A man was in a hot air balloon and lost, so he spotted a woman on a golf course below and reduced altitude.
“Hello”, he called, “can you tell me where I am – I promised to meet a friend and I have no idea where I am”
She looked up and said “You are in a hot air balloon about 30 feet off the ground, you are 51 degrees North and 0.7 degrees West”.
“Are you an engineer?” he called down?
“Yes” she replied, “but how did you know?”
“Well your information is absolutely true but I’m none the wiser” he replied. “Furthermore I am still lost and frankly you have wasted my time”.
So she thought for a minute and called up to him “Are you in Management?”
“Yes” he replied “but how do you know?”
“Well, you have made a promise you have no idea how to keep, you expect those beneath you to solve your problems and you have risen to where you are thanks to a large volume of hot air”.
I guess I tell that joke because I want to explore what we mean by the Bible being “True”.
Of course, first of all we have to determine what we mean by “true” in this context.
There is a statue of Abraham Lincoln at one of the American Universities and he is shown wielding an axe about to come down on the fetters that are binding a slave at his feet. It the statue true – yes. Did it actually happen – no.
I get fed up at the moment hearing about the rise of fundamentalism and in particular creationism at the moment. Since when did Christians need to leave their common sense at the door when they came to church?
And then, of course there is the problem of translation. When I was at vicar school I decided to try to learn Hebrew and Greek. Try being the operative word here. Anyway, we looked at some Hebrew texts. It is a rather tricky language for a few reasons, not least of all because they choose not to include vowels in the text. And then they seem to have dots here and there that mean something but get missed off a fair amount – the jots and tittles that Jesus was referring to. And then the language has only two tenses. Not like English which has loads – past, present, future, perfect, imperfect, conditional, and a load of others. No – Hebrew has two. And they aren’t a useful two like Past and Present – they are perfect (ie done and dusted) and imperfect. So we looked at the phrase when God says “I am what I am”. Well… it is in the imperfect. So it could be “I was being what I ought to be” “ I will be what I am being” “I was going to be what I could have been”. Truthfully, I think just about the only translation it can’t be is “I am what I am”.
You probably know that the New Testament was written in Greek and fairly early on that was translated into Latin, and later still the Latin version was translated into English, giving rise to the King James Version, which is quite a literal translation of the text, but carries quite a lot of errors because of the double translation.
Which reminds me of a story that Alan told me from when he attended a church that was debating which Lord’s Prayer to use – the traditional or the modern. One woman said that she wanted to use the traditional Lord’s Prayer which was in the King James Version because she wanted to say the very words that Jesus used.
So there are many translations now – I suggest that everyone should by one that they find easy to read. My personal favourite is the New Revised Standard Version, which is an update on the RSV which is a pretty faithful translation, I feel. My personal least favourite version is the New International Version, which I think has too much interpretation and anti-women interpretation at that.
However, whichever version of the Bible we use, we have to face the fact that it was written by men, for men. I was arguing with a man online a while back about gay relationships. He quoted Leviticus 18:22 at me – “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable”, so I thought about that. “Are you telling me that the Bible requires me to be a Lesbian?” I asked….
And of course you may well notice in the Ten Commandments, especially if you are a woman, that whilst men are not allowed to covet their neighbours’ wives, there is no prohibition on us coveting our neighbours’ husbands. Not that any woman would ever do that, obviously!
I guess, putting aside the problem of who wrote it and why, and putting aside the problem of translation, the question is where one sees the Bible – does God use it in spite of human failings, limitations and errors, or is it exactly as God wishes it to be? Can it be true without it being literally correct, without an actual Noah, or without an actual Adam and Eve, or does it either have to be all true or if not it is not worth reading?
Let me quote a few verses from the Bible and you decide for yourself whether they are true:
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
“All things work to the good of those who love Him”