The Living Word

Part 1 of our series based on Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible.  So many people have deep honest questions about the Bible, I felt like this was something that needed to be shared and talked about.  If you have questions or if you have something troubling you, please leave a comment and I’d be happy to answer whatever I can.  I hope you’ll feel God reaching out to you through these words. 

A New Dawn written by John Jackson Miller - a fantastic book and a new dawn also in Star Wars publishing
A New Dawn written by John Jackson Miller – a fantastic book and a new dawn also in Star Wars publishing

A New Dawn was the beginning of a new era in Star Wars history.

Literally. Beginning with this one book a whole new chapter took place in the lore of the Star Wars Universe. That’s because it was this book that reset everything every fan knew about what had happened over the past 30+ years. When Disney took over Lucasfilm, they formed what they called the Lucasfilm Story Group and these four people alone determine the canon of the Star Wars Universe. If you didn’t know, “canon” means “rule or standard;”[1] it’s a boundary that determines what is in and what is out, what is considered real and what isn’t. And what this group said was that nothing outside the movies and The Clone Wars animated series was considered canon. Not the comic books, not the novels, not the games, nothing. It was all categorized as “legends.” Thirty plus years of books, comic books, games, TV specials, and cartoons suddenly were outside the boundaries of the Star Wars Universe. Some fans were happy about it. Until then what was considered canon and what wasn’t was largely left up to the individual. The only thing people could agree on was that if it was in the movies it was canon. So establishing boundaries of some sort brought definition to long time arguments about what was in and what was out. Some fans, as you can imagine were pretty upset. Their favorite characters were abruptly erased from history as if they never existed. Fans of Mara Jade, Luke Skywalker’s wife and former personal guard for the Emperor was gone. Han and Leia’s twin children – Jacen and Jaina – were gone. Chewbacca’s death, which was a big deal since it was the first time a major character had died in the Star Wars Universe, was erased and suddenly Chewie’s alive again. And if changes to a fictitious universe can have such an impact on millions of fans, then just imagine what that must have been like when the Bible was created.

To us, the Bible is the most authoritative book we have.

It is held in higher esteem than any other book in our faith. It’s more important than our hymnals. It’s more important than our Book of Worship. It’s more important than our church by-laws. It is considered by most, even by non-churchgoing people as “holy.” And because it is so important we have long debated about how to read it, how to interpret it, and what it means to us. And this argument isn’t new. It’s as old as the Bible itself. In fact, I bring up canonization because the debate about which books should even be included was something that brought up fierce opinions on every side. Even today we don’t agree completely on which books belong in the Bible. Although Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants share the same books of the New Testament, they have different numbers of books included in the Old Testament. Thirty-nine of the books are the same, but the Catholic Bible includes a section we refer to as the Apocrypha – additional books not considered to be as authoritative as the others, but still important enough to be included. The Orthodox Church has even more of those “not quite as authoritative” books included – hence the differences in our Bibles.

One of the most useful Bibles out there - the YouVersion free download app!
One of the most useful Bibles out there – the YouVersion free download app!

So what is the Bible to us?

One way of looking at it comes directly from the Bible itself. We’re going to read from Paul’s second letter to Timothy beginning with chapter 3, verse 14 so if you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please find 2 Timothy 3:14. As Methodists, our official stance on the Bible is that it is the inspired Word of God. We believe that the Bible is the inspired, but not inerrant Word of God. For us that means that the early writers were guided by the Holy Spirit when composing the different books of the Bible but that they gave voice to them out of their own style, their own experience, and their own encounter with God. We believe that the Bible is sufficient for all matters of faith, but we acknowledge that it is not inerrant in the way we understand inerrancy today.[2] Plain and simple there are errors in the Bible. But those errors are not errors that change the meaning or the foundation of our beliefs. Generally they are errors either limited by the knowledge of the day or by a slightly different recollection of events. But they do not take away from the essence or meaning of the Bible. Maybe because we are so far away from the time of Christ we have put more and more weight on the Bible itself, but something Adam Hamilton wrote in his book Making Sense of the Bible stuck with me. He wrote, “One concern I have for those who hold to inerrancy is that they seem to indicate that their entire faith would collapse if the Bible were found to have one real error…this seems a very weak foundation for one’s faith. The early Christians did not see an inerrant Bible as the foundation for their faith. For them, it was Jesus Christ, God’s Word enfleshed, that was the foundation of their faith.” The early Christians did not see an inerrant Bible as the foundation for their faith. For them, it was Jesus Christ that was the foundation of their faith. 

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

We claim these verses when we speak of the Bible, but they likely weren’t about the Bible at all.

At least not as we know it today. The Scriptures, Paul was talking about to Timothy were what we call the Old Testament. At most it may have included some of the early church writings, but the Bible as it is constructed today hadn’t yet been determined. Having said that, we still believe that this statement is as true today as it was back then. What we consider to be our sacred texts, the Scriptures as we know it, are God-breathed to us – meaning we believe them to have been inspired by God and having been inspired by God that they are useful as Paul said in teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training us in righteousness. And we should constantly refer to them. We should know them. We should study them so we too can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

But there are some things that the Bible is not.

The Bible is not an Owner’s Manual. It isn’t meant to be the single definitive answer to every problem we encounter. It is meant to help us understand the nature of God and his will for our lives, but unlike an Owner’s Manual, it doesn’t deconstruct life one bolt at a time or tell us in minute detail everything we should do every minute of every day. Some people refer to the Bible using an acronym – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.[3] Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth and while cute, the Bible is really much more than that. It is also not meant to be a book of promises. In James 5:14-15, the Bible states, “14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well…” What happens then when that person dies? Does that mean we were not faithful enough? Hamilton told a story about a woman who had became angry with God because she believed in this promise, but when her son became ill he died anyways. He said, “The Bible now seemed to her a book of broken promises.”[4] The Bible, for all intents and purposes, is a living document. It isn’t meant to address every problem in every age with exactitude. The Bible is a living document. It isn’t meant to address every problem in every age with exactitude. Instead the Bible is meant to help us understand the God we serve. It’s intended to give us a better perspective on how God intends for us to live and how we are to treat one another. It’s meant to give us a more clear picture of the people God meant for us to be. But it wasn’t meant to be an instruction manual given once for all time. If you were to read an instruction manual for the telephone back in the 1930’s it would read very differently than one today. That’s because an instruction manual is meant to be used only for a very specific time and place. To think that the Bible was written like that would be very much the same thing – very limiting. Instead the Bible is written more like our Constitution with different people interpreting it in different ways. Some take a more literal view of it, some take a more interpretative view of it, and together we struggle to hear the intent of our founding fathers in applying its principals today. For us as Christians we would say we struggle to hear the intent of our Founding Father in Heaven.

The cover for Adam Hamilton's Making Sense of the Bible
The cover for Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be trying to make sense of the Bible.

We’ll study Adam Hamilton’s book as a reference and try to tackle some of the more challenging questions people have about what the Bible says. I hope you will invite the Holy Spirit into your heart as we tackle some of these subjects and examine for yourself what the Bible is saying to you. I hope you will remember that the Bible is a living document that offers us not specific instructions in all things, but guidance on how to approach our lives in all matters. And I hope more than anything, you will read your Bible. I hope you will study it. I hope that you will become a student of God if you aren’t already. And I hope that by studying the Bible, and discovering new truths about it, it will strengthen your faith and make you more confident in the God who inspired these writings. As it says in the last chapter of John, “30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

[1] Adam Hamilton, Making Sense of the Bible, p.39.

[2] (This article about inerrancy gives a lot of clarification to the entire debate and how our view of modern inerrancy is different from what it was intended to be).

[3] Adam Hamilton, op.cit., p.8.

[4] Ibid, p.9.

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