Where Did the Bible Come From? Part 3

Some people oversimplify the truth by becoming fundamentalists. This means that they read every part of the Bible as literally true in all parts. This is straightforward and simple to understand. But this ignores all of the important contexts. Have you ever gotten a text out of the blue from a friend that said, “You’re the worst, I hate you.” And you cannot tell from that simple text if it is a joke or they are serious? (That is, until they send you a winking emoji). How much more difficult is it to understand the Bible, which was written in a different language, in a different century, in a different country, with a culture very different from 21st Century America? We must always look at how the Bible is true in its proper context. The authors of the Bible did not write literature, history, or science the way we do, so we should not expect to find that in the Bible.

Fundamentalism runs into a real problem at the very beginning. Chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis tell two different stories of Creation where God creates things in a different order and in a different way. If you are looking for a literalist reading of Scripture, you have to deal with an immediate contradiction. But if you accept the complexities of the Bible, you can see that Genesis is written in a way that may not be meant literally. Human beings of that day did not understand modern science, evolution, etc. They were trying to explain the deep truths about God’s relationship to creation in easily understandable ways. And if we look at it in that context, we can see they do not contradict each other: both say God is the source of creation, creation is good, and God made him special out of His image or spirit.

Now we do not want to “demythologize” the Bible, which is to reduce all the miraculous stories into mere metaphors or fairy tales. This is the opposite tendency of the fundamentalist. Instead, we must begin with the plainest sense of the text and then look into its deeper meaning. I have heard people say that Jesus really did not multiply the loaves and the fish, but people just shared their surplus. That takes away the miraculous element, but it does not seem to be what John is getting at in the story. The point is that Jesus feeds the people, especially with the Bread of Life.

In order to understand the context, we have to know that the human authors of the Scripture were free agents, using all of their thoughts and skills in composing the writings. They were writing to the people of their day in a context they would understand. Modern people are appalled by slavery. But in the days of St. Paul, slavery was used the way people use electricity: it was just the way stuff worked. They could not think outside of that system. That is why Paul would say things like “Slaves, obey your masters.” But even here, when you read Paul writing to Philemon, there is still an urging to look at everyone as a brother and sister in Christ.

In many ways, if we read in context, we do not see a contradiction to our modern knowledge. For example, Genesis 2 says that God formed man out of the dirt and breathed the soul into him. Evolution says that human beings evolved over billions of years from primordial micro-organisms into man. But evolution can be seen also as God reaching into the primordial dirt slowly evolving the human body until it gets to the point where He imparts the soul. In context we can see the truth of Genesis.

And if we spend time in prayerful reflection on this idea that I am made in God’s image, then I can come into a deeper relationship with the Author of the Bible.

Copyright 2024, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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