Thursday, February 18, 2016

Perverting the Word

There's been a great deal of "scholarship" over the Bible in the past century or so, which is how we came to have so much concern over reading the Bible to discover the Bible rather than reading the Bible to discover God.

It's also why we have so many Bible study resources that are determined to change the way the average person looks at the entire Bible. Rather than strengthening your faith, these historical commentaries are meant to make you question it.

They'll tell you that almost none of the books of the Bible were written by the people that they claim to be written by. They'll tell you that the book of Isaiah, for example, was written by at least three, maybe four, different people. They'll tell you that the stories were never meant to be historical, that many of them are, in fact, myth. Or parable. Or pure fiction. They'll point to some of the literary devices used in the writing of these stories as evidence of this.

One of the most commonly cited "discoveries" about the Bible that these academics want to share with you is that the books weren't really written in the right time period to be of use to the people about whom they are writing. They were written generations upon generations later, especially in the case of the Old Testament. That whole Exodus thing? The scholars will tell you it was not written until the Jews were already exiled in Babylon. And then, it was written only because they "needed" that story, that encouragement.

It's the kind of thing that's just fascinating enough that most of us stop without a second thought and go, "wow!" We put down our Bibles for a second and consider what it must mean for the books to be written later, or by different authors than we thought, or in a different literary genre. Certainly, this means something for the Bible and the way we read it. Right?


Absolutely none of this matters. Scholars aren't going to like me saying that, but absolutely none of this matters. Because the stories themselves - no matter when they were told, how they were told, or by whom they were told - are still the stories of God. 

They are still the stories that draw us into the heart of God, that reveal His character, that tell us something about the way that He interacts with His people. We can still read them and discover who God is, even if we know nothing else about them. Whatever historical context we can place them in may, in some cases, be bonus information, but it does not change the fundamental revelation of God in the Scriptures.

For example, if the Exodus story was written during the period of exile, it doesn't change one feature of the Exodus story itself. It does, however, remind us of the kind of encouragement that the stories of God can be, of how the people historically used their stories of God as comfort. That's something. In fact, we might even say that that is the story of the people of God. But it doesn't change the Bible, which is the story of God Himself.

If, to take another big question, Isaiah was written by three or even four different authors who all used the original Isaiah's teachings as their foundation for their words...what does that matter to the God who is revealed heart-to-heart in the book that bears the prophet's name? It doesn't. It may again point us to the historical use of God's story by His people - we can see how the people of God brought His story into their hearts in such a way as to write in the same voice as His prophet - and that's something. But it's not the Bible, which is still the story of God.

And if we look at the literary constructs that are used in any particular book of the Bible (Esther, for example, has a great number of so-called over-the-top descriptions), should we be distracted by this? Should it change the way we read for God in the story? Of course not. It should not surprise us at all that the Author and Perfecter of our faith is an incredible storyteller. Of course His inspired Word is going to read like a good story. It may deepen our appreciation for Him as inspiration of all these literary devices, but it doesn't change the way we read the stories themselves and discover Him in them. 

All this stuff is floating around out there right now, all these people who say they just want you to know the Bible better. They just want you to understand that the Bible is not quite what it seems, but that it's this complicated narrative...of course it's a complicated narrative. Anyone who has read it can tell you that much. But the secret is not discovering all the little nuances of the Bible itself, diving deeper into the texts, dissecting them, and all this other bologna. The secret is to discover all the little nuances of God, diving deeper into His heart, absorbing it. 

The great lie here is that to know God better, you have to know the Bible better. That's just not true. And if you go the route of contemporary scholarship, you may one day find that you know the Bible very well...and its God hardly at all. The truth is that if you want to know God better, you have to read the Bible not for its own sake, but for His. Because this book we call the Bible, before it was even such a thing, was His story. It's always been His story. It will always be His story.

So read it like He is the main character. 

Any way else, and you pervert the Word.

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