwise. If YOU now decided to hand copy the Gospel of Matthew, do you believe that God would absolutely disallow you to make any copying errors? That would not be the case, and you could, unintentionally or intentionally, have flaws in your resulting copy. In addition to this, it turns out that there are over 10,000 hand copied Manuscripts of the Bible from before the printing press. If that argument was absolutely true, all of those copies would be perfectly identical, but they are not. The all contain very, very minor copying errors. This is a documented fact.
But it should not seem quite so frightening! The Bible contains 773,746 words, or more than three million letters! Actually, the fact that those thousands of Manuscript copies, EACH having been copied from earlier copies dozens of times during earlier centuries, have only a few characters different, shows the amazing care that all of the thousands of Scribes applied to their work! Best of all, modern scholarship has now collected those several thousand Manuscript copies, and through various analytical methods, has virtually always discovered the correct "original" spelling and wording. In this way, modern Bibles are actually becoming closer and closer to the precise text of the Original Manuscripts.
These people see that the Bible certainly contains all the necessary Teachings for Faith and for following a Christian life. But they also notice that science and historical researchers keep finding and documenting things and concepts that seem to be in disagreement with the Bible. As a result, since science seems to generally be pretty thorough in proving things, there is a common tendency to accept the scientific statements. That's probably not a serious mistake, most of the time, because of how well the "scientific method" generally works. However, the unfortunate part is that Christians who find it necessary or desirable to accept such scientific statements, often then feel it is necessary to "modify" their Christian Faith as a result. In general, this tends to be various concessions to science, for example, regarding a lot of things in Genesis. Where the length of a Day in Genesis was once just accepted on Faith, it is commonly not considered either "symbolic" or entirely fictitious.
Such results have spread throughout Christianity. The great majority of Christians now accept science's finding that the Universe took around 15 billion years to become what it is today. As a result, they find it necessary to dismiss the "Six Day" premise altogether, EVEN THOUGH GOD TOLD US THAT! Doesn't that seem like a scary result?
Even worse, when Christians find it "acceptable" to dismiss or doubt or even deny certain words of the Bible (like in Genesis 1), they tend to have formed a precedent for dismissing or doubting or denying OTHER words or concepts of the Bible. As a result, they perceive a "watered-down" Bible, where the majority of the things are "probably" true, but where there is the "freedom" to ignore or bypass any parts of the Bible that are "inconvenient" or seem to be personally unacceptable. This is a terrible thing!
I believe that I have come upon a solution for this situation. I believe that it is possible to have ABSOLUTE Faith in every word and concept in the Bible, including Genesis 1 and the Six Days, while still embracing ALL of the present and future findings of scientific investigations! A number of years ago, I wrote an essay on this approach, and a copy of it is at: Christianity and Science ARE Compatible http://mb-soft.com/public/duality.html
I believe that the approach described there can permit Christians to believe and defend every word of the Bible, while still accepting the myriad of scientific findings that keep happening.
This group of people do not generally have any pre-conceptions as to what the Bible actually is. Depending on what they are told, and what they discover by reading and contemplation, they could easily wind up in ANY of the other three categories described here!
Seekers have a very difficult task! If they would ask certain Churches, they would be told of absolute inerrancy, even of modern Bibles, much like the first group described above. If, instead, they should ask other Churches, they might be told of a "watered-down" view of the Bible. And, if they should ask any of an assortment of other people, including some that claim to be Christian Churches, they might be told that the Bible is merely an "adventure story" or a philosophical method of controlling society, or even purely fictitious and imaginary! How can a Seeker find the "Truth" when so many different sources provide very biased views of what the "Truth" might be?
Trying to find a personal meaning for the concept of God, or the "meaning of life" is a difficult task at best. If the only available sources of information are as mentioned above, it can seem virtually impossible. In some cases, people study ALL of the disparate approaches, and then try to pick out the "good" aspects of each, to arrive at some sort of composite Truth. That may be a valid approach! In any case, we have tried to help for people in this situation. We spent a number of years collecting scholarly articles (hopefully reasonably unbiased) on over 700 religious subjects, and have presented them in a BELIEVE Religious Information Source web-site http://mb-soft.com/believe/indexaz.html
BELIEVE generally presents several articles on each subject, in an attempt to present the various perspectives that seem to exist on that subject. Hopefully, no "preference" is shown to any particular perspective, such that a reader could just get useful and accurate information, on which to form one's own opinions.
There are actually two sub-categories here. One includes people who couldn't care less about religion or Christianity. Of course, such people wouldn't have ever looked for or found this essay! If there is no interest or incentive to "grow" not much anyone would say would make any difference to such people anyway!
That leaves the second sub-category, people who don't really "believe" the Bible or in Christianity, but still have some curiosity regarding these subjects. That curiosity could be on a variety of levels, from very casual interest, through a "debating" attitude, to people who are VERY motivated to try to find "meaning" in life, whatever that might mean for them. These last people often deeply explore many directions, in the hopes of finding one that seems "promising!"
Collectively, these "non-believers" tend to be extremely skeptical of the claims of ANY religion. They are told incredibly impressive things by proponents of every belief system. The sources always appear to be "experts" because they seem to claim to know ALL the answers! This is true of EVERY belief system! It's no wonder that people who are seeking answers to important questions are drawn to such exciting possibilities. No, they are never presented as "possibilities" but as absolute "guarantees!" How could anyone resist that?
Some of the people ask for "proof" in order to fully commit to whatever religion. Others just see such exciting answers, answers that they had seeked for a long time, they just jump! Others yet find something resembling Faith to hang their hopes on.
The major religions have some ancient religious documents, which act to offer some level of "proof" of the validity of that religion. In the case of Christianity, at least Protestant Christianity, that "proof" is the text of the Bible, and really nothing else!
This means that everything in Christian Faith hinges on whether the Bible is true. It's really a pretty simple question. IF the Bible was written (by humans) with the Guidance of God, and if God is Honest, then the statements and claims of the Bible MUST be true. IF it was written with the Guidance of God, and if God is dishonest with us, we have very serious problems and there is no hope whatever! The remaining alternative is that the Bible does NOT contain God's contribution, and that it is merely a human-authored book. In this last possibility, it would be possible that there actually IS no God, or that He just didn't choose to participate in creating the Bible (under the premise that He may have provided the Koran, or Hinduism sacred texts, or some other religion's basis instead).
Therefore, we must examine factors that might suggest credibility (or lack thereof) of the Bible.
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