Three things about the Bible
This past Sunday, the same amazing question bubbled up in several places. One very clever kindergartner asked, “if fiction is made up and non-fiction is real, is the Bible fiction or non-fiction?” Youth wrote, “is the Bible true?” on a question card. A parent wondered aloud, “does reading the Bible from a non-literal perspective mean that ‘anything goes?’” With these thoughtful and challenging questions in mind, I wanted to share the United Methodist understanding of the Bible and how we use it to inform our faith:
- United Methodists understand the Bible as being the inspired word of God. The Holy Spirit worked through the people who wrote the books and those who chose which texts would be included, so that that Bible is an authoritative source of understanding of God, humanity, and Christian faith. In addition, the Holy Spirit is present as we read and interpret the Bible today. While Scripture is vitally important, the United Methodist Church does not hold an “inerrant” or “literal” view of the Bible. While individuals within the Church may fall in a wide range on the spectrum between inspired and literal, we all treat the Bible seriously.
- The Bible is a collection, or library, of 66 books. Within the sixty-six books are the Gospels, the Good News of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are also books which contain poetry, hymns, prophecy, history, letters, myth and more. These books and stories were told, written, and edited over a period of a thousand years, in various historical contexts. As we read the Bible today, we pay attention to the type of text we are reading and the period of time it was written in.
- There are at least two ways to read the Bible: for information and for engagement*. If we read the Bible for information, once we have acquired the knowledge or moral lesson, there is no need to reread the passage. When we read for engagement, we come back to the stories again and again to help us to reflect upon our lives and faith journeys. While challenging, it is also a gift to have a rich, beautiful, and complex collection of sacred texts which offer a lifetime of opportunities for reflection, insight, and wisdom.
A note on parts of the Bible that are deeply troubling: Just as we struggle to understand the existence of evil in the world, so did the writers of the Bible. That is one explanation for why the Bible includes passages of unspeakable violence that may challenge our understanding of God. Thankfully, there are many scholarly sources which can help us wrestle with these passages in ways that affirm God’s infinite love and grace.
If you are wondering about or are challenged by parts of the Bible, Pastor Melissa and I invite you to come to us with your questions. We do not have all the answers, but we have a number of resources to help us find our way as we journey in faith.
Director of Ministries with Children and Youth
*This is a summary of part of the book, I Wonder: Engaging a Children’s Curiosity abut the Bible by Elizabeth Caldwell which is available to borrow from Christine