"The Bible is Not a Book. It's a Library."

by leavingwt 17 Replies latest jw friends

  • leavingwt

    I would like to call your attention to this recent article by Karl Giberson, Ph.D., scholar of science & religion, and the former President of the BioLogos Foundation. His conclusion is that we need not dismiss all of the Bible, just because some of it is not accurate.

    . . .

    But how do we decide which parts of the Bible should be read literally? This question is often posed with an "Aha! I have got you" exclamation, as though the inquisitor is certain it cannot be answered. Jerry Coyne, in his endless quest to discredit all things religious, put it like this in a recent blog:

    "Sophisticated" theologians who urge a non-literal reading of the Bible always put themselves in a bind. And it is this: if the Bible is not to be read as a literal account of the truth, then how do we know which parts really are true, and which parts are fiction or metaphor? Nobody has ever found a convincing way to winnow the true from the metaphorical, and so it becomes an exercise in cherry-picking.

    Less triumphalist versions of this same question were posed to me by a radio listener this morning and a former student yesterday on my Facebook wall. And I think the answer is straightforward, even simple:

    The Bible is not a book. It is a library -- dozens of very different books bound together. The assumption that identifying one part as fiction undermines the factual character of another part is ludicrous. It would be like going into an actual physical library and saying "Well, if all these books about Harry Potter are fictional, then how do I know these other books about Abraham Lincoln are factual? How can Lincoln be real if Potter is not?" And then "Aha! I have got you! So much for your library."

    Acknowledging that the Bible is a library doesn't do all the hard work for us, of course. But recognizing this at least lets us avoid the so-called slippery slope where a non-literal approach in one place somehow compromises a literal approach in another.


    Jerry Coyne, quoted above by Giberson, has been kind enough to respond:

    As you see, this is a complete non-response. The question I asked is this: which parts of the bible are Harry Potter and which parts are Abraham Lincoln? And how can you tell? Admitting that some parts of the Bible are literal truth and others fiction does not enable us to tell them apart! What are the criteria we should use? We have, of course, empirical ways of knowing that Harry Potter isn’t real but Abraham Lincoln was. We can’t apply those criteria to the divinity or resurrection of Jesus, and many scholars aren’t even certain that Jesus existed.

    Giberson’s real answer, of course, would probably be something this: “I just know that the stuff about Jesus is real. Therefore I needn’t use external or historical criteria to distinguish Biblical fact from fiction. I know the answer by revelation—by what the church tells me and by what I feel in my heart.”

    As always, interpreting the Bible rests on a combination of wishful thinking and making stuff up.


  • PSacramento

    I agree with Karl, as I tend to do.

    The problem for some fundamentalists is:

    If WE don't dictate what the bible is 100%, then we leave it up to the individual to decide and if WE do that, WE have NO POWER over what conclusions they will arrive at.

    As for Jerry, I don't think he likes when he can't pigeon ALL believers into a nice small group he can wail on, LOL !

  • J. Hofer
    J. Hofer

    the question is, who put the books into the library and why? and why do other libraries contain more (or less) books? what about the books people read before the library was made, but were dismissed by the librarian?

  • PSacramento

    The accusation of "Cherry picking" coming from a fundamentalist ( or even an athiest as is this case with jerry) is always an interesting one, since they tend to cherry pick what they choose to believe also - ie: biblical doctrines,evolution, creation, ID, etc, etc.

    The fact is that the bible is INDEED a collection of different books, written at different times by different authors.

    The NT, for example, in its teachings of Jesus shows that Jesus taught by the Law, by example, by parables, by history, by anything he believed would get his point across and not simply by the Torah.

    Jesus also "cherry picked" what he wanted from the OT, He overruled some laws, cleared up others, made statements in regards to othes that was in direct contrast to the "fundamentalists" of His day.

    While it may not always be easy or possible to knwo for sure what was parable, story, history or divine revelation in the bible, it does fall on ALL BELIEVERS to come to those conclusions THEMSELVES and NOT take anyone else's word on it.

    We may even get it wrong, but it won't be for lack of honest trying out of love for God and His Word.

  • PSacramento
    the question is, who put the books into the library and why? and why do other libraries contain more (or less) books? what about the books people read before the library was made, but were dismissed by the librarian?

    Now, THAT is an interesting question.


    That’s a mighty small library. Even my modest library boasts a dozen shelves filled with books and I have a world of up to date books available via google. Some of the so called books in the bible are just 2 & 3 pages long.

    If the god of the bible could type as impressively as some of our posters here we really would have a library to study.

  • sir82

    But recognizing this at least lets us avoid the so-called slippery slope where a non-literal approach in one place somehow compromises a literal approach in another.

    OK, so when a "literal" book (Matthew? Romans? Hebrews?) treats "fictional" persons & accounts (Adam & Eve, Noah) as literal, how are you supposed to take it?

    Isn't that pretty much the Society's "trump card" when someone points out the utter impossibility of some account in Genesis? They say "well, in Matthew / Mark / Luke / John, Jesus spoke of Adam / Eve / Noah / whoever as a real literal person...and he was up in heaven watching it real time. If Jesus treated it as real shouldn't you too? You callin' Jesus a liar, punk?"

  • Glander

    Interesting and convinceing viewpoint point, Leaving. Thanks

  • cptkirk

    gladiator: that is what i said the other day. i can type 100 words a minute and i'm human. could we atleast get one "book of jesus". you mean he couldn't wite 50,000 words a minute? the bible says if all his works and sayings were recorded, the whole earth could not contain them. well how bout just 1 book rather than the whole earth eh?

    also on the ot, i just ordered the jefferson bible. should be here today, interested to see what he deemed useful from the scriptures.

  • leavingwt

    Jason Rosenhouse takes a stab at it:

    That is why Giberson's Harry Potter analogy is frankly ridiculous. No one has ever claimed that the Harry Potter books have a connection to the books about Lincoln. But people certainly do claim that Genesis is intimately related to Romans, or more generally that the Old Testament is related to the New. A better analogy would be that if we decide, in the course of reading the first Harry Potter novel, that Hermione is just a figment of Harry's imagination, then that will certainly affect how we read the later books in the series.

    As it happens, though, I do think a Christian has a way of evading this problem. He could conclude that the Biblical text is inspired only in the sense that its authors had genuine encounters with God that they then put down in writing as best they could. The words themselves are not inspired, they were written by fallible human beings. On this approach we simply abandon the notion of inerrancy, but that is good riddance to bad rubbish. To the Christian who worries that this leaves him without a firm basis for believing what the Bible says about Jesus I would simply ask what it was that convinced him of Jesus' divinity in the first place. If it was really the complete historical accuracy of Genesis then we have a problem. But if it had something to do with religious experience, or if it was the result of positive changes in their life that occurred after coming to faith, then I fail to see how those reasons are diminished by taking a more moderate approach to the Bible.

    Obviously, people of a more conservative temperament will find that unacceptable. But I didn't come up with that solution myself. It is precisely the solution presented by theologians like Harry Emerson Fosdick and Langdon Gilkey, among many others. I would think that a Christian could take this position without straying too far from orthodoxy.

    Of course, I personally do not think that is the correct position. In my opinion a far more sensible approach to the Bible is to treat it as a purely human production, with no divine input whatsoever. It has historical and literary value, but it provides absolutely no insight at all into any question of ultimate importance. I doubt I'll ever understand what could possess otherwise intelligent people to devote even one second of emotional energy to worrying about whether Adam and Eve actually existed,


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