What is the Bible all about. Is it a rule book or a guide-book? Or something else?
The Message (MSG)
14-17 But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed, sure of the integrity of your teachers—why, you took in the sacred Scriptures with your mother’s milk! There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.
4 1-2 I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple.
3-5 You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.
I’ve included the message version of this passage because I think it gives a freshness and perhaps shines a different light on a familiar, and potentially tricky portion of the bible. If you want a more traditional version, you can see it here.
I believe in the bible – passionately (that is after all what most of these posts are about). I love it for its honesty; its tales of real people – including their struggles; for the picture it gives us of God who believes in and loves his people, however much they get things wrong. I believe God speaks through the bible to us. I believe it shows us how he wants us to live.
But, I do have concerns with what some people, sometimes, do with the bible. And this passage has, at times, been used to beat people over the head with:
- do what you’ve always been taught
- do what the bible says
- and spectacularly, “correct people and point out their sins”
Talk about how to win friends and influence people…
So, my issues are then, not with this passage and what it says – but how it has often been translated and used. Because when people talk about “what the bible says”, they can mean ‘what I want it to say’, or ‘what I’d be comfortable with it saying’, or ‘what I remember from Sunday School’. Like most things the bible can be interpreted to say just about anything we want it to if we try hard enough. People have used it in times gone by to justify slavery. It is still used by some today to, amongst other things, “keep women in their place” or to pontificate about relationships and what is or isn’t right, or myriad other things that suit our view-point.
To me the Bible is an account of God’s relationship with his people and their working out of what faith meant to them where they were. It shows God’s love and care for his people – and yes his anger and judgement when they got things wrong.
It is our responsibility to use it in our generation to see what God is saying to us – and to enable others to do the same. It is difficult to do that in any pure sense – but we must try. We are not reading the original version of what happened. That would have been an oral tradition and when it was originally written down, it was written through a cultural and contextual filter – and certainly not in English. Nuance has been lost, common understanding, the effect of time and place. It has been translated and re-translated in languages which do not share the same structure or words. But grapple we must, because whatever else it is, the bible does remain God’s word to his people – and that includes me and you where we are today.
Being a good (?!) Methodist, I refer to The Wesleyan Quadrilateral:
Yes we start with scripture, but we also bring to that tradition, reason and experience. The four together should stop us going off at a tangent, getting caught up in a hobby-horse, or pandering to the needs of the world rather than the call of God. But we need to show care in how we respond if we are to be heard.
God has so much he longs to share with us, so much to show us, so much he wants us to share with others. The Bible is brilliant starting place, so rich in all it gives us; but we also need to bring our own story to it, and the story of those around us.
Yes, God is looking over our shoulder. Yes we are called to be faithful on our watch. And that means doing what we are called to the right way. To use the Bible in our world means more than trotting out the same old quotes, it means opening up, exploring it, inviting others to explore, having a conversation about where it takes us, hearing other people’s opinions and angles. Because that actually is how we discern for ourselves what God wants of each of us and what we are getting wrong – not by someone finger-pointing and “correcting others”. The Bible and God’s ways are a discovery not a stick. The bible is to be thought about, prayed over and discussed – how exciting is that!
God’s word is exciting – and powerful – because it comes from him. He has left it in our hands, on our watch. Not to turn people from it, but that together we may encounter God in and through it.
Thank you God
for your word,
the amazing stories of people
and their encounters and experiences of you,
all they learnt about you,
and what that teaches me.
Thank you for trusting me
to continue to bring share your word
in my generation.
Help me not to always think I know,
but to continue to hear your voice
and the voice of those who share your word,
that together we may hear
what you are saying to us
where we are.
help us not to stray,
but to listen
and to hear clearly
all that you want to say to us