Thursday, July 02, 2009

fixing your Bible when it doesn’t make sense

What do you do when a book doesn’t make sense? Here’s one fairly harsh choice – you rip out the bits that don’t fit. (It’s a scene from the Firefly series).

It’s not a novel solution. Back in the first century, Marcion of Sinope decided the God of the Old Testament did not make sense with the God of the New Testament. (More on the God of Old Testament here). He kept Paul’s letters, ripped out all the Old Testament and cut and pasted together his own Gospel (called the Gospel of Marcion). The logical part of my brain wants to know what Marcion did when Paul quoted various verses from the Old Testament. Surely those should have been deleted, leaving quite a “holey” Bible.

What is interesting is to ask Why? Why does it not make sense? For River, it doesn’t fit her patterns of logic and symbolism. Which strikes me as ultimately quite arrogant. Why should a readers patterns of logic become the judge of the text of another?

Shepherd Book suggests to River another approach. “It’s not about making sense. It’s about believing in something. And letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith. It fixes you.” This suggests a certain humility. The reader remains open to mystery, to what is beyond their understanding. It also has the danger of a naive fundamentalism, a simple “The Bible says it and I believe it and that settles it.”

I love the tug of war that begins to develop. “Give me that”, says Shepherd as he tries to tug the Bible away from River. “You hang on to those then” he says as he gives up. Who should “own” the Bible. Shepherd? Or River?

Historically, Christianity has considered the Bible God’s gift to neither River nor Shepherd, but to the church. As Westerners, we like to assume individual ownership, when in reality, the Bible is the book of the community. This provides another way to think about what to do when the Bible makes no sense. It is to seek the wisdom of the community. This alternative does overcome naive fundamentalism, as the “I” decides to enter a conversation with the wisdom and insight of other readers.

The danger is that this notion of being a “gift to the church” becomes a power trip. The history of patriarchy is evidence of how one group in society can assume power over a reading. So this notion of “gift to the church” needs to be applied with care. This for me, is one of the most important insights of postmodernity: the suspicion of how power is used to supress absent voices. (For more on this, see here).

When a text no longer makes sense, frustration is inevitable. We face a range of options: ripping out pages, naive fundamentalism, claiming exclusive ownership, failing to appreciate the interpretative power we have. Which starts to make sense of the following prayer:

Our Friend, who is in heaven,
sacred is Your Word.
Your kingdom come,
Your Words be heard on earth as they are in heaven.
Forgive our neglect of them in the past
as we forgive those who neglect them around us.
Lead us toward an encounter with You
each time we delve into the Scriptures.
That Your presence, Your power,
and Your glory might be ever present among us
now and forever. Amen.

Posted by steve at 02:48 PM


  1. Love the prayer, Steve. Have a great time in Melbourne/Adelaide — I’m an expatriate Kiwi at Beaconsfield Baptist, Melbourne, teaching at a local uni.

    Comment by Chris Galloway — July 2, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

  2. Thanks Chris. I love Melbourne. Great city.


    Comment by steve — July 2, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

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