Some thoughts on the Bible
I wrote down some viewpoints of mine lately on one of the forums I frequent. So in a sense, this is a lazy blog post but I thought it might be a good idea to get it down where I can find it. Apologies if these ideas seem scrappy and somewhat disjointed.
What people don’t understand is that there is no “God of the Old Testament,” there are “many perceptions of God recorded within the Old Testament.” One of the many reasons I could never be a literalist is because if one starts viewing the Bible as one complete infallible book, we are left with a God who in one heartbeat preaches justice for the poor and in the next a God who says that only wealth is a sign of good fortune. The Old Testament is a record of great discussions, debates, and contrasting ideas that occurred throughout the ages, and one of those was the great conflict between the kings who wanted power, and the prophets who preached righteousness.
You see, people often say that “the Old Testament God was a bloodthirsty, vengeful, sadistic deity…” Nonsense. He was vengeful, bloodthirsty and sadistic because that was His nature according to the elite who wanted power and a God who would win victory in their battles each time! When one arrives at books like Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, etc, (and quite importantly, in the post-exilic period within which these books were written which allowed the poorer classes to gain a voice) one begins to see a very distinct shift in the theology of God. God now becomes a God of nonviolence rather than one of war, He becomes one who sees the heart rather than outer ritual, and He becomes one who speaks up for the justice of the poor and against the evils of the rich, instead of praising wealth as a reward of righteousness. The call for social justice indeed bleeds on many chunks of pages throughout the Old Testament, but mostly in those parts where God was on the side of the poor. Incidentally, to me this makes the faith of Christ as God even more important, because it is as if God came down from Heaven Himself to solve for us this great debate once and for all, showing us that indeed the prophets were right all along.
In this sense, I feel like my faith is a bridge in the gap separating the ideas that “the Bible was divinely inspired by God” and “the Bible is just a bunch of outdated myth.” It’s all very well for us to dismiss myths out of hand when they appear ludicrous in comparison to observed reality, but what is taken for granted in today’s world is that the heart of mythical tales propagated within various different cultures throughout the ages is the expression of an innate or perceived truth in the world, through the medium of stories which themselves are not literally true. We remember as children the various grown-ups would show us a story and then say “there is a moral to this,” and though this is a simplified analogy, I feel the similarity is quite great. Stories, and myths, are powerful mediums to tell truths about the world, or to tell versions of it at the very least.
Now I don’t believe that the Bible is entirely mythical, but I certainly feel that the various different authors of the Old Testament conveyed their own writings to express their own perceived “truths” about the world around them. And in this sense, any myth when read will at least reflect in part a real occurrence. Do I know if David and Goliath, if Solomon and Sheba, if Balaam and the donkey, all occurred? No idea. I don’t feel it is my job to read scripture and say to myself “hmm, I wonder if it’s at all possible this happened as it’s written?” No, I feel my prerogative is to read the Bible and see what wisdom I can learn and how I might apply the lesson. Of course, some events are unquestionable in my mind as being mythical, namely Adam and Eve, Noah’s ark, the tower of Babel, etc, but even within these I perceive a greater spiritual truth the authors were trying to convey, rather than reporting actual historical events.
As I said, I feel the Old Testament is largely a conflict between those elite who wanted power (and thus portrayed a God of war who brought kings prosperity) and the prophets who sided with the poor (and thus portrayed a God of peace, who demanded justice for the oppressed and destitute). So these and various other threads of thought exist throughout the Bible, as almost a great debate throughout the ages. Since, of course, I am a Christian, I feel that the person and character of Christ settled this debate and portrayed God in more the manner the prophets perceived Him than did the kings. Am I foolish for believing in something totally unbelievable like the Incarnation and then viewing large portions of the Old Testament as culturally-constructed myth interspersed with history? Perhaps, but again I do not necessarily see a conflict, I simply feel I’m reading various reflections of man’s struggle to try and grasp the truth, and in this sense it greatly reinforces my belief that God revealed Himself in Jesus, since I hang onto the one paramount principle to my faith, and looking at this principle as the one thing all of those prophets, sages, scribes, and kings were gravitating to and building towards.