Bible

A bible from 1859.

A bible from 1859. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first met Jodi, she was a ‘liberal Adventist.’ We were both freshmen taking many of the same classes and thus had many opportunities to talk. Our mutual love of books and philosophy made us fast friends, and I was soon crushing on her intellectually. Freshman year came and went. I spent my summer in the literature evangelism program where I met Pastor Kira and Palisade. Jodi spent her summer reading Nietzsche. By the time we returned to school for our sophomore year of college, I was swimming in doubt, and Jodi was an atheist.

It’s important to note that I came home swimming in doubt. In the weeks between the program’s end and the resumption of school I was full of enthusiasm for Bible study. When I later vocalized the doubts consuming my faith, friends and mentors suggested that my faith had been eroded by my friendship with Jodi. But my season of doubt—the one that led me to The Apex—didn’t start with Jodi, it started with evangelism.

The reliability of the Bible  as a moral authority (as understood by Adventism), was a major premise of The Program. My experiences in The Program caused me to question this premise, and thus my own faith, which claimed to be founded upon the Bible. Thus, my love of Bible study and orthodoxy did not precede my doubt; it was an outgrowth of it. I needed to study scripture, and I am never more enthusiastic than when I’m studying something of personal relevance.

***

Historians are taught to build arguments from data. A good history paper isn’t a persuasive essay but a survey of facts, streamlined within a topical focus, to support a reasonable historical conclusion. The thesis is both a response to and an interpreter of the data. Before a history paper is published the thesis may change a half dozen times because it is an outgrowth of the ever-growing pool of data. But the thesis also exists to ground the interpretation of the data, providing focus and a synopsis of main points. But few lay people study the Bible as historians study history.

My sophomore year of college began on the tails of an intense evangelical experience, and in hindsight, I recognize that I primarily studied the parts of the Bible compatible with that experience. My selective study habits were hardly unique. We all overlook parts of the Bible, reading to suit our preconceived notions or upbringing. Some of us interpret the New Testament so that it supersedes the Old Testament, allowing disregard for strictures on shell fish and blended fabrics. We embrace differing degrees of literality, historicism, higher and lower criticism; we quibble over translation; we redefine ‘inspiration’ again, and again, and again…we choose not only what to read, but how to read scripture, which (I believe) affects the conclusions drawn more than any other factor.

My relationship with the Bible is tumultuous at best. Sometimes I gorge myself on its pages, other times I avoid it like laundry tossed in the corner of a room. Right now my bedroom floor is covered in clothes, and I haven’t read my Bible in months.

My extended break is partially the result of what I realize the Bible is not. Around the time Jodi de-converted I began my journey to understand the theory of evolution. The social debate surrounding evolution reminded me of other times in history when scriptural primacy resembled Anthony Flew’s brash hypothesis, battered by a round earth, heliocentrism, indigenous peoples, the moon landing, and still—over a hundred and fifty years after Darwin’s Origin was published—evolution. I discovered the Bible is not only scientifically unreliable, but doesn’t provide consistent genealogies, timelines, or histories. It contains problematic third-person-omnipotent accounts, is colored by time and culture, and cannot replace biology, geology, or physics.

I also realized that the Bible’s scientific and historical limitations do not minimize its significance. I need not be disillusioned by the limitations of scripture, because stripping away false applications is the first step in discovering its true authoritative scope.

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