The Bible & Me
When I was young, I attended my family’s Protestant church. I went to Sunday school for eight years. I learned the biblical stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, and Jesus. My teachers were, without exception, kind and thoughtful men and women. They encouraged me to think of others, and to give of my time, energy, and money to help those in need.
As I became a teenager, I found that what I had learned at church offered little guidance. I struggled with issues of self-identity and the acceptance of my peers. I made a number of bad decisions, and entered a dark period of my life that lasted ten years.
When I began to resurface, I was taught to seek out God. At the time, I knew nothing of God. The lessons of my church seemed to make little sense to a young man living in a complex world. My search for answers took me from a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles to a Catholic church in Thailand. My quest led me to obtain a degree in Theological Studies. But even an intellectual understanding of the Bible was not enough to bring me peace.
I began to read the Bible with one question in mind: “What does this book mean for those of us living in the 21st century?” Finally, the answer began to be revealed.
I don’t believe the Bible can be understood without asking ourselves, “Who was this written for, and what was it intended to say to them?” A passage written for a farmer in 1,200 BC, or an exiled professional in 600 BC, or an impoverished and outcast Christian Jew in 75 AD, projects a message tuned to their time and circumstances. It’s not surprising, for example, that Matthew, who wrote to the Jews, has Jesus preaching the Beatitudes on the mountain, invoking the image of Moses. Luke, on the other hand, who was writing to the Greeks, has Jesus preaching the same sermon on the plain, invoking the image of equality. Both were trying to communicate the same Gospel message to a particular audience. Both chose imagery that would move that audience closer to faith. But the Jews and the Greeks had different frames of reference, so the authors used different imagery. Had Matthew written for us in the 21st century, instead of the Sermon on the Mount we might well be reading the Sermon at Bunker Hill!
If I want to understand the Bible, I must ask myself what it meant to the men and women who wrote it, and what they were telling their audience in its time and situation. Trying to take literally words written for shepherds of 3,000 years ago can lead to absurd results. But the message intended for those shepherds is meant equally for us. To find it, I need to look beyond the wording to the ideas and principles of that message.
In recent years, I have been struck by the increasing anger as people discuss the Bible’s role in our society. Some suggest that it must be taken literally, and should be adopted as a legal foundation. Others suggest it is outdated, fictional, and has no role at all in modern life.
Both views are extreme. I prefer a more middle path, based on what we know about the Bible, and a little common sense. If what I have written offends you, I apologize. My most sincere hope is that this book will bring new understanding to those who, like me, have struggled with what the Bible says and how it can work in our lives.