So, what can be done with this complicated human creation, the Bible? Is it inspired? Is it the word of God? I would say “yes” and “yes.” Is it the only way that God has communicated with humanity, or ever will? To these I say “no” and “no.” How do I know these things? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else, we only have our beliefs. Even those who say that the Bible is the only true, complete record of God’s instructions to the human race that is free from any and all errors in relation to any and all doctrines necessary for salvation, only do so out of a belief that that is true. I can’t put that amount of faith into a human creation. The facts that the books of the Bible were written by dozens of people over centuries; that a good portion of the earlier books were first passed on through oral tradition; that original texts are not extant; and that different groups of believers believe that different texts belong and others don’t all lead me to the conclusion that the Bible can’t live up to the extremely high expectations of those who claim it is inerrant. On top of that, there is the circular reasoning of arguing that the scripture is inerrant because it says it is. I could say that this blog is the word of God, filled with true doctrine that is free from error. If someone were to post a comment pointing out reasons not to believe that, all I would need to do is point to the fact that the blog itself stated that it was inerrant to prove the inerrancy of the blog. Doesn’t make too much sense does it?
On the other hand, the fact that the Bible even exists today as an intact, generally agreed upon text considered holy by a vast number of people is reason to believe that it is one of the greatest efforts in all of human history to attempt to speak about the relationship between the human and the divine. This is a grand story telling marvelous truths. Read as a whole, the Bible speaks of a divine plan in which God shows exceptional love to some rather unlovely sorts (i.e. people just like you and me). It also clearly shows that this God chooses underdogs and consistently makes a preferential option for the poor (you can hardly turn a page without reading about caring for the widow, orphan and/or sojourner). Some of the stories are riveting and awe-inspiring; what greater liberation story is there than the Exodus? It is in the details where things fall apart; not so much because of the details themselves but because of our tendency to nit-pick and lord over one another.
Jews have always had a wonderful tradition of struggling with the holy texts. They interpret and re-interpret and listen to each other’s sides, living with the differences in interpretation (this is the Talmudic tradition). Christians have not typically followed suit. We have a long tradition of excommunication (and even executing) heretics. But when we read the Gospels, we see Jesus move away from the law as restrictive, replacing it with the grace to live life abundantly. He calls for the giving of the full measure of our lives. If we are serious in our discipleship, following Jesus as revealed in the scriptures, then we won’t have much time at all for finding specks in the eyes of our brothers and sisters since we will have to pay to much attention to being lumberjacks getting the logs out of our own eyes.
The Bible may be only a human creation, but it is the creation of humans just like you and me, who longed to know God and to be godly in their living. It is a book that I can relate to. It is a book that inspires me to be better than I can imagine being on my own. It is also complicated enough that I am forced to use my God-given rational mind to understand it. It is also challenging enough that I know that I need to be among the gathered faithful to live out the life it calls me to. To follow Jesus is to follow “the way.” I need the Bible as the map, my mind to make choices, the wisdom of those who have gone this way before, and the company of fellow travelers to share the burden of the journey. All the pieces are necessary and the most important one is the one that is missing at the time.