I was born and raised in an Irish Catholic neighborhood on the south side of Chicago where nobody read the Bible. We didn’t have to read it. Our parish priest told us everything God wanted us to know. (I wonder if it’s still that way?)
But I read the Bible now, every day -- in Hebrew, Greek and English -- and I enjoy it. Well, that’s not completely honest. I don’t enjoy all of it. I don’t enjoy the Genesis story of Adam and Eve where women get the blame for everything that’s wrong with this world. I don’t enjoy the rampant slaughter of men, women and children throughout the books of Exodus and Joshua. But I love the Psalms and the Proverbs, and of course, that sexy book: the Song of Songs.
But I can tell by the comments I get in this paper that evidently I read the Bible in a slightly different way than some of my Protestant friends. One of them asked me if I understand what biblical inspiration means. To help me, he quoted 2 Timothy 3:16 where Paul says: “All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God,” etc.
But what does “inspiration” mean? Does that mean God whispered these words into the ear of the writers, and they wrote like robots? I don’t think so. And what is “all Scripture”? If Paul wrote those words they must apply only to the Old Testament because he died before our first Gospel was written.
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How do you read your Bible? Do you try to understand what was going on in the life of the writer? Do you question why Matthew’s purpose seems different from Luke’s when both of them tell the same story? Do you wonder why John’s Gospel portrays Jesus in an entirely different light than the other three? Do you agree with every statement you read in the Bible, even things like this: “Women should be silent in church; they are not permitted to speak. If they want to learn something, they should ask their husbands”? (1 Corinthians 14:34) Come on, now. Be honest.
I know that many fundamental evangelicals read the Bible “literally.” So when they read in Matthew 1:23 that the virgin birth of Jesus took place to fulfill what was said in Isaiah 7:14, they think Matthew must mean that 720 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah was not talking about the wife of King Ahaz who was pregnant and about to have a baby, but he was talking about Mary. I guess the fundamentalists have never heard of the Hebrew literary form called Midrash, a rabbinic system of applying Old Testament texts to the present day.
I don’t read the Bible like it’s the Wall Street Journal. I think the Bible is a collection of stories that are myths and metaphors and Midrash, all written thousands of years ago by men who felt inspired to move the people around them to higher levels of life. They use the common language of their day, and the writing styles they know will be understood by their neighbors. I really don’t think they’re writing for us in the 21st century. In fact, sometimes I feel I’m peeking into their lives (especially Paul’s) without permission.
When I read the Bible I am, at times, blown away by its beauty. For example, Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is a poem more beautiful than anything Keats or Shelly ever wrote.
On the other hand, I am completely turned off by the book of Revelation which was mistakenly written to scare people “because the time is near.” It’s been over 2,000 years.
I encourage all of you to read the Bible but to read it like adults with curiosity and common sense, not like children under some kind of blind obedience.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.