Could The Bible Be Written Today?

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 9.55.11 PM

(H/T)

I’m a history guy.

And us history folks sometimes enjoying playing a game of historical “What If?”.

As in, what would the world be like if the South had won the Civil War or if the Allies had lost World War II? What would have happened if Kennedy had never been assassinated or if Jimi Hendrix hadn’t died so young? What great things could they have accomplished?

Well, I’m also a theology guy and from time to time those paths cross (actually that happens quite a bit) and I find myself playing “What If?” with faith related questions.

In light of several faith related online discussions (though that feels like too generous a word – battles and shaming sessions is probably more accurate), I’ve been wondering lately what the Bible would look like if it had been written today, rather than millennia ago. Actually, I’ve been wondering whether or not the Bible could be written at all if it had to be written today.

And the answer I’ve come to?

Absolutely not.

At least not in a way that would be in any way that’s recognizable, to say nothing of usefulness and beauty.

Here’s why…

The Bible could never get written today because it would get stuck in committee.

Sure, there were church councils that played a role in the formation of the Bible, but by the time the canon was officially closed in the 16th and 17th centuries (depending on your tradition), the process was essentially a stamp of approval on a set of texts that were already widely accepting as holy scripture.

If the Bible had to be written today it would never get out of committee. There would be too much infighting over the precise conjugation of particular words. Theological camps, political parties, and other special interest groups would demand their point of view be clearly articulated. Others would fight over gender inclusive language. And by the end of an absurd amount of meetings catered by Subway, political correctness and devotion to dogma would have killed the Bible in committee.

 
The Bible could never get written today because we don’t want our dirty laundry aired.

There are never ending stream of controversies in the church and especially in the online community of faith. What unites them all today? A pathological fear of “the world” learning that we don’t all get along and don’t all agree on every issue – as if this was somehow privileged information. The same chicken littles who spend their time online and off trying to coverup the sins of the church and shaming those who have the audacity to bring our brokenness into the light, would never let the Bible we have be written today or they would denounce as divisive those who did try to write it.

But the Bible hangs its dirty laundry out for all to see. From Noah the drunk, to Abraham the liar, to Moses the murderer, to David the adulterer, to Paul the terrorist, the Bible doesn’t hide the imperfections of God’s people. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, we became cowards and deluded ourselves into thinking not only that we could hide our sins from the world, but that the world would be better for it.

It won’t be and neither will we.

 
The Bible could never get written today because we demand a picture of perfect unity.

The church has been seduced by the twin sirens of marketing and branding. Too many big churches have convinced themselves that no one will attend if their fonts, colors schemes, graphics, and language don’t all align perfectly all the time. Too many smaller church are shackled to the belief that any disagreement in the church will destroy the very bonds that keep their congregation together and keep visitors away who, presumedly, would only attend a perfect church. While churches of all sizes go out of their way to silence their critics in order to protect their image.

All in the idolatrous pursuit of so-called unity.

Big, small, or some where in between, we’ve bought into the madness of branding and so believe that any deviation from the brand, any sign of disunity, any imperfection in our image will somehow destroy our witness and with it the faith itself.

But the Bible speaks with a multitude of voices, some at odds with each other. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that the people of God sometimes have serious and public disagreements. The Bible is simply not afraid of diversity and disagreement because it understands they are necessary for growth.

But we’re terrified of both because they hurt our brand.

 
The Bible could never get written today because we feel the need to defend God.

Oh the hours we spend defending God. I should know, I’ve logged many of them myself trying to reconcile, among other things, the presence of evil in the world with my belief in a good and loving God. Now, don’t hear me wrong. Such a pursuit has its place, but we don’t need to defend God all the time. That’s simply not our calling.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand God and try to reconcile our theology with our experience (we absolutely should!), but God has chosen to reveal Godself the God has chosen to do and only God is accountable for that. Which means when we find ourselves in a spot where something awful has happened, like tornadoes ravaging a town or hurricanes destroying a city, what we don’t need to do, in fact the worst thing we could do is defend God and God’s sovereignty (by which we really mean our theological system) by telling people God sent that tornado for (fill in the blank reason).

But we can’t get out of our own way defending God and because of that, the sort of untamed lion we see in scripture (to borrow from C.S. Lewis) would be edited out or worse, be turned into a horrific monster.

 
The Bible could never get written today because we need answers.

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times – “The Bible has all the answers!” But does it really? If we pay close attention, and stop our terrible addiction to ripping verses out of their context, we would see that more often than not the Bible raises more questions than it provides answers. Sure, there are the laws of the Old Testament and Jesus says he didn’t come to erase even one iota, but then Paul says we are no longer under the Law, but under grace. Not a particularly good approach if you’re looking to write an answer book. Answer books, after all, have one clear and unequivocal answer, not several, sometimes ambiguous ones with lots of questions thrown along the way.

But answers are what we demand today. In an ever increasingly globalized world where we’re forced to come face to face with cultures and ideas we assumed we could always avoid, we’re confronted with questions we don’t have the answers to. So we retrench from the fight, ignore the nuances of life, and fabricate universal answers for every situation through a patchwork quilt of Bible verses.

But we’ve only to look at the book of Job or Jesus’ parables to see that Bible rarely works as an answer book.

 
The Bible could never get written today because it would be turned into a terrible expository sermon that would put people to sleep and no one would read it.

The gospel aside, one of the greatest attributes of the Bible is its stunning literary beauty. Stories, speeches, poems, and prayers, you name it, the Bible has it in Technicolor spades. Even if you’re not a person of faith, it’s impossible to deny the literary mastery of so much of Bible. And that’s because the Bible is full, not only of stories, but also the raw emotions and prayers of real people who aren’t afraid to say what they really think and really feel – even to God.

It’s within those narratives and within those confessions that faith is found.

But there’s little room for that today. Stories are making a comeback, but they’re being assailed and have been assailed for decades by an incessant need to show off one’s learning by boring the people of God to death with expository sermons and books that sound more like lectures and academic treatises than the utterances of the Spirit. That’s not to say that faith and the academy should be separated (they shouldn’t!), but in our current information age, where we too many of us in the church suffer from physics envy, we’ve convinced ourselves that the best and most credible way to talk about the faith is with scientific precision.

Sure, we might leave in a few of the more famous stories if we were writing the Bible today, but they would quickly get swamped in exegesis, lessons in Greek, and quasi-academic jargon and the Bible would become a horrendous bore that only middle-aged, middle-class, seminary educated white guys would read – and no one else.

 
The Bible could never get written today because it makes demands of our lives and we don’t like that.

Conservative or liberal this might be the toughest hurdle of all. We just don’t like being told what to do. Ever. About anything. To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we want “Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.” We may not just come out and say it, but our lives preach it from every street corner – we said the sinners prayer, we believed in our hearts, and that’s all we need to do. Now it’s on to heaven!

But the Bible and the gospels in particular paint a very different picture, one in which salvation by faith is embodied by faithful commitment to a particular way of living in and for the world, not intellectual assent to particular set of beliefs. Between our “salvation by faith alone” zeal and our unwillingness to pick up our cross in ways that make us uncomfortable, a Bible written today would be stripped of all its demands on our lives and become nothing more an Joel Osteen-esque pat yourself on the back self-help book.

 
Ultimately, the Bible could never get written today because in our spiritual insecurity we would rob it of all the messiness that makes it beautiful.

This is where the fundamentalists get it fundamentally wrong. The strength of the Bible isn’t found in perfection, but in its messiness, in the willingness of its authors and the people who made it their scripture to let the imperfections of its characters shine through.

The fear mongers will tell you if you can’t trust one part of the Bible, then you can trust any of it, but the very existence of the Bible utterly destroys their argument because its existence demonstrates that God’s people have never demanded that perfection be a precondition for truth. People have gone back to the Bible time and time and time again and found truth and comfort and hope in it time and time and time again precisely because its pages are messy, precisely because when they open up the cover and read the stories they see themselves. They see imperfect stories about imperfect people doing imperfect things and finding grace nonetheless.

And that’s the whole point of this little exercise.

Hiding our warts behind closed doors does no one any good.

It does just the opposite.

The success of the kingdom of God is not dependent upon our perfection. In fact, as the Bible shows us over and over and over again, when we’re open and honest about our failings and shortcomings and even our disagreements, those moments of humble authenticity can become the very gate through which outsiders enter into conversation with us because they see real, broken, hurting, but hopeful people just like themselves. Imperfect people they can actually talk to, instead of self-righteous, inaccessible people pretending to be perfect.

Honestly, given our countless and seemingly never-ending screwups as the people of God, it’s a miracle the Bible ever got written.

But its a messy miracle for which I say, thanks be to God.

 

Grace and Peace,

Zack Hunt

 

  • Jon

    Interesting observations Zach. I agree the Bible could never be compiled today…….by Protestants. However, the same Catholic Church that compiled the Bible 1700 years ago and dogmatically defined it’s canon at Trent, could do it again today. Only the Catholic Church has the authority to say, “thus Sayeth God”. No need to worry about Driscoll verses Olsteen and ten dozen others fiercely competing. All of them want to be their own Pope, but the true church of Christ , no matter how bogged down in committee the discussion got, could turn to their leader who under the protection of the Holy Spirit could declare it so. And that would be the end of it.

    • ZackHunt

      But in that case, it wouldn’t be the Bible. It would be a Roman Catholic document. :)

      (And, though I love them dearly, I would have to disagree pretty vehemently that the Catholic Church compiled the Bible. The Council of Trent affirmed/closed the canon (as a response to the Protestant Reformation, which then did the same), but they were closing a canon of books written and esteemed as scripture long before there was a Catholic Church in Rome.)

      • Jon

        I’d of course have to disagree. The councils of Hippo and Carthage, the latter under the Pope of Rome settled the canon and provided a list of books that were used by all Christian Churches until Luther, the same list found in the Gutenburg bible. Prior to those in the fourth century their was little consensus on what books were scripture and it varied from region to region (the 27 NT books were pretty popular of course everywhere) but their were others such as 1 and 2 Clement that were considered widely as well

        • ZackHunt

          But those councils didn’t settle the issue…thus the need for Trent in the RC tradition and other councils in other traditions. :)

          But for the sake of argument, let’s say the canon was settled in Carthage, my point is that such an act was one of affirmation, not creation or selection. Rejection of some, for sure, but not selection from nothing. In other words, Scripture arose organically (via the Spirit) as it was used by the people, not because the Roman Catholic Church or the pope declared it so.

          Obviously, this is probably where we part ways on the issue of authority in the church. Historically speaking, appealing to the tradition of the papacy in the early church is just that – appealing to tradition – not appealing to the historical situation on the ground, i.e. the pope didn’t carry the authority in the early church that we think of the pope carrying today….because he was still just the bishop of Rome.

          • Jon

            I think we agree that the councils affirmed rather than created and that the scriptures arose organically from Paul and the other writers.

            Where I guess we disagree is in papal authority (shocker :). ) it seems from my readings that Carthage and Nicea clearly demonstrated the pope holding some sort of primacy even if it was just. “First among equals”. I’d argue even today the pope holds more of a “chairman of the board” type of role rather than an authoritarian type of kingship.

          • Karen

            Jon, though relations between the Pope in Rome and the Orthodox have, happily, been thawing in more recent times, Orthodox would not see the current status (as it is officially defined and historically exercised) of the RC Pope as “Chairman of the Board.” That he was, being Bishop of the seat of the old Roman Empire, “first among equals” in a primacy of honor, is not in dispute, but Orthodox far more educated than I would likely argue the current understanding of the authority of the Papacy and the “Magesterium,” and even in the understanding of the nature of apostolic “Tradition” in the RC Church is not the more ancient, nor the fully Orthodox, understanding.

          • Jon

            Yes, after reflecting on that analogy I found it lacking. My apologies. I recently have been in discussion with an Orthodox, Coptic, in communion with Rome. We discussed it as the Pope is not just a servant to God but to the church. The churches teaching and dogma. His authority should be used limitedly when asked by the Bishops and the church to do so. So the normal way, would be call a council to discuss an issue (note the pope calling this takes some level of authority) if the council cannot decide, or the pope deems it in conflict with dogma he decides the matter or refuses to validate the findings and sends it back to council.

            Historically this is really how the office has been exercised.

    • Karen

      The Orthodox understand that even if all Bibles were destroyed, the Scriptures could be constructed again (not verbatim, but their message and witness to Christ) by the Church whose Liturgy and Life (especially that manifested in her greatest elders and saints) has been continuously indwelt by the Holy Spirit from the beginning. The “life of the Holy Spirit in the Church” evidenced by the continuity and stability of Orthodox Liturgy, dogma and spirituality of her Saints with that of the earliest Christians is a faithful living witness to the fullness of the truth of the gospel, regardless of the availability of the written witness in the Scriptures to that Life and Truth.

  • Joshua Shope

    Uh, Zack, the Bible could be written today because when God wrote the Bible 2,000 years ago He moved the hands of the writers (kind of like a Ouija board but obviously not Satanic), and God can still do that today. Of course, there would be no point to writing the Bible today because you can’t improve on the original Bible, the good old 1611.

    Just pointing that out in a Christian spirit :)

    • D Lowrey

      If the original 1611 couldn’t be improved upon…why was it revised about 150 years later and claimed this was the only version some fundamentalists will swear by?

      • Joshua Shope

        Any revisions after the original Bible (the 1611) are heresies. Just because people revised it doesn’t mean God wanted them to. You need to, as the song says “take a good look at The Old Book.”

        • daryl carpenter

          I agree. The only legitimate version of the bible is the one named after a massively homosexual Jacobean king. This fact is undoubtedly a sign that the Lord is totally ok with our gay brethren. Anyone who doesn’t believe this is the worst kind of heretic imaginable, IMO.

    • Karen

      Joshua, are you for real? Christians have never believed that “[God] moved the hands of the writers” of Scripture “kind of like a Quija board”!!!

      This is a very poor and distorted understanding of the nature of the Holy Spirit’s “inspiration” of Holy Scripture, as understood in the classical apostolic Christian tradition. Holy Scripture is not seen by our greatest and earliest forebears in the faith as some sort divinely moved “automatic writing!!!” The Truth is really something far more wonderful and beautiful than this.

      Also, the Bible did not originate in 1611! It was compiled over millennia by the communities of people God called first in Hebrew and then in Aramaic and Koine Greek (the language of first-century Palastine), and preserved in the communities throughout the Middle-East founded by Christ’s Apostles after the Resurrection, starting in Jerusalem–the one, holy, apostolic, catholic and orthodox Church. It did not drop from heaven in King James English, like a sort of Christian “Qu’ran!”

      • Joshua Shope

        Throughout the Middle East? No thank you! The Bible did not have anything to do with Muslims, period. The original Bible, the red-letter 1611, is the Good Book!

        • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

          Because any reference to the Middle East automatically means “Muslim.”
          The inate racism of Christianity is why it’s so easy to be an atheist.

        • Karen

          This has got to be satire. No educated person in the 21st century could spew such a-historical, utterly ignorant nonsense! (If you are being sincere here, I pity you and everyone who has to put up with your ignorance.)

          Read your Bible. Do you know where the Christians in “Galatia,” “Cappadocia,” “Corinth,” “Thessalonica” and “Phillippi” to whom these epistles were written were located? Here’s a hint: you won’t find them in Western Europe.

          • Joshua Shope

            Education? Education is where people get ideas about how to misinterpret the Bible. I don’t need education to know what the Bible says!

          • http://Www.theirishatheist.wordpress.com/ The Irish Atheist

            We’ve been had. Mr. Shope did his job too well.

          • Karen

            Too true! :-P

            But in my own defense, I will admit before my children were born I worked for an Evangelical Bible publisher where my boss kept in her file for posterity an irate letter from a Fundamentalist Protestant pastor from the heart of the “Bible belt.” She kept it just to pull it out for a good chuckle now and then and as one of the more ludicrous examples of the ignorance in some religious circles. The author (in perfect sincerity, apparently) took the owner of the publishing house to task for publishing “the devil’s” false translation of the Scriptures, and ended his epistle with the declaration, “If the [1611, undoubtedly] King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me!” (It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry in the face of such things.)

          • Joshua Shope

            I’m only able to sound like a crazy fundamentalist because I know people like that. The elementary school I went to was connected to a church that was KJV only, and I have friends now who sometimes sound as ignorant as I was trying to sound.

    • Karen

      Geez, Joshua, you really had me going there! Too bad I didn’t think to click on your name before now and look at your comments in greater context! My bad! :-)

  • Jim

    Zach, I think that you are romanticizing the period in which the Bible was written. The prophets constantly moan about all the false prophets and their messages. A lot of terrible stuff was written and spoken during the days of Paul, and the church was pretty contentious. The books of the Bible weren’t written because the church was particularly brave or holy or wonderful. They were the result of individuals writing for specific situations and problems. f we went to a group of people and said, “Please write a Bible.” It would be just like you said. But if we waited for individuals to write for specific instances, I’d bet it would work out better than you might think.

    The selection process of great works that edify the church is still happening and it works much like it did. Works that are useful and good rise up from the rest and make themselves apparent. Spurgeon wrote just over a hundred years ago, and his commentary on the Psalms is widely accepted across the church (as far as I know) as good and edifying. C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity has reached next to canonical status, only 60 years ago. I agree with you, the Church is messed up, but it’s always been that way. The Spirit still works.

    • Karen

      Jim, I’d have to agree strongly with the substance of your comment (and about good ol’ Clyde Staples, as well)! Well said.

      While there is discernible stability in dogma and practice in the Orthodox Churches over the centuries, no educated Orthodox person would ever argue this came about as a simple and straightforward easy process of discernment. It has been just as messy since A.D. 90 as it was during the period in which the Scriptures were recorded for us, and yet the cream will always rise to the top. The Resurrection of Christ and His Presence by the Holy Spirit within His Body is our guarantee that the power and message of the gospel will endure (even while many of our modern faddish translations and interpretations of the Scriptures will not!).

    • http://7241995.blogspot.com/ Matthew Schramm

      I completely agree with your comment. The inspiration of the scriptures isn’t something the authors claim for themselves, or something the church votes upon, but is proven by the enduring truth of the written work’s message.
      If the Bible had to be recompiled from today’s written material, you would probably have, as you said, some books like Mere Christianity, possibly a lot of emails, Letters from a Birmingham Jail would have to be strongly considered (in my opinion), and the like: enduring Christian works that faithfully testify to the goodness of Christ.