University Congregational Church
Sept. 22, 2013
“The Bible is Self-Contradictory and can be Used to Prove Almost Anything”
11 Timothy 3:10-17
Recently, I received a news story, and it says it’s from – simply – heaven.
HEAVEN– In a surprise move, God issued a statement today announcing an immediate recall of His complete book series:
1. The Torah
2. The Quran and
3. The New Testament
…citing misunderstandings and violence of “biblical proportions” brought about by many who have read the books.
In a written release, God stated: “You guys freak me out. I’m almost afraid to issue this press release with the way you tend to twist my words around. However, I am calling for an immediate recall of my complete book series. If you have any of these books please stop using them immediately. The words were meant to bring people together but clearly that is not happening.
Sources close to God suggest that God was moved to action by both the massive Toyota recall and the recent news of book burnings. God has grown increasingly frustrated by the acts of murder and genocide His readers have perpetrated over the centuries.
In heavenly circles, the issue of interpretation has become a hot topic. When reached for comment, Archangel Gabrielle said, “God is stunned by what a literal bunch you people have become.” Officials close to the recall said the books were written for a very different audience. People who were not very far removed from a world of stone tools and needed to relate to their world through story and allegory. “Let’s face it, I used a lot of metaphor and in my defense, it was a very popular writing style of the era. But today, this seems to be more confusing than elucidating to my message of universal love.”
With the recall news, many have been left wondering if God will issue a new book or simply leave publishing entirely. Publishing experts are quick to point out that recent advances in e-readers and the iPad would make a purely digital play the easiest way to release a new work. Others are skeptical that a new work will come any time soon, given the atrocities caused by past and current misinterpretations.
Some cynics however, aren’t buying any of it. “My sense is he thinks it’s a big game,” said Lucifer. “This all just God’s elaborate publicity stunt to rebrand Himself as a guy that’s not all about smiting people and turning them into pillars of salt and I’m not buying it.” – Smarter Clicks.com
Today we are continuing the discussion of why people say they don’t want to come to church. Last week, I preached on the statement “I’m spiritual, but not religious”. This sermon series “Why Church?” is not only to bolster you as you speak to people – it’s for you to invite folks to church who have said these things to you!
“I cannot believe in the Bible because it is filled with contradictions!” Have any of you heard this refrain? Or its cousin: “It seems like people use the Bible to support their own opinion while others find something in the Bible to support the opposite opinion.” One easy response to these allegations is to ask for a specific instance of how the Bible contradicts itself! More often than not, critics believe what they are saying only because they have heard it – not because they know it’s true. They just “know” that the Bible’s contradictions are “in there some place.”
I want to start the discussion about the Bible being self-contradictory and able to be made to say about anything by asking: What is the purpose of the Bible? Our scripture today is from II Tim. 3:15 – 17. Let’s take a look at what is said about the Bible. Read II Tim. 3:15-17.
Keep the text in front of you – because we are going to look carefully at these words. II Timothy 3:16 is often cited as proof of certain views of inspiration, especially those who tend to believe in the Bible’s inerrancy. But the context of this verse is a section of encouragement to the community of faith to hold strong. Note that the basis on which Timothy gleans “growth” and “instruction in the faith” is not the Bible alone. What is it? (Look at the end of verse 14). The first thing listed is the teaching of the community of faith.
In verse 15, please note what terminology is used in place of “the Bible”. Other versions say “holy Scriptures”, “sacred writings”, and “inspired letters”. When this text was written, there was no canon called the Bible! My point is that the “sacred writings” here only function within the larger community of faith along with the testimony and teachings of the apostles and other members of the community. The text says that there is a process of growing in the faith. It starts first with the instruction of grandparents and then parents. Next, there is the testimony and teachings of church leaders, and it continues with the sacred writings.
This is important. What it means is that the Bible is most clearly understood within the context of a community of faith. When contradictions in the Bible come to light, the best way to deal with it is in the church. The continued use of “sacred writings” by Timothy and his community is not for the purpose of “getting people saved” but to make them wise about God’s work, and to help them continue to mature in the faith. That is still the primary purpose of the Bible today – to help us grow in wisdom and mature in the faith. Too often, we look to the Bible for other things… to justify our opinions on social issues, or to prove some personal theory. But that is NOT the purpose of the Bible. The Bible is too important for an individual alone to be able to manipulate it! Let me say it again: The primary purpose of the Bible is to help us grow in wisdom and mature in the faith. When we understand this as the purpose of the Bible, all criticisms of it being self contradictory or manipulated loose steam.
To put it bluntly, this text (and others like it) do NOT tell us that the Bible is inerrant (without mistake). They do NOT tell us that the Bible is perfect or that the Bible is the exclusive word of God. This text does NOT affirm the absolute authority of Scripture as somehow dictated by God. This text does quite the opposite. It places sacred writing within a larger context of a community of faith to use as an instruction manual for wisdom and maturity. -Dennis Bratcher
John Wesley later wrote that faith is a four legged stool. The legs of the stool are: scripture, reason, tradition and experience. Each is needed to have a balanced and sturdy faith. If we use only one of these, it’s like trying to balance on a stool with only one leg. So the Bible has to be understood within the context of reason, church tradition and experience.
To apply this to our lives today, we could say that when the Bible seems to contradict itself or be able to be manipulated by people, that we draw from the other legs of the stool – from reason, church tradition, and our experiences. The Bible does not stand alone. It is given to the church – not in personal isolation – but for community usage and understanding.
Here are some more examples:
Kings 2:23 “Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you bald head! Go up, you bald head!” So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the Lord. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.” For all of you who are bald – or youth – this text presents some problems!
Or look at this one, from Leviticus 24:16. “Whoever utters the name of the Lord must be put to death. The whole community must stone him, whether alien or native. If he utters the name of God, he must be put to death.” Hmmm. Again, this text is better understood within the bounds of reason, tradition and experience.
Or one of my favorites, from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
It might not surprise you that I don’t take scripture literally! In fact, this Pauline text stands in opposition to another just three chapters earlier when he said in chapter 11, that women could pray and prophesy in church if they had the appropriate attire.
So what do you say to the person who says that the Bible is self-contradictory or that it can be manipulated to prove almost anything? You tell them that they could very well be right and that ours is a church where it is perfectly acceptable to discuss this. And then you tell them that that is EXACTLY the reason they need to be a part of a church!—because the Bible is a community book.
- 2 Timothy 3:10 - 17