In May 2012 David and I left behind our Bibles and Bible study books.
In the Bible we had found the code to a life of freedom from slavery in the commercial society, walking with God as sovereign pilgrims, yet we had come to realize that continuing to focus on the Bible for our spiritual growth, as we used to do, would hamper us now more than it would help.
We had started to put to practice the drop-out/activist message of Jesus about seven years earlier. Living this way helped us recognize many misconceptions in Christian teaching.
A major one is the elevation of the Bible into an unrealistic state of infallibility. Although in our time as missionaries we recognized to some extent the human aspect in biblical texts, it was for us a somewhat uncomfortable subject, that we did not think through thoroughly then.
The Bible is a historic document, a collection of historical accounts, teachings, and inspirational writings. They originated in a time period stretching over roughly 1500 years, written by over 40 individuals.
In the fourth century the leadership of the then still young Christian religion saw the need to decide, which of the already plentiful writings in circulation concerning Jesus of Nazareth they could agree on as to them acceptable Christian scripture.
And so, after years of study and back and forth discussion with differing opinions, eventually they decided on the canon of what is since then called the New Testament.
(The canon of what is called the Old Testament came about in the first century AD.)
I have read some of the apocryphal writings that did not make it into the Bible, and I think I understand why not. At least the ones that I personally read seemed to either lack authenticity, or integrity on the part of the writers.
As in other historical documents written by different authors about the same events, there are some discrepancies between the accounts of the life and death of Jesus in the four Gospels of the New Testament. These discrepancies show the human aspect involved in writing and at the same time show that they were not just copied one from the other, but were independent individual records of the history of Jesus of Nazareth.
In the writings of the Apostle Paul, which were written during his life as evangelist over a time period of over 20 years, we can see a development in Paul’s understanding. For example his attitude toward women evidently changed for the better over the years. I admire his enthusiasm and courage to publicly speak about controversial issues, and his bravery and willingness to suffer for it. He had significant and beautiful things to say, and at the same time his writings show his human and cultural limitations.
Already in the early years of the Christian era the writings concerning Jesus Christ had been copied by hand many times and were also translated into other languages. Hundreds of portions of such writings of distinct origin dating back as far as the first few centuries A.D. are preserved in historic archives, and many are on display in museums in numerous cities and nations.
These fragments complement and confirm one another, making it difficult to uphold the theory of some Bible critics that the Bible was falsified beyond recognition. At the same time these above facts also make it difficult to uphold the claim that the Bible is the undisputable word of God, received without any human interference.
According to the record Jesus himself updated that which was then seen as the written word and law of God. He was not afraid to challenge the status quo and introduce needed changes. The religious leaders of his day saw their authority threatened by his teachings and eventually caused him to be killed.
Jesus himself never wrote anything, and I think, one of the reasons for that may have been that he did not want written records to be worshipped. He rather wanted those who had known and loved him to follow his example of becoming a channel for the spirit of God and thus become the living message.
Referring to written records can be helpful, and it surely has been for me personally, but I have learned to take written records for what they are - human records, to be seen in the context of the time, in which they were written. In other words, it is my own responsibility to judge what I read.
I have come to understand that in saying that a collection of evidently imperfect writings is “The Word of God” (which I did for 28 years as a missionary) I was being rather bigoted, and if someone demands that people must accept the Bible as the infallible "word of God" without question, then he or she is being oppressive.
If we cannot declare a book as "The Word of God", what then is the word of God? The Greek word translated “word” also means expression. I like to interchange the two. It helps to shed the bias linked to the term “word of God”. To me the "expression of God" is love, justice, fairness, goodness, gentleness expressed in a person’s practical life.
If we can draw inspiration to manifest these qualities from written records then the reading has served a good purpose. Yet, it will always be our personal voluntary decision to live it that will make written words a living expression of God.
Communication of genuine love in all of its forms by human beings is the most important expression of God.