The Bible, Truth and Our Current Foolishness

bibleI see arguments about why the Bible isn’t “true” all the time. Supposedly some people interpret the Bible literally and conclude that the world was created a few thousand years ago and the events in Genesis, for example, occurred in chronological order just as described, in seven literal days. These people are supposedly a threat to humankind and are avowed enemies of science (the new savior.) Actually, most people pick the parts of the Bible that support their preconceptions and run with those, just like the Qur’an (and the U.S. constitution, for that matter.)

(BTW, scientists also select which evidence to observe and historians select which records to research.)

The fact that men still have functional eyeballs shows just one instance of not taking the Bible literally, because Jesus said if your eye cause you to sin, you should pluck it out. “Oh, he didn’t mean that literally,” you say. Oh, which parts did he mean literally? And who decides? And if he meant some parts metaphorically, does that mean those parts are worthless?

Of course, the Bible doesn’t claim the world is a few thousand years old-that was the calculation of Archbishop Bishop Ussher in 1650. These arguments will dissolve if we look at the Big Picture. For untold millennia, our ancestors roamed about trying to stay alive and passing down stories that they thought were important. These stories are lumped under “mythology” now and although critics insist a myth does not equal “lie,” that is the connotation it has taken on, so using the word “myth” in reference to ancient stories should be discarded.

The fact is, we don’t know how much of ancient stories is “true” within the narrow confines with which we fence in truth. I hasten to point out that much modern history is simply propaganda with footnotes. Our ancestors were not interested in what we call history (a fairly modern concept) nor in the scientific method, another fairly modern concept. They were interested in their people and the story of their people. They were interested enough in us, their people, their descendents, to pass these stories on.

They sought to glorify the tribe and pass down a message to the future members of the tribe. We still seek to glorify the tribe. The last presidential candidates described America as the “Indispensable Nation” and puffed up our superior virtues. In Hungary, the current leader is pushing a racist nationalism reminiscent of the Nazis. “We are the special tribe, divinely descended-others are inferior animals which can be exterminated.” Racist nationalism is just the modern version of the worst aspects of tribalism. We have not evolved very far.

The Bible is a collection of over sixty books containing poetry, wise sayings, chronicles, teachings, and narratives. Our ancestors used genres just as we do and recognized that a story was fitting into a certain genre. We don’t expect historical or scientific proof from poetry, but we do expect a deeper truth. I maintain that the message of the Bible is true. The message comes in many forms and styles and from different authors. It came first in stories told, then stories written. It comes in Hebrew and Greek which was much later translated into English and now all the languages of the world. Can something be lost in translation? Sure, but not the message. People get bogged down in details and miss the forest for the trees.

It is foolish and inappropriate to apply standards we have only recently invented (historical and scientific methods) to ancient stories. It is arrogant and downright stupid  to ridicule ancient stories because they don’t fit into our little Truth boxes. The ancient stories from around the world are powerful, often beautiful, violent, transcendent and tragic. They should be read on their own terms: Here is an important message from your great-great, etc grandparents-listen up, kids.




  1. Some thought-provoking hermeneutic insights here. I agree, though as a philosopher I continue to puzzle over what terms some of these ancient stories intended readers to abide by. Nevertheless there is nothing quite so pointless as the interlocutor who cannot hear their opponent. Examples can be found on every side of every debate I fear.

    1. Thanks for your comment. The message in ancient literature can still touch us, human to human. For example in the oldest epic ever written, the epic Of Gilgamesh, his friend Enkidu dies and he sits by his body for days, until a maggot falls out of his friend’s nose. Suddenly Gilagmesh is stricken with his own mortality-“How can I rest when Enkidu whom I love is dust and I too shall die and be laid in the dust?” We can relate. There is a message here that touches us. It would be a dang shame to sit around and argue if King Gilgamesh really had a friend named Enkidu and if so what evidence is there that he died young, etc. Just go with the message- which is powerful, which speaks to us.

      1. Too true. I read the story and to start with couldn’t see what the fuss was about. However what you find with elevated epics such as these is the disarming reminder they give us of human frailty. In the midst of human profundity human temporality is revealed. You were right. We just need a little humility, or as one of my students innocently put it, ‘we need to respond with humbility’.

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