Does the Bible Make Sense?

The most obvious answer to the title question is a resounding “yes” if we consider the number of people through a very long period of time and across an ever-increasing number of cultures who have been positively influenced by The Holy Bible. Apparently, it has made a lot of sense to a lot of people, though certainly not without its smattering of critics.

But when the question digs a little more deeply into the reasons for which and the manner in which the Bible makes sense, things change a bit. There has been no shortage of attempts at defining the nature of the Bible and the role of its statements about all sorts of things, from how to be “saved” to how to be successful in business, marriage, friendships, etc. The Bible has been used as a scientific book of origins, a manual for building an economic utopia, and a handbook for spirituality. But why should it be expected to hold any of these positions? What does it mean to say that it is inspired, or infallible, or inerrant, or authoritative? How would we go about defending any of those choices of descriptors—should the Bible itself be the court of appeal, or should there be externally grounded corroboration before we accept a biblical “final word” on any subject? Is the status of Scripture something equally discernible by the believer and unbeliever alike, or must there be a leap of faith before the truth of the biblical message(s) make sense?

These sorts of questions, and what be believes to be an inadequate answer most often given by conservative Christians, form the basis of Christian Smith’s book, The Bible Made Impossible. The author’s contention is that what most evangelical Christians say about the Bible—or perhaps more accurately, what they have been taught they must say about the Bible—does not make sense. Specifically, we should expect a perfect, inspired, inerrant word from God to be clearly consistent in its statements, pronouncements, and even its interpretation. Since this is very clearly not the case, it is time for those who care about the Bible to take more seriously the problems that have been present yet overlooked in the descriptions we have been given. The advantage Smith has is that of not being a theologian and not working (teaching) at an evangelical college or seminary (he’s a sociologist at Notre Dame); this, he acknowledges, gives him the freedom to speak without fear of repercussion that might ensue if someone else would write such things.

I’m going to take a couple of days on this blog to examine Smith’s ideas. But to begin (and to allow anyone interested to get the Kindle edition and follow along), I’d simply like to ask what anyone thinks the Bible is/is not, and why you think it is that way; and how satisfied you are with what you have received as an apologetic for the status of the Bible. So let’s hear from you, and we’ll begin with Smith tomorrow, and see if the Bible really has been made impossible.

9 thoughts on “Does the Bible Make Sense?

  1. I am also not a theologian nor seminarian. But I have made a decision concerning the Bible. It is my personal decision, to accept and receive it as God’s own description of His desire for relationship with mankind. I further choose to believe that it is true and accurate, and if at times I am not able to understand some part of it I freely assume this is a result of my own lack of information, which someday will be filled-in.

    I choose to accept and believe the Bible as God’s word, in its entirety, because to do otherwise would be to reject all of it as worthless.

    I imagine someone giving me a dictionary, and I begin referring to it periodically for spellings and definitions. Then one day, I look up a word like “limousine” and find that it is defined by this dictionary as an egg sandwich. Even if all the other things I had seen previously were OK, once I find one such huge error, I must conclude that the book itself is unreliable, and therefore useless. I would throw it in the trash.

    Similarly, if I were to believe that the Bible contains errors, it would be rendered worthless to me; it would need to be thrown out. So I choose to believe that it does not contain errors – no matter what skeptics may ever say about it.

    On the other hand, I do have concerns about the numbers of people and groups who have written their own interpretations and translations of the Bible. Most of these I would not pay any attention to. Nor would I place much emphasis on the opinions of scholars whose goal is to cast doubt on God’s word. Satan has been doing this since the third chapter of Genesis (“did God really say . .”), and though his precise methods and terminology changes, his veracity does not.

  2. I am looking forward to reading this series.

    And as Dad pointed out there, Satan loves the “did God really say…”, and he really likes to be able to take something God DID say and add something extra to it. Then, when that extra thing proves wrong, it makes people question the things God really did say.

  3. to BillF: But what if “limousine” really was an egg sandwich, say, on the upper wide side of Manhattan in the 1920s? That’s the part where your previous “I probably don’t know” sentiment should still trump your pitching of the book.

    This bit from Bill brings up a good point of whether we should admit we don’t know and can’t know all many things about the bible, and still hold it in very high regard, esp as the best record of God’s revelation to us, (outside of the Incarnation, that is.) I say, yes indeed.

    The Bible contains loads of translation errors as any scholar in biblical or ancient language studies will tell you, but this doesn’t mean God’s Truth is unknowable. The miracle is that God’s story is knowable despite our poor renderings of it. And the flesh and blood miracle is the community of God (the Church) who enacts God’s story, of which the whole council of God reflects.

    Looking fwd to this series!

  4. Reading his introduction was encouraging(as far as where he might be going with it) My early concern is his mention of converting to the Catholic Church, not in a Catholic bashing manner, yet the subject matter is very similar to what historically speaking caused the many divisions and separations from the Catholic church. I am anxious to see how his points coexist with his decision to “convert”.

  5. To answer your questions: I personally find the Bible’s relevance both in my own life and to society as a whole to be worth my attention. A book that digs deep into the soul, that offers more than comforting phrases, interesting stories, and laws to live by, cannot be easily dismissed.
    I’m speaking to the choir here, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened the Bible and it was as if someone knew exactly what needed to be said that day. I believe Someone did know. I believe Someone does know, and I must conclude that the “Someone” cares.
    Although I enjoy reading books on apologetics , theology and “understanding” prophesies, I usuallly put them down before finishing out of frustration…”Why am I reading ABOUT the Bible when I can be reading THE Bible?” (I wouldn’t make a very good student in your classes.)
    Of course faith and trust are involved in the belief in the Bible as God’s word, but not anymore than it takes to believe in any teaching worthy of a few brain cells.

    • Possibly why you read books about the Bible, is that it isn’t really that effectively “operated” by a single person. What century did 10% of the population of whatever country have their own “personal” bible, or “family/homestead” bible. What century did 10% of Christiandom have their own personal or family bible?

      How did things work then?

      • I’m not raising my hand because I don’t know the answers….But I do know that the (house or underground) church in China, for example, is growing at an explosive rate. It’s illegal to own a Bible, other than the watered down official state authorized version, and yet the followers of Christ put me to shame by the way the Life is lived.
        Better to live the Word than to analyze the Word.

      • I’m tempted to go with that as well; but what he says pointing out how young people with this idea drilled into them by youth pastors (and senoir pastors) get blown away when there’s an intellectual challenge. The challenges aren’t all that hard to deal with from another perspective; but they’re overwhelming for the kids who aren’t prepared. That concerns me. The “Word and Spirit” comes from a theologian by the name of Donald Bloesch; I think he (was) onto something.

      • Thom. My non-biblicist evangelical friends like to say “word and spirit” if they are theologically minded. It is the “spirited Christianity” that gives me hope, and confirms my commitment that the “gates of Hell” won’t prevail, but it is Latin America, Africa, Asia where I would place my bets.

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