How Have Your Views About the Bible Changed?
John 8: 1-11, Matthew 5:38-42
September 17, 2023
How have your views about the Bible changed over the years?
That’s the question I’d like us to ponder today.
I was a sophomore in high school in 1973 when I had a profound experience with God. It changed my life from one of being a casual Christian to someone who was passionate about living for God. I bought myself a Bible to learn more about God. It’s this book right here. It’s called The Way: The Living Bible, illustrated edition. The translation was a lot easier to read than the King James Version or the Revised Standard Version.
I started reading this book from cover to cover. I know that’s not how it was written or is supposed to be read, but I am not a halfway type of person. I wanted to read the whole thing. I completed my first reading of the entire Bible in about six months. I immediately began to read it through again. I finished it the second time another six months later. From there, I picked up the pace of my reading. Over the next three years I read through the whole Bible another ten times. I was so hungry for God and so anxious to understand God’s ways.
When I first started reading, I believed that this Book was God’s direct, dictated, inerrant words. I believed that there were no mistakes or errors because God wrote this book. I believed it included God’s laws and rules for living a Christian life. It was like an Owner’s Manual or an Answer Book – like the old Magic 8 Ball.
Do you remember the Magic 8 Ball? This big black bowling ball like thing. It had a glass window which had mysterious blue fluid and a die with twenty sides and twenty sayings. You would shake it up and ask it a question. I thought at first that the Bible worked the same way. You could ask it a question and open up the Bible to the answer.
I also believed that the Bible was a substitute for a science textbook. Therefore, the world was created in six days, not over billions of years, like evolutionary science claimed. I read the Bible as if it included articles in an encyclopedia, that everything I read was literal, scientific, factual.
That was the Construction Stage of my understanding of the Bible.
Let me summarize what I shared last week of some different stages we go through in our understandings of God and our faith.
I shared two different analogies. They each involve three stages or phases.
The first stage is Construction. It’s one of simplicity and order and orientation. It’s a time to stack up the boxes. (stack the three boxes)
The second stage is Deconstruction. It involves a lot of words that start with “D”. The most important word is ‘doubt’. Doubt is the main portal out of the stage of construction. Deconstruction also might involve other “d” words – dissent, disorder, disorientation, disarray and darkness. It involves the unstacking of these boxes or the knocking down of these carefully constructed boxes. (knock down the stack)
The question we’re pondering during this series is this: Can there be faith after doubt and deconstruction? It’s accompanied by the question: After doubt, should you return to your original construction or should you move on to some new construction?
Should you put these boxes back in the same way you had them originally or do you put them back in a different way?
The third stage is Reconstruction. This stage involves words that start with “Re” like Reorder and Redefinition and Redirection. It’s about a new orientation. This stage of reconstruction means that we go deeper and broader. It’s a faith after doubt. But it’s usually a faith involving more love and more humility.
The boxes come back together but they are constructed differently than what you started. (Show this new construction)
Another analogy that tells this story is imagining yourself in one of these boxes. You start in this small box. It seems like you have enough room at first. But eventually it doesn’t fit you anymore. You need more space to breathe. You need more space to fit who you are and what you believe.
So you break out of the original box. And find yourself in a larger box. Eventually, that box does not fit who you are and what you believe, so you break out of that second box to find yourself in a third box.
Maybe that third box has an open lid on it so that you can keep growing and maturing and expanding your understanding of God and yourself and God’s love for all.
In both analogies, there is some sense that you don’t leave the previous stages totally behind, you just add on to what you learned in the earlier stages.
The good news I’m sharing during this series is this: There can be reconstruction after deconstruction. There can be faith after doubt. Doubt is not something that is contrary to faith. Instead, it is the portal to greater and deeper faith.
Jesus himself doubted what he was taught as a child. He went through some deconstruction and reconstruction of his understanding of the Bible of his day, which we call the Old Testament.
Listen to a conversation he might have had with the disciple Peter after the Scripture story of the woman caught in sin.
Peter starts by saying, “Jesus, I don’t understand what just happened. Don’t you believe in the Law of Moses? Isn’t that the word of God?”
Jesus responds, “Peter, I agree with you and these teachers. It’s true that our Bible says a woman like this should be stoned to death. That’s what I was taught as a child.”
“But then why Jesus? Why did you not agree with them? If our Bible is clear, then who are you to contradict it? If God said it, then why are you not following it?”
“Peter, I’ve come to understand our Scriptures differently. I don’t believe they are God’s definitive Rule Book. They don’t have the final word.”
“What do you mean, Jesus?”
“For example, Peter, you know that you have been taught, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’”
“That’s right Jesus. That’s a good summary of many of the rules we find in our Bible.”
“Well, Peter, I tell you this: Don’t try to get even with a person who has done something to you. When someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and let that person slap your other cheek.”
“Are you kidding Jesus? That’s not what it says for us to do in the Bible.”
“Peter, I believe God is still speaking. I’ve been listening to the Spirit and believe God is sharing a new message of love and non-retaliation. In addition, I believe you can find some signs of this new way in our Bibles. For example, you can find there a merciful God who continues to love us even after we’ve hurt God. God doesn’t retaliate against us. Peter, you shouldn’t follow the letter of the Law as the Pharisees and teachers of the Law too often do, but instead look for the underlying intent or meaning.”
“Jesus, what do you see as the underlying intent or meaning of the Law in our Bibles?”
“Someone once asked what I thought was the most important commandment. I told them: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love others as much as you love yourself. That summarizes the intent and meaning of the Law in our Bibles.”
You see this is Jesus deconstructing and reconstructing an understanding of the Bible. He didn’t settle for what he was taught as a child in the Construction Stage.
How have your views about the Bible changed over the years? What type of Deconstruction and Reconstruction have you done regarding the Scriptures?
Let me continue to tell you my story.
After reading the Bible a dozen times as a youth, I went off to a Christian college and then seminary and took many Bible classes.
I remember Professor George Lyons. He taught Greek. But more importantly he also taught me to bring my head to my understanding of my faith and the Bible. I began to learn what others had been saying about the Bible for years.
First, I learned that human beings wrote the Bible. The Bible was written by people two thousand to three thousand years ago in the Middle East. As I read the Bible now, I keep in mind that these people are bringing their own perspectives and realities of that time and place.
I also came to recognize that much of the Bible is more metaphorical like parables and stories than factual like a newspaper or encyclopedia accounts. In other words, the stories are true, but not necessarily factual events. It’s about looking for the meaning of the story and the intent of the Scripture rather than trying to figure what exactly happened.
All in all, it’s more about listening to God’s Spirit speak to us today. For I believe that God is still speaking to us.
God can use the Scriptures to speak to us. But…
But there are places where God’s still speaking voice today contradicts what it says in the Bible. For example, slavery is clearly supported in both the Old and New Testaments, but I don’t believe that slavery is God’s intention for anyone. Another example is the affirmation of the killing and even genocide of enemy peoples in the Old Testament. I don’t believe that genocide is ever God’s intention.
Jesus did this same type of deconstruction and reconstruction back in his day. That’s what our Scripture readings were about this morning. Jesus was listening to God’s still speaking voice.
As I was preparing for this message, I realized that the story about Jesus and the woman caught in sin most likely did not even happen. Even though it’s in my Bible, I read in the footnotes that the story is not found in any of the early manuscripts. In other words, it’s a story that was added hundreds of years after the New Testament was written in the first century.
The story about Jesus and the woman caught in sin where Jesus says: “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone”, that whole story is not factual or literal. But the truth of the story resonates in our day. God’s Spirit uses this story to remind us of God’s grace for every person, including you and me.
I find meaning in the Scriptures and I find God speaking to me through the Scriptures even though I no longer believe them to be God’s direct, dictated, inerrant words.
What about you?
How have your views changed about the Bible over the years?