Monday, June 27, 2011

The Bible Doesn't Say Things.

My Interweb United Methodist friend, John Meunier, wrote a neat post about the United Methodist Doctrine regarding the Holy Scriptures. You should go and read it. It's good. No seriously, go ahead, I'll wait.

Did you read the comments? This is my response to what both John and the commenters wrote:

Ever wonder why the Articles from the MEC lists out the books of the Old Testament? Because the canon of scripture wasn't yet settled at the time of its writing. Also notice that Lamentations didn't make the cut? (don't worry, at that time it was considered a part of Jeremiah). However, today the church still can't decide what "The Bible" is. The Southern Baptist Convention just voted to boycott the NIV2011. Most mainline Protestants wouldn't be caught dead toting around the King James Version. So are they not the Bible? Only the Greek and Hebrew, then? Or perhaps only the autographs? (that's the original writings, for non bible nerd.) What about the Apocrypha? Oh, but which Apocrypha? More Christians on the planet include those pesky extra books in their canon than not. So tell, me, what is THE Bible?

I've come to hate the phrase, "the Bible says." Mainly because what follows usually includes someone's interpretation of "The Bible" rather than what is simply written. And while we're on the subject, the Bible doesn't say anything. It's a book. I know that many would consider it a silly semantic argument, but books don't say anything. Their authors do. And when we get the book confused with the author (and I consider God to be the chief author), we run a major risk of idolatry.

Take a look at those articles/confession. Their authors never claim that the Bible SAYS anything.

The scriptures contain [that which was put in them].

Whatever is read therein (not whatever it says).

Both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ (by Christ, in--or through--the scriptures).

The Holy Bible...reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation. It is to be received through the Holy Spirit (the Holy Bible is NOT the Word of God ['cause that's actually Jesus] but reveals the Word to us as it is received by both its human authors and its human readers through the Holy Spirit.)

Additionally, the article is written that, "The law given from God by Moses" (and didn't drop magically out of the sky. Moses and others wrote it all down. We seem to have a team of authors, though God is the chief author.)

My friend Bobby Ray likes to say it like this:

The Bible was divinely inspired (He acts out the scene, as he furrows his brow and scratches his beard in thought, closes his eyes in prayer, opens them, and then writes a little bit), it was not divinely inspired (his head lolls back facing the ceiling, and with his eyes rolled back in his head, he scribbles manically.)

So please stop saying the Bible says things. It sounds really silly to non-believers (and to this believer). The Bible is a thing, and is not to be worshiped; though it is perhaps the most powerful thing we have that points to the divine persons to be worshiped.


John Meunier said...

I'll let other torch you.

I find your close reading of the actual words great.

I find myself sometimes falling into the "Bible says" language, mostly because of laziness. I got upbraided the other day for using the phrase "Jesus said" as well.

Lots of folks out there helping me to not be sloppy. I need the help.

Kurt M. Boemler said...

@John: I have a confession to make: I broke one of the biggest rules of social media, I posted when tired.

By no means did I intend this to be an attack on yo, John. I think you're one of the most thoughtful and humble bloggers that flow through my Google reader. I apologize if my tone in any way was offensive to you. I love that you read and take seriously our doctrine.

As far as the close reading, I was blessed to have the opportunity to take a pilot course on the AR/CF with Billy Abraham last spring. It was my fifth class studying under him. I learned quite a bit about theology, Wesley, Methodism, and the like. However, what I learned from him the most was how to analyse, formulate an argument, and defend my position.

I think I may have learned a bit to much of his Northern Irish fieriness, too. He does like a good fight.

I think my reaction was building from the commenters on your blog, and the blogs of Allan Bevere and Dan Dick regarding the recent church trial. I'm tired of the attitude of haughty righteousness by people proclaiming "the Bible says!" without nuanced arguments, grace, or humility.

But John, you're fine. Keep up the good work, and I'll work on emulating your good blogging sense.

D. Todd Boemler said...

I've been thinking more on your dislike of the phrase "the Bible says." I totally agree with you on the idea that people tend to use that to push their own worldviews (whether for good or for bad). But after that is where I think I disagree. I understand what you're saying, but my main point of contention is that that phrase is idiomatic from a linguistic standpoint. "Contain" could also be inapplicable in that the Bible isn't literally a bowl, and likewise "says" could be applicable in that it tells us something. If I say that a piece of music "speaks" to me, I'm not saying that it is literally using words and is saying something, but rather that from it I can glean a bigger truth about life.

I just google searched if the idiom extends into other languages, and the french do indeed use the phrase "que dit la bible..." and spanish speakers use the phrase "que dice la biblia..." when asking "what does the bible say..."

My two cents, anyway.

I do agree that it is definitely one of those evangelical-sounding things that people say to non-believers that creates almost instant discomfort, because they know they're probably about to be oppressed.

Also dig the Bobby Ray thing. Good stuff.

Kurt M. Boemler said...

@Derek: I would push back, saying that if other languages use an awkward idiom and then jump off a bridge, would you do it too?

My argument is based on the fact that too many people use "the Bible says," and it carries with it too much baggage. I feel that your observation just strengthens my resolve that "the Bible says" is a sloppy way to talk about the texts.

When an idiomatic expressions become a barrier to clear communication, it needs to be dropped. That's my claim. If one states that the bible "says," then one has anthropomorphized (or theomorphised) a collection of writings.

As a side note, I'm surprised that you went after "contain" rather than "reveals." Anything that has limits can contain something. I don't like the word "reveals" in the AR/CF, because it is God who reveals what is necessary for our salvation through the means of the Holy Bible. That's why I included the following sentence in the AR/CF; the Bible reveals nothing fruitful if its reading is not received through the Holy Spirit.

Tor Hershman said...

The 100% fact of The Bible
"Without Serpent/Satan The Bible would end on Page 2 with something as this...
"And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed and they lived happily ever after

Anonymous said...

If the bible had ended on page 2, we wouldn't be here to talk about it.