Being Critical of the Bible

August 26, 2006

In orientation at seminary this past week, we were studying a book which I have discussed here several times.

In that discussion, at one point I began a comment with, “I loved this book, so don’t get me wrong when I’m critical of it by saying that…” or something like that.

The professor who was facilitating the discussion (who happens to also be one of the Bible professors) made an interesting comment that I think is worth repeating.  She said, “Just because you like something doesn’t mean you can’t be critical of it.  That is true of this book, and it is especially true when we start discussing the Bible.”

I appreciated that comment.  I wonder if somehow some people might not be confusing the ability to be critical of the Bible with the belief that the Bible is not worth studying.

I’m sure that there are those for whom it is dangerous to be critical of the Bible because it raises fear within them- critical thinking may undermine their whole belief system.  Something like this:  “I believe that Moses wrote Genesis as it was revealed to him from God.  To be critical of that work by reminding me that it was actually authored after Israel was in exile in Babylon and that the authors had that specific historical context undermines my ability to believe in the story of Genesis because now I have to find a new way to believe that the story of Genesis is Holy.”

Of course, that is an extreme, and I would hope that there are relatively few of us left who believe the literal creation story, with a canopy hanging over us that has stars suspended from it and so on (as Genesis and the authors depict).

But hopefully you get the point.  Even when we get to the finer points it seems to me that many times the response is many times less “interesting observation, but I disagree” but more “that’s heretical because if I try to believe it my apple cart would be turned upside down.”

As a result, my sense is that the critic is then seen as someone who doesn’t love the Bible.  I’ve been accused of that several times here and other places.

I love the Bible.  I think it is a wonderful, rich, tapestry of the story of our faith journey as a people throughout the centuries as revealed through the Spirit and written down by people.  I don’t think it is infallible.  I don’t think it is perfect.  There are things I don’t like about it.  But I do love it.  The same could be said about many things in life.  I wish that critical thinking wasn’t so reserved for academic institutions and could be more applied in the pews and on the streets.  I believe that if this were to be the case, we would all be rooted in a much more common framework and be able to deepen our faith together in a much more meaningful way- and I say this being a person who does not tend to think of myself as a person who generally makes decisions based on logic and reason but more off of feeling and intuition.

So that’s my two cents for the day.  I’ve been very busy and haven’t written much lately that has inspired any comments, but being that the Bible is something that people feel very passionate about I would imagine that this would at least inspire some.

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One Response to “Being Critical of the Bible”

  1. susan Says:

    I remember my first day of OT in seminary when the professor referenced Second Isaiah and a concerned voice from the back of the classroom said, “There were TWO Isaiahs?”

    And I remember in Sunday School … probably middle school … being told “we take the Bible too seriously to take it literally.”

    Maybe that’s why the Second Isaiah part didn’t throw me in seminary: I went in with the expectation that to read the Bible faithfully WAS to read it critically.

    Hope all is well … hi to the kids! 🙂


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