5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible

The Bible.

Christians talk about it all the time, though what they mean by “The Bible” isn’t always clear. That is to say, other than the catch phrase “God’s Word” I’m not sure what the Bible is to many who claim it as the sacred text that guides their life. I’m positive we’re not all on the same page, so to speak.

Some Christians want to make the Bible something it isn’t, and it makes for some disastrous conversations and dangerous assumptions, especially in interactions with other Christians.

Here are 5 things about the Bible I wish more believers would consider:

1. The Bible Isn’t a Magic Book.

The Bible isn’t The Good Book. It isn’t really a book at all. It’s a lot of books. It’s a library.

Its 66 individual books run the diverse gamut of writing styles, (poetry, history, biography, church teachings, letters), and those books have dozens of authors; from shepherds, to prophets, to doctors, to fishermen, to kings. These diverse writers each had very different target audiences, disparate life circumstances and specific agendas for their work; so we don’t approach each book the same way—for the same reason you wouldn’t read a poem about leaves the same way you read a botany textbook. Some are for inspiration and some for information; we receive and see them differently.

If we can see the Scriptures this way; as many diverse works telling one story in one collection, Christians can free themselves from the confusion about what they mean when they say “literal.” We don’t have to equate history with allegory with poetry, or read them in the same way. We can also see the Bible as a record not just of God, but of God’s people, and we can find ourselves within it.

2. The Bible Isn’t as Clear as We’d Like It To Be.

Often, (especially when arguing), Christians like to begin with the phrase, “The Bible clearly says…” followed by their Scripture soundbite of choice.

Those people aren’t always taking the entire Bible into account.

If we’re honest, the Bible contains a great deal of tension and a whole lot of gray on all types of subjects. For example, we can read the clear Old Testament commandment from God not to murder, and later see Jesus telling His disciples that violence isn’t the path His people are to take.

But we also see God telling the Israelites to destroy every living thing in enemy villages, (women and children included), and we read of Moses murdering an Egyptian soldier without recourse from God.

That’s why some Christians believe all violence is sinful, while others think shooting someone in self-defense is OK. Some find war justifiable in some cases, while some believe all war is inherently immoral.

Same Bible. One subject. Several perspectives.

That’s not to say that truth is relative, that God doesn’t have an opinion on violence or that He hasn’t given us His opinion in the Bible. It’s just that the answer may not be as clear and straightforward as we like to pretend it is.

Many times, when Christians say the phrase “The Bible clearly says…”, what they really mean is, “The way I interpret this one verse allows me to feel justified in having this perspective.”

When you read and study this library in its totality, there are certainly themes and continuities and things that connect exquisitely, but if we’re honest we can also admit there are ambiguities. It doesn’t diminish the Scriptures to admit that they are complex. On the contrary, most great works throughout history are.

3. The Bible Was Inspired by God, Not Dictated by God.

Christians will often rightly say that the Bible was “inspired by God,” and I completely agree. However, that idea often gets twisted in translation.

The Bible is “God’s Word,” but we need to be careful about what we mean when we say it was “written” by God. These are the words of men who were compelled by God to tell, not only what they claim to have heard God say, but things happening in and around them—their struggles, personal reasons for writing and specific experience of God. Of course they were inspired by God, but they remained inspired human beings, not God-manipulated puppets who checked their free will at the door and transcribed God’s monologues like zombies.

The book of Timothy says the Scriptures are “God-breathed,” that they originate from God, but it doesn’t claim they are God-dictated.

4. We All Pick and Choose the Bible We Believe, Preach and Defend.

Christians often accuse believers with differing opinions of “cherry picking” from the Bible;  holding tightly to verses they agree with, while conveniently jettisoning ones they are uncomfortable with.

The only problem is, each time this assertion is made, the one making the accusation conveniently claims objectivity; as if they somehow have a firm, dispassionate understanding of the entirety of Scripture, without bias or prejudice, and that the other is violating that.

See Also

As we mature in our faith, some of us may be able to shake off some of our personal biases and get closer to the true meaning of Scripture. But until then, most of us have our own Bible, made somewhat in our image. There are as many specific individual interpretations of Scripture in history as there have been readers of it. Our understanding and belief about the Bible is a product of our upbringing, the amount of study we’ve had, the friends we’ve lived alongside, the area of the world we live in, the experiences we have and much more.

Is it really fair to accuse someone else of selectively using Scripture, unless we’re prepared to admit to the same crime in the process?

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5. God Is Bigger Than The Bible.

This past week, I took a walk along the beach, taking in the ocean. For those who’ve ever done so, you understand the vastness; the staggering beauty and power; the relentless force of the tides. You know the smallness you feel; the overwhelming scale of creation you find yourself face-to-face with.

Billions of words have been written about the ocean. I could gather up every single one of them; the most beautiful, vivid, accurate descriptions from fisherman, marine biologists and poets. I could read every last word about the ocean to someone who has never been there—and it would never do it justice.

There’s simply no way to adequately describe the ocean in words. You have to experience it.

I wish more Christians would admit that the Bible, at its most perfect and inspired, is a collection of words about the ocean. They are not the ocean itself.

God is the ocean.

The words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail. The words are filled with good and lovely things that give us some frame of reference, but ultimately, God is far too big to be contained in those words.

The Bible is not God. The Bible is a library filled with inspired words about God. We can discover and explore and find comfort there. We can seek the character of God, and the message of Christ and the path we’re to walk in its pages.

We can even love the Bible. I certainly do.

But we should worship the God who inspired the Bible.

View Comments (10)
  • A point of pedantic contention;

    “The Word of God” is Jesus Christ. Clearly and throughout the pages of scripture it is not referring to itself in the third person, it’s referring to “God’s Word”, his son. The Word of God made flesh that suffered and died. That’s important, because we absolutely cannot take something as infinitely important as Jesus Christ and ignore what he is; God’s word. The inerrant, infallible Word of God is not the Bible; it’s Jesus Christ.

  • That is an absolutely spot-on response, Ashley. I would also add that lack of clarity/grayness even on secondary issues is often cleared up when unclear texts are taken in their own context and in context with clearer texts. Further, I would want to ask John if he believes there is unity to the whole of Scripture beyond the bounds of the individual books, one message of redemption by which the whole of the texts should be judged and interpreted.

  • I still don’t see the logic there. But that’s just me, I guess. I find many things in Scripture that are worthwhile and beneficial for a relationship with Christ without having to bring inerrancy into the mix. At least that’s what my noggin’ tells me.

  • LOL! Really, Seni?! Are you serious? Or are you being facetious? It’s kind of hard to tell. But, in any case, thank you so very much for the laugh. I needed that!

  • He also wrote the recent article “What the continued crucifixion of Rob Bell says about Christianity” if you check out his blog, it’s pretty sensationalistic so very click-baity, but it’s pretty clear by the condescending title of this one and his choice of fodder, he has an axe to grind against the church, and maybe just Christians in general.

  • Anybody who knows Jesus only knows Jesus by Jesus Himself. We can know about Jesus through everything else. The Bible is part of everything else. But everything else is not Jesus. The Bible and other humans who are not Jesus can bring us to Jesus, introduce us to Him, tell us about Him, witness about Him, etc. Getting to know Jesus does not require anything else, other that Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus certainly and often uses everything else.

  • This is cute.

    I’m afraid I agree with my man Elbert above. John 1:1 is not an a-typical conservative, red-blooded republican, classic proof text that your post seems to target.

    Having grown up in the the south (Texas to be exact. Which I admit, most would not acknowledge as the “south”) I appreciate the seemingly genuine frustrations underlying your 5 points. Unfortunately your post begs the question: What do you actually think about the Bible?

    I too have wrestled with the inconsistencies, paradoxes, and the un-ending “literal or metaphor” questions. But, I do think that to posit that folks should just deal with it and worship the “Inspire-er” (is that a word? probably not. I went to public school) is an insult to critical thinkers and more importantly those trying to follow the way of Jesus faithfully.

    I admit, though, that the virility of your post is apparently indicative of an incredibly large group of people who are content to be pissed off about the culture (or sub-culture) they were raised in but remain unwilling to do their due diligence in thinking, study, and most importantly Spirit led communion with the Father in discerning what to make of these “deeper things”.

    I hope and pray (for real, I’ll pray right now) that you are not checking how many shares this post has gotten incessantly throughout the night, but that you are on your knees asking our King if this is what He wants or what you want. And if it’s the former, that He would lead. If it’s the latter, that He would have mercy.

    Which, thank God, flows abundantly for us both.

  • This is a good article – good to see other people grappling with this, in a Christian context. I agree with posters that the message of salvation is powerful, and can see it in changed lives and the strength of the body of committed Christians around the world and through history. Knowing this truth and knowing that it comes from the Bible, how can I understand the hard parts of the Bible, the ones that have violence or harsh judgment, the ones that don’t feel right to me? I think one important step is to know that it represents many millennia of people honestly and openly working to understand God and to understand how to live our lives and build communities in harmony with God. Every culture has stories of wars and battles; flood stories; creation stories; stories of marriages and genealogies and kingdoms. Every culture has had stories of judgment – one path leads to reward and one to failure. It’s in the Bible where we see these themes interpreted in light of a growing awareness of a sovereign God, one who is involved in our lives, and to whom we are free to respond.

    Each story – even those that feel harsh to our ears – meets some culturally universal human needs while revealing an understanding of God who transcends all of that.

  • The “Word” is not the Bible, it’s Jesus. How can someone write about something they did not know would yet exist…

  • Okay this post bothers me. Number 3.) seems completely off. This society has neglected the holy spirit and his ability to speak through people for the benefit of others. Such a faithless and sick culture. I definitely have lost the respect I had for this magazine. 🙁

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