Sacred Texts: Why the Bible Is My Sacred Text
Editor’s Note: FāVS has launched a new series on Sacred Texts. In most religious traditions they are considered sacred because it is believed they were divinely revealed or inspired, and they form part of an authoritative canon. In this series we ask how scripture is used in particular traditions and if it’s necessary or dispensable. Is it subject to interpretation? What is its purpose? How have scriptures been used to promote or justify certain types of behavior? And, do ancient scriptures have any relevance today?
Commentary by Andy Pope
I think it’s pretty obvious I regard the Bible as my sacred text. Every column I’ve submitted on this site is in some way a reflection of my Bible-based worldview. As to what tradition my biblical emphasis represents, that’s another story. There simply isn’t one.
At the age of 30, when I first began to read the Bible seriously, I was drawn toward verses that illuminate Jesus’ disdain for tradition:
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” (Mark 7:8-9)
Now one might argue that the traditions Jesus references are specifically pertinent to the food services of the day. My reply is that this is what I call a “universal scripture.” It is true both in and out of context. (I wrote about this dynamic in “The Context Trap.”)
While Jesus certainly directs these words toward a specific group of people for a particular reason, it is implicit from the wording that he finds adherence to human traditions to be incompatible with obedience to God. Paul later resonates:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, which are based on human tradition and the spiritual forces of the world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Here, the Spirit of Christ is shown in direct opposition to “human tradition” and to “the spiritual forces of the world.” Scripture tells us that the spiritual forces of the world are under the jurisdiction of Satan, the god of this world and leader of the present world-system. (John 16:11, 2 Corinthians 4:4)
As Christians, we are not to be conformed to the world, but rather transformed by the “renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12:1-2) Yet many churches today emphasize conformity with worldly values.
The so-called Prosperity Gospel is an extreme example. Acceptance of Christ is practically equated with making a million bucks. This is the direct opposite of what the Bible teaches. (Luke 6:20, Matthew 19:24, 1 Timothy 6:10).
How do all these Christian variants go awry? It’s because they are in some way based on human tradition, rather than on the absolute truth of God. So where do I find the absolute truth of God?
In my Bible.
Religion and Tradition
Religious denominations are themselves founded in human tradition. Jesus did not come to “start a religion.” When you consider the words and actions of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, can you imagine that guy wanting to start a religion? The idea is almost laughable.
Jesus railed against the religious establishment of his day. When he was put to death, he was put to death at the hands of religious hypocrites. There is something about the nature of religion that is conducive to the breeding of hypocrisy. But Jesus was not about religion (and he certainly was no hypocrite).
God is never about religion. God is about relationship. He is about a dynamic and ongoing relationship between himself and his children. All the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets had relationships with God. They hashed things out with him, and often rebelled against his directives. There is nothing “religious” about that relationship.
Nor am I myself a religious person. I myself hash things out with God, and often object to his directives. I frankly would rather do things myself. But God’s way ultimately proves superior to my own. (Proverbs 3:5-6).
I baffle people sometimes when I tell them I am not religious. They see me writing about the Bible. They hear me talking about Jesus. So naturally they assume I am a religious person.
Then I ask them: “Do I come across like a religious person?”
“Come to think of it,” most will say, “you do not.”
At the risk of baffling them further, I will then gladly reiterate I am a Christian. This is because I don’t think of my relationship with Jesus Christ as a religious function. It’s simply a reality — the most important reality in my life.
Where do I find relationship with Jesus Christ? Many places — here, there and everywhere. But primarily, I find Christ in the Bible: the book that is reputed, in a very mysterious way, to constitute God’s Word.
The Word of God
How can the Bible comprise God’s Word? Well, you have probably heard many explanations along these lines. Let me try to provide a new one:
“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
Consider this Scripture and its implications. Strip away every thought you’ve ever had about the religion called Christianity. Think about it not religiously — but metaphysically, if you will. A single Word divides into two, then three and then blossoms out to many words, all formed in the beginning.
The first words formed are extremely meaningful. The two important words “I” and “am” form one of the names of God: “I Am.” In that name, the concepts of identity and existence find expression.
Then there arise abstract nouns of great significance. “Love” is one such word. As John writes, “God is Love.” (1 John 4:16).
This is very important. People tend to view God as some kind of brutal tyrant. We also tend to blame God for all the apparent flaws in his creation. When we see that the creation itself is an act of love, it becomes easier to see that God is not the one responsible for those flaws. (1 John 4:19)
Other abstract nouns follow. Truth is a word. Life is a word. For that matter, “Way” is a word.
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.John 14:6
Someone protested once, when I told them Jesus did not come to start a religion, by citing this very verse.
“Reading John 14:6,” they said, “it sure sounds to me like he came to start a religion.”
Had Jesus been an abject liar, then yes, this statement would have been made by someone intending to start a religion. But what if Jesus not only told the truth, but actually is the Truth? Just as God is Love? What if the incarnation of Jesus is a direct manifestation of the Spirit of Truth? (John 14:17, 16:13)
Please consider this. Truth, after all, is a word. “Life” is a word. For that matter, God is a Word. All of us are words; that is to say, created concepts that have been named.
Everything we are, everything in life, is a reflection of God’s supreme imagination and creative power. God is the Creator. The Creator is the original Word through whom all words, all concepts, and everything that has meaning has been named. (Philippians 2:9)
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.John 1:4
We are all manifestations of words with specific usages, having definitions made manifest into physical reality by the action of God’s creation. The words who we are — our names, that is — were written in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
If you’re interested in seeking what truth can be found in Scripture, I strongly suggest you get a good study Bible with a concordance and cross-references. John 1:1 is an excellent place to start. Ponder it, explore the meanings of words in the concordance, follow the cross-references and take it from there.
I guarantee you: if you don’t fall off the horse too early in the game, you’re in for a wonderful ride.
An Anti-Science Document?
One thing I find disturbing about people’s attitudes toward the Bible is that is assumed to be an anti-science document. This is absurd.
Scientists like Copernicus and Newton were devout Christians; they found no disturbing conflict such as is touted today. This is because there is nothing in the Bible to indicate an opposition to science. Vague passages can be twisted to that effect. But to my estimation, these passages are cited by people who are looking for anti-science verses in the Bible.
As I said in this column, to seek confirmation in the Bible for a preconceived human notion — e.g., “religion is opposed to science”or “God is a tyrant” — is the exact opposite of the correct approach to Scripture.
Call me crazy, but if we actually get into the original words and explore their true meanings, Genesis 1:1-7 begins to sound an awful lot like the Big Bang. The Hebrew word yom, for example, does not generally refer to a sidereal 24-hour day, but to an era in time — a “day and age,” as it were.
One day in heaven is as a thousand years on earth — (2 Peter 3:8) or maybe even a million years. The point of that Scripture is that God’s acts of creation do not operate on a human clock. “Time” is merely another word that has been created through the Word. Words such as “morning” and “evening,” which also figure in early verses of Genesis, have broad meanings as well. Think of morning as the beginning of a new era, and evening as the end of an old.
I have no reason to doubt the Creation story. I have no reason to doubt Big Bang. I believe Big Bang is how God’s initial act of creation appears to our human perceptions. It’s what it looks like to us — on our end.
What does it look like on his end? Well that’s why we have a Bible. Through the Bible, we can find out what things look like from God’s perspective — because the Bible is the Word of God.
Chock-full of Contradictions?
My dad told me the Bible would be “chock-full of contradictions.” I am sorry, but I have not found this to be the case. It is a convincing lie of Satan to keep people from finding the truth of Christ in his Word.
My Lord Jesus is essentially being slandered when a person says his Word is “full of contradictions.” I have never encountered a situation where someone has shown me an apparent contradiction, and they have been able to persuade me that the passage is truly contradictory. In fact, I often explain to them why it is not contradictory — though sometimes they don’t hear my explanation.
The fact is that the Bible is actually an unusually cohesive, comprehensive document with an incredible sense of consistency all throughout. One marvels at all the beautiful parallels between Old Testament and New, and all the many verses that connect to passages written thousands of years before or after. In pursuing the cross-references in your study Bible, you will eventually alight on this truth. As one begins to do so, and to take one’s Bible study seriously, that compendium of contradictions begins to wane.
And I myself must wane. Frankly, I tire of trying to describe my personal faith in words falling far short of those found in the Word. I only suggest one read the Bible for oneself, without preconceptions and without regard to human traditions or religions of any kind.
And not “cover to cover,” by the way! The Bible is not a novel. It is a holy book, a sacred text. We can certainly study it rigorously and engage many debates as to its true meanings. But nothing in that intellectual study can ever replace God’s power to guide you, to teach you, and to give you hope — through his Word.
Earlier I emphasized it is incorrect to take a concept you wish to believe and seek confirmation for it in Scripture. I said this is the exact opposite of the correct approach. So what is the correct approach?
If you want the Bible to become your sacred text, I would suggest you proceed as follows.
First, open your mind. Clear out every thought you have ever had about religion, Christianity or dogma. Say an earnest prayer that God will show you the truth.
Then open the Bible. Open it anywhere. See where it takes you. You may find, as I and countless others have found, that God’s Word will provide a sense of hope and direction far exceeding that derived from human sources.
If this does not happen, and you find nothing there at all — or even worse, you only gravitate to the parts you find disgusting — do not be dismayed. For “the god of this world [Satan]– has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, to keep such people from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ — who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
I pray for all who are blinded in this fashion, that their blinders be removed. We’re running out of time on this planet. We need for as many people as possible to receive the knowledge of the truth, to the end that all might be saved.
Andy Pope is a freelance writer currently residing in Moscow, Idaho, where he is a member of Moscow First Presbyterian Church. His work on social justice has appeared in Classism Exposed in Boston, Berkeleyside in Berkeley, California, and also in the Bay Area newspaper Street Spirit, where his regular column, Homeless No More, encourages those making the transition from homelessness to housing. An accomplished pianist and lifelong musical theatre person, Andy is also the author of “Eden in Babylon”, a musical about youth homelessness in urban America.