The Bible Is Full Of Contradictions

This is the next in our series of sessions inspired by Marty Sampson's excellent questions. You can find the series home page here. This session was led by Matt, an who is a UCA Candidate for Minister of the Word and Sacrament.

For many people who have moved out of formative experiences in conservative Christian traditions a relationship with the bible can very quickly become … complicated. Many conservative Christian traditions hold very strong views on what the bible is, and how the bible should be interpreted.

In a recent instagram post Marty Sampson, a songwriter for Hillsong, raised some important questions about his own faith journey. One of these questions was: what do we do with contradictions in the bible? Cafechurch has started working through Marty’s excellent questions, and last night we delved into the bible.

The collection of texts we call the bible spans hundreds of years of history, multiple languages, and a variety of social contexts. For many of us who have gone through (or are going through) a process of deconstructing faith it can be difficult to get a handle on what we're supposed to do with these texts. On the one hand, continuing to treat the bible as a simple and clear window into the mind of God becomes increasingly unsustainable, as we question the assumptions on which this approach is based.

Verses in the bible that talk about the "Word of God," and "Scriptures" turn out to be a little bit more complicated, and don't directly refer to what we now understand as the bible. We have to somehow peel off the layers of meaning that have built up over the bible and try to see it with fresh eyes.

On the other hand, most of us don't have the time or resources to get a master's degree in history, and so struggle over how to read the bible without making too many of the same old assumptions.

My suggested approach is to look for clues as to how to use the bible. Setting aside the work of trying to read the bible "correctly," might open new ways of engaging the text.

One approach is to look at stories of people having scriptures explained to them, like the story at the end of Luke's Gospel when Jesus appears as a stranger to two disciples (Lk. 24.13-24). In that story the scriptures became a way for the disciples to understand Jesus more, and are reinterpreted with that goal in mind.

Another approach is to try and think about the bible in similar ways to the early Christians. After all, they were the ones who developed the official list of books we now call the bible. For early Christians the texts that became the bible were one part of a broader life of prayer, teaching, reflection, and worship which helped make sense of faith. Early Christian texts were one part of a Christian life that sought after the ongoing presence of God in Jesus Christ.

It seems that we only have clues to go on. The bible is something we should use in a variety of ways to better know and experience the God Christians find in Jesus. This is how Christians have used these texts since before the bible was even a thing, and it's how many Christians continue to use these texts.

Perhaps we should keep asking ourselves: how do we best use the bible to know more and more about the God we find in Jesus? Continually asking ourselves this question, even while we're clearing away some of our old beliefs might help us get somewhere together.