On the Bible
I recognize serious errors and outright untruths are in the Bible. I do not look to the Bible, or at the Bible, as I once did, with blind certainty that its every word is without error on the surface level. Nor do I believe it is authoritative (in the “face value” sense) on all the things to which it speaks, for the same reason. For example, the creation account (Genesis 1-2) is either to be interpreted as day = age symbology or as a Hebrew, theocratic origin myth, necessary to the founding of the ancient nation (The Fourth “Day” of Creation; See also Dr. Michael Heiser on Genesis & Creation). But, one thing is certain if a reader will simply notice the genre and context, Genesis 1-2 cannot be accurately interpreted as purely history and/or science.
Perhaps I am at odds with poor interpretation more than inerrancy, because I do not mean to say principles of infinite value cannot be gleaned from even the “erroneous” passages of the Bible. I do affirm that there are underlying principles, given correct interpretation, within scriptures “meant for our learning.” They do present a benefit for shaping one’s understanding and approach to God, life and relationships, as a follower of Jesus. If one will read between the lines, they will find what I’ve described to be a working definition of inspiration; and I do see that view of inspiration works toward something infallible—in the sense that timeless principles of righteousness are the result of Divine and human cooperation.
Myth and Reality
Therefore, I see the Bible is a human book, which records an ancient nation’s origin myth. I also see that, at strategic points, the highest of all gods actually did reveal himself (as he had to all nations) to the Hebrew ancestors… but so much of those experiences were embellished and doctored and redacted and augmented and used for national purposes, that the reality of those revelations were buried underneath myth and its follow-up legends.
Then, suddenly, the highest of all gods actually showed up (a.k.a. Jesus of Nazareth) to no credit of the Jews or their corrupt religion but as credit to the strategic revelations made by him from the most ancient times to all peoples. In fact, Jesus had to do quite a lot of correction of the Jewish system and thinking, just to get across who he is and what he was about. As C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien (and George MacDonald before them) agreed about the matter, ‘Christ is the myth that came true.’ (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/evangelical-history/85-years-ago-today-j-r-r-tolkien-convinces-c-s-lewis-that-christ-is-the-true-myth/)
“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.”
That being said, the corrections in thinking (even among the Apostles) had to continue well into the Apostolic era (ex. kingdom view, Acts 1-2; 10-13), and the Bible faithfully records the Apostles’ misunderstandings and errors and blunders quite transparently.
What difference does all this continue to make for modern Bible readers today? I only can tell you how it causes an effect on my faith.
I reject the “traditional” teachings, which say LGBTQ lifestyles happen to those who are “reprobate” or irrevocably rejected by God. After much sadness and change of heart in myself, I must denounce “Christians,” who reject and/or shame and/or put societal limitations/discrimination on LGBTQ persons. How can I reject the “clear traditional teaching” on this matter, especially from passages like Romans 1?…
Romans 1 is a passage massively misunderstood by modern readers. What if I told you Paul’s main point of the passage is to tell off people in his audience, who are judging (especially hypocritically) those who are LGBTQ and/or atheist? What if I told you Paul’s main appeal is for everyone to treat LGBTQ and atheist persons the same way God does—with abundantly rich goodness and tolerance and kindness and patience. This is what it means to act righteously, i.e. doing good deeds to others, regardless of differences. And what if I told you Paul sternly rebuked those, who committed acts of unrighteousness by judging others (i.e. LGBTQ). He rebuked the judgmental type for having hard and impenitent hearts, and he warns them that they (the judgmental people) are heaping up God’s wrath, indignation, tribulation and anguish on themselves in the day of judgment! Don’t believe me? Read chapter 2:1-9 (bold and underline mine for emphasis)
“Therefore you are inexcusable, …, whoever you are who judge, because in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think this, … you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” 5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil,…” (NKJV)
What Paul is doing in Romans 1 is telling an ancient backstory, from the 1st C. Jewish/Christian mind, how gentiles had gotten to their (then) current state. It is a rhetorical device Paul uses to hook his mainly Jewish audience into seeing Paul as “one of us,” right before showing them the error of their thinking. Jews thought themselves better than gentiles, because Jews had “the Law” and knew better than to practice all kinds of “sexual perversion,” much less deny YHWH’s existence. What the audience does not know is Paul tells the backstory only to reveal judgmental, self-seeking hypocrites are the depth of all evil. Paul was not condemning LGBTQ persons. [Verse 2 is another rhetorical device, an interjection as if made by Paul’s newly made Jewish Christian hecklers, after his bold proclamation that those who hypocritically judge others condemn themselves.]
In brief, Paul was acknowledging that LGBTQ lifestyle and atheism exists, and that, the real trouble is with those who self-righteously judge LGBTQ persons from an ethnocentric and spiritual viewpoint, even while practicing the same lifestyle. Paul’s appeal is for all to treat each other righteously, with goodness and kindness and tolerance. You see, Romans is all about “Jews are not better than gentiles or vice versus; love one another, because Jesus.”
Besides this, the Bible admits some people cannot change (Can People Really Change?). All Christians likewise admit that no one can perfectly match Jesus this side of eternity. Some of those imperfections or fallings short are due to the human condition of existence or from the permanent damage abuses leave on us (The 5 Main Reasons Spiritual Abuse Survivors Don’t “Do Well”). We are all flawed, compared to the original state of all things. God knows this and does not openly strive against us. Jesus was kindest to those with “sexually deviant” lives. All of us are in a continuum of truth seeking (toward that original state); all of us must give room to others for our journey on that continuum, as God does. For us humans, it means, “do to others what you would have them do to you.” This is righteousness. (See Podcast: How Does a Cruciform Hermeneutic Affect Your Reading of Homosexuality Passages? – Greg Boyd – ReKnew)
Egalitarian and Non-Institutional
I also reject the notion that women cannot “lead” churches.
First of all, Paul was wrong about female hair being genitalia and serving as hormone absorption/storage, as was the mode of science in Paul’s day (1 Corinthians 11, Naked Bible 86: The Head Covering of 1 Corinthians 11:13-15 – The Naked Bible PodcastThe Naked Bible Podcast › naked-bible-8…). Even though Paul was wrong by current scientific standards, he was conveying the state of the art in his day, as he was a scholar for his time.
Secondly, I do not see “church” in its contemporary, institutional form as valid, according to the Bible’s own texts. Nor do I see professional ministry as valid, as I have written before (See Reforming the Professional Ministry Paradigm). Still, if there is an organic gathering of believers, a woman has as much influence as anyone else and can take on a role of service to all, as much as any other individual might. But also, and more importantly, the Bible’s passages, which speak of the equality of all races, sexes, social standings (slaves, free), etc. clearly outweigh the special instructions of the Apostle Paul to specific, local gatherings, which serve as guidance to the end that they not do anything in their host culture that would discredit them as being “without the Law of Christ” (i.e. love for another and love/service to their host culture, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Not Under Hebrew Law
Furthermore, the Apostle James, was honest, when asked if non-Jews should attempt to keep the Israelite Law. James says gentiles shouldn’t be bothered about it at all, but he gives a caveat. Literally, he writes,
“abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15:29, NKJV).
James’ whole appeal is not what is damnable or spiritually unlawful, but what will make it as easy as possible to live this horrible and wonderful human experience, called life. Want to get through it easier than it often can be? Want to “do well?” If that is your aim, then James says you must abstain from meat offered to idols (nearly 100% of the western world is good there—shwew!), abstain from blood, from meat that has blood in it (strangled), and abstain from sexual immorality, which is to say, what a 1st C. Jew called immorality (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/04/04/what-is-porneia-to-a-1st-century-jew/).
In addition, why James would warn about these things (all having to do with exchange of body fluids/flesh) is particularly important. A 1st C. Jew, like James, would have understood a prohibition of idol meat offerings and avoidance of blood and of sexual immorality as having a very specific context, relative to the context of those same prohibitions in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). What was the Tanakh context for blood? There are 2 layers of context. The first layer is that of life and death, immortal and mortal. This first layer of context is the Hebrew prohibition of blood to reflect the ancient nation’s consecration to YHWH, Who is life and no death. “Life is in the blood” to an ancient Hebrew. But the secondary level of context for blood prohibitions in the Tanakh is the chief reason for James’ prohibitions, and the chief reason is nothing other than the ancient Hebrew belief in the cohabitation of fallen angels with human women in the most ancient times, which resulted in the consequent corruption of human genetics / blood… and also the subsequent corruption of all animal DNA / blood (Genesis 6; Numbers 33; Dr. Mike Heiser on Genesis 6, Giants, Demons, Corrpution of Mankind & the Reversal of All Evil). James and the other Apostles feared such things would happen in the end times, as he believed they happened in the most ancient times.
Later, Paul amends James’ statement (see Who’s the Weak One?) by asserting that a believer need only reject meat offered to idols, if the one providing the meal makes a big deal about it being “idol sacrificed.” Otherwise, receive it with thanks, because everything that is in the earth is God’s and to be enjoyed (1 Corinthians 10:25-28). This maxim is further amended in Romans 14 by assertions that eating meat is a matter of conscience, and no one should judge another; but all should practice love and graciousness toward each other and let God sort out who is being obedient to him.
Back to Myth and Reality
The New Testament contains texts that imperfectly record imperfect humans, who are witnesses to the interjection of God into humanity as a God/human, then his mission and his exit. They saw something… Life and the Light of Humanity is what John the Beloved called it—the very expression and reason (Word) of God. Jesus. Their understanding grew and changed. They got it wrong sometimes, and they were corrected and redirected and refined. We get them wrong sometimes by misinterpreting them, due to poor, little or no research of ancient contexts. But, we—as they—get science wrong too; our understanding is still developing. But, despite us and despite them, Jesus is there.