How were the books of the Bible selected? What should we do if we have a hard time reading the Bible? How does the Bible apply to daily life? In this episode, Tim, Jon, and Carissa respond to your questions from the Paradigm series so far. Thanks to our audience for all your incredible questions!
It's crucial that we read [the story of David and Goliath] in light of its messianic fulfillment because Jesus was facing his Goliath in the form of the Roman and Jerusalem power regimes. But he did not chop off their heads. In fact, he wouldn’t have been faithful to his calling as Messiah if he did chop off their heads. The whole point was that he let them chop off his head, so to speak. And if you don’t read the David and Goliath story through that messianic lens, then you get the opposite wisdom from it that you’re supposed to get. And then what do you do when you get to Paul, who says in Ephesians, “the enemy of a follower of Jesus is never another human but the principalities and powers [of darkness]”? … When you don’t read the Bible as a story leading to the Messiah, you end up with the wrong life lessons.
Grant from Texas (0:38)
Jon, in Episode 1 of this series, you shared your story of struggling with a "quiet time" Bible study paradigm. Every part of this story rang so true to my experience. So I was disappointed it ended with you as a "post-Bible Christian." Can you continue telling this story? What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with this paradigm? Do you maintain something like a quiet time Bible study now? If so, how has it evolved and matured? If not, what have you replaced it with?
When Jon called himself a “post-Bible Christian,” he meant that, at one time, he was trying to follow Jesus without consistently reading the Bible. However, despite his frustrations in reading the Bible on his own, he refused to give up on his attempts to understand it. In fact, he attributes the birth of BibleProject, in part, to his personal quest for understanding. While he still struggles with the routine of a daily quiet time, Jon no longer sees himself as a post-Bible Christian but as a follower of Jesus who loves the Bible and wants it to shape his daily life.
Tim points out that to be a follower of Jesus, you must be familiar with his life and teachings. Consequently, you must be familiar with the whole story of Scripture or Jesus won’t make sense. But that doesn’t mean every Christian has to be a Bible nerd who knows Greek and Hebrew or spends all their free time researching ancient cultures.
Emily from Kansas City (9:57)
Two questions: How would you describe the difference between the Scriptures being inspired versus inerrant to someone who comes from a tradition that emphasizes inerrancy? Also, how do inspired Scriptures differ from other writings where people are reflecting on God and life? For example, how do poets today who are contemplating God as they write differ from the biblical authors’ inspiration? And what role does this play when considering which writings to view as most important for gaining insight into God’s intentions?
“Inspired” is an English translation of the Greek word theopneustos, “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), referring to the understanding that the Scriptures are the result of a divine-human partnership. “Inerrancy” is a Latin word that means “without error,” and it addresses whether or not the biblical text contains errors.
The Bible refers to itself as truthful and trustworthy (e.g., Psalm 119:160). But in the last century, critics have accused the Bible of being historically or scientifically inaccurate and, therefore, lacking the authority of the God who is truth. A group of scholars responded to this issue in 1978 in The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (see Referenced Resources), arguing that while the historical accounts in the Bible are told in a different way from modern historiography, this does not make them untrue. Biblical authors, for instance, sometimes use symbolic numbers or summarize details in an artistic way, but literary creativity in a narrative doesn’t make it historically inaccurate.
Trey from Indiana (31:09)
You mentioned that we know Jesus used the same canon we do because he refers to the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms in Luke 24. Could you explain how we know that the Psalms refer to the entire third section of the Hebrew Scriptures? I would have expected him to say something like “The Law, the Prophets, and maybe the Writings or the Letters,” if that is what he was referring to.
Our understanding of which Scriptures Jesus read comes from multiple places. Jesus referred to the Hebrew Scriptures in two different ways: “the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17) and “the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). Clearly, Jesus was familiar with the entirety of the TaNaK, so his use of the word psalms in Luke 24 is probably a synecdoche––using a part of something to refer to the whole, like when we use the expression, “I got new wheels!” to refer to the purchase of a new vehicle. As the first and largest book of the Writings, Psalms then becomes a shorthand way of referring to the whole collection.
Cody from California (37:14)
Should we call the Bible the word of God? Yes, there are hundreds of moments within the Bible where it says the word of the Lord came to so-and-so or “Thus says the Lord” and so forth. But the Bible never calls itself the word of God. It even refers to Jesus as the Word in the Gospel of John. And with so much human influence upon the writing and composition and arrangement of the literature that comprises our modern Bible, I am curious about calling the whole thing, from cover to cover, the word of God. Is that right?
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the phrase “word of God” primarily refers to a narrative, like when the word of God comes to a prophet, for instance, or when the apostles tell the Gospel story of Jesus (e.g., Acts 4:31). In this way, the word of God is a shorthand phrase for the story of Jesus, which includes the entirety of Scripture leading up to his life, death, and resurrection, and it is an appropriate name for the Bible.
Heather from Maryland (45:40)
My question has to do with the Second Temple literature that influenced Jesus and his early followers. Were Protestants mistaken to remove these books from the Scriptures? Do you think our relationship with God or our biblical understanding is diminished by not having them in our Bibles?
While it’s true that Jewish literature written after the completion of the TaNaK is not included in Protestant Bibles, this was not ultimately a Protestant “decision.” While many Jews held these writings in high regard, they also didn’t include them in the Hebrew Bible.
The TaNaK has an intentional structure––a five-part order to the Writings that reflects the five-part Torah, with Chronicles retelling the story from Adam to the exile and serving as a conclusion. The TaNaK was always seen by Jewish communities as having a unique divine-human voice and a unique authority. When compiling the various scrolls of the Hebrew Bible into one volume with the New Testament writings, early Protestants chose to accept the Old Testament canon recognized long before them by the majority Jewish community.
The canon is literature that guides God’s people to measure what reflects and accomplishes the purposes of God. That makes someone like C.S. Lewis a contemporary example of how we ought to relate to the apocryphal books. Lewis is widely respected among Christian communities, and his writings are beneficial for understanding God’s purposes. However, we don’t consider his words as carrying divine authority. And if he wrote something that didn’t line up with the canon of Scripture, we would know to reject that portion of his work.
Willy from Florida (55:52)
As you are talking about the formation of the Old Testament, I wanted to get your thoughts on the JEDP critical theory of Torah composition. To me, the arbitrary picking of the names of God to ascertain the origins of a document is too far-fetched, but do you think there is any validity to that theory, given that we understand the Bible was made from many sources? If so, how do we uphold the inspiration of the Bible and Moses’ role in the composition of the Torah as this theory has been used by many to diminish the divine authority of the Bible?
To say that many sources contributed to authoring the Hebrew Bible is consistent with how scrolls were produced in the ancient world and does not diminish the inspiration of the Bible. Instead, it means God’s Spirit inspired the many authors that shaped God’s word over time.
While the conversation of biblical authorship is an ancient one, the JEDP theory specifically originated in the 1800s in Germany. While claiming to be only a theory of biblical authorship, the JEDP theory was part of an effort to portray Israelite history as governed by a legalistic religion. The scholars who originated JEDP were anti-Semites who criticized the Hebrew Bible to ultimately criticize the Jewish people themselves. (See the article by Alan Levenson in “Referenced Resources” for more on this topic.)
While JEDP still has an academic hold in some American universities, most European scholarship has moved on to other models of Torah composition.
Finlay from England (1:03:30)
The churches I have been part of use the Bible to give life lessons. So the story of David is used to tell us how we can rely on God to overcome our challenges, whilst Moses is taken as a lesson in using the gifts God has given you, despite your limitations, to make a difference in your world. This approach seems to be the norm in church preaching, but it’s not about the Messiah. Is this the wrong way to go about reading and applying Scripture, or is there legitimate space for it?
This question addresses two important pillars of the biblical paradigm: the Bible is messianic literature and the Bible is wisdom literature. If we take seriously what Jesus and the apostles say––that the Hebrew Scriptures are designed to reveal Jesus the Messiah to humanity––then the practical application of any Bible passage is how that particular portion of Scripture fits into the overall story of the Bible. Once we know how a passage of Scripture is about the Messiah, then we can determine how it’s about us as well.
For example, when we read the story of David and Goliath through a messianic lens, we will see Goliath as a representation of the serpent and all the forces of spiritual darkness that have been wreaking havoc on God’s creation since the deception in Genesis 3. If we do not read this story with a messianic lens, we may come to the conclusion that we can overcome any “giant,” including other humans, which is directly in conflict with Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 6:12.
In short, because the Bible is wisdom literature, it should (and will) provide us with practical life lessons. But if we don’t also read the Bible as messianic literature, we may end up with the wrong life lessons.
Carrie from Arizona (1:09:20)
How would you help somebody who has no interest in reading the Bible after being in a church or a tradition where the Bible was weaponized against them and used to harm them? How would you invite them to see the Bible as a source of good and flourishing?
The Bible is a challenging text, and it can be made infinitely more challenging by trauma of any kind. Although there is no one-size-fits-all model for healing, when there is specific spiritual abuse perpetrated by or within a spiritual community, a spiritual community should likely be involved in a person’s healing journey as well.
For those who want to continue following Jesus but struggle with reading the Bible due to trauma, it is important to remember that God doesn’t condemn us for feeling triggered. We can experience God in other ways besides reading the Bible (e.g., prayer, community, other spiritual disciplines), and we can come back to the biblical text when it is healthy for us to do so.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Audience questions collected by Christopher Maier.
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