It’s Hard to Read the Bible
“The Bible is people’s words about God, not God’s Word...”
“The Bible contradicts itself.”
“The Bible means whatever the reader wants it to mean.”
“The Bible suppresses women, oppresses gays, promotes genocide...”
“The God of the Old Testament is different than the God of the New Testament.”
If these objections to the Bible are brand new (and perhaps startling) to you, then you haven’t had the opportunity to work at a Starbucks in the Pacific Northwest. These thoughts filled conversations behind the bar and drifted through the customers as they lounged in chairs or leaned over tables. Most of the time I just listened, unless a customer or co-worker was specifically interested in my opinion. Now, as the seasons have changed, I watch these same thoughts dance across my Facebook page.
If you’ve encountered these thrusts at the Bible, how have you dealt with them? Have you grabbed a quick comeback? Have you dismissed them as an attack expected from a non-Christian? Have those thoughts started nagging at your own brain?
Recently it’s become a bit popular to deconstruct, de-convert, and basically recover from Christianity. Bands like Gungor, authors like Josh Harris, Youtube stars like Rhett and Link, and many of my loved ones have gone through something they call deconstruction which often leads to a de-conversion from Christianity. It can be unsettling and painful for us to watch our loved ones leave Jesus, and for some of us, these stories can deeply unsettle our own faith or even trigger our own deconstructing of what we believe.
What does this have to do with our quiet times? Let me give you a scenario:
You love Jesus, you just haven’t really read the Bible. You grew up in Sunday school, had Christian parents, watched Veggie Tales, you know your stuff… sort of.
A friend comes along. They don’t smoke, drink, sleep around, or have tattoos. They work hard and care about truth. You think well of them. They tell you that something in the Bible strikes them as immoral (slavery, David having way too many wives, women being forced to marry their rapists, genocide, etc). They’ve read the Bible. You haven’t. You panic and say “That’s not in there” but they know it is. They walk away.
You try to figure out how to blame your friend for criticizing the Bible. But they’re a pretty good person and from your Veggie-Tale-based morality their question seems pretty fair and the Bible seems pretty concerning. As time goes on you hear more and more objections to the Bible. You think about reading the Bible but you’re afraid that if you ask these questions your whole faith might come undone. So you don’t read the Bible because it’s frightening and difficult.
Eventually, your Christianity falls apart or you figure out how to plug your ears and keep going.
Or you do what I did when my faith started unraveling. I kept reading the Bible, I deconstructed my own worldview, and reconstructed a deeper faith, more in sync with what the Bible says instead of what I thought the Bible said.
It’s tempting to be a bit of a mother bird and usher you into all the reasons for belief that I’ve found to quickly comfort you, but I (Or your parents, pastor, or church) can’t be the source of why you believe what you believe. If you do the work yourself, your roots will go deeper into Jesus and you will stand stronger. So here’s some advice for doing that work:
1) Don’t Fear questions.
The Bible claims absolute and exclusive truth. If it’s not true, then it’s not true. So go after the truth, hard. A faith that fears questions isn’t faith, it’s indoctrination. “Believe this… and don’t look over there”. The faith of the Bible is a faith that responds to evidence, God’s word, and God’s actions, becoming convinced enough to trust Him, to take His Word as true. We’ll never know everything and there’s a lot of mystery, but we can know enough.
2) Assume your own faultiness.
We are new on the earth. I haven’t been around long enough to witness the 80s. I’m really limited in my perspective and capability to understand. So if something about the Bible doesn’t make sense to me I don’t throw it across the room and declare it faulty. I figure that maybe my understanding of this is not as deep as it could be. I’m limited by my personal experience, culture, and time period. So I research and wrestle. The Bible has been sufficient for millions of people in every sort of generation, culture, worldview, and academic level. So instead of placing myself as the judge of scripture I humbly position myself as a student of the Word. This doesn’t keep me from asking hard questions and wrestling with verses. This does keep me from hastily passing judgment on things I haven’t tried hard to understand.
3) Study the Credibility of Scripture.
Why is the Bible considered inspired? Why is it called inerrant? Why is it considered accurate after being rewritten by people for millennia? Why are some books included in the Bible and other books rejected from the canon? Why is the Bible considered historically factual? Did Jesus even exist? Why do even non-Christians think that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact? These aren’t new questions and some of the greatest minds have come to attack the validity of the Bible only to be so shocked by the evidence that they have converted to Christianity.
But it’s not enough to know that others have been convinced. Become convinced yourself so that when you sit down with the Bible you know why you think it is not only accurate, cohesive, and true but actually inspired by God Himself.
4) Learn the principles of Biblical hermeneutics:
Too many of us go to the Bible with a preconceived worldview and pick out verses that fit what we already think instead of us being shaped by what the Bible actually says. Hermeneutics has a lot to it but here are the tips that I find most helpful:
In general, take the text literally. Don’t reach for a more complicated interpretation unless it seems necessary.
Notice the literature type of the text: Is it history, apocalyptic, law, narrative, genealogy, epistle, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, or a parable? If you’re interpreting a historical narrative as a biblically condoned example to follow, then you can easily say something as misinformed as “the Bible promotes polygamy”. Knowing the type of literature you’re reading really changes the way you read it.
Remember the whole arc of Scripture and trying to see how this part fits in that arc. There are many good resources that sum up the arc of the Bible. Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration are helpful subcategories for me. Remembering that all the Bible leads to, or points back to, Jesus is another helpful truth.
Historical context. What was the historical context? Who wrote it? Who was the original audience? Why were they writing to them? What was the cultural context? What was going on at the time?
- Context, again. Interpret the passage within the context of the Bible itself. What verses precede and follow the passage? What is the passage as a whole about? What about the book?
5) Use Resources!
The Truth Project, the Bible Project, and Alisa Childers’ Podcast have been so helpful to me in wrestling through my toughest questions. My sister loves The Verity Podcast by Phylicia Masonheimer. You aren’t the first person to think through these things so listen to others who have wrestled as you wrestle.
The danger in describing these tools is that it’s overwhelming. The last thing that I want you to feel is that you need to have a stack of rules next to you every time you open up the Bible. Just spend time with Jesus, that’s the point of Quiet Time.
But if questions are nagging at you, keeping you from the Bible, or even eating away at your faith, don’t run away from them! Arm yourself up with all the weapons at your disposal and wrestle on through.
|Emily Miller began having a daily quiet time at the age of 13. This habit has been one of the few constants in her life as she transitioned from being a missionary kid in Mongolia to a barista in Oregon to a stay-at-home mom in central Florida. The Word of God has anchored Emily to Jesus through depression, struggles with doubt, health issues, and her son’s cystic fibrosis.|