Tuesday 9 January 2018

The Bible is a Library

Great excitement as a minister in a Free Church in Scotland, David Robertson, attacks Steve Chalke's views and is then in turn savaged by a Mouse. All fairly fractious stuff.

I was struck by one of the themes of this argument, which I quote from Revd David's blog:
 For example if you say “The Bible is a library and not a book – that’s what the Bible literally means… the church over time has come to regard as sacred. It reflects the moral values and consciousness of each author” then you are saying that the Bible is not the word of God. You are saying it was the Church not God who over time said it was sacred. You are saying that it reflects the values and consciousness of each author not the values and consciousness of God.
If you say that the Bible is a library, are you saying that the Bible is not God's word? And if you say that the Church said the Bible is what it is, are you saying that God didn't? If you say the Bible reflects the values and consciousness of its authors, are you saying that these values and consciousnesses are not those of God?

These are false dichotomies surely.

First up - let's take the definition of the Bible as the Word of God. If you believe that, where do you get that from? Can you get it from the Bible itself?  Well, Paul tells Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed. But that's the Bible itself telling me that. Can I accept the authority of a book because it tells me it should? That doesn't make sense - otherwise I'd accept that Moby Dick is the true story of a whale-hunter, or that the Blair Witch Project is the true story of how three students lost their lives in the woods. Whether I accept the authority of a piece of writing depends upon the context around it.

Why do modern Protestants believe that the Bible is God's word? Because earlier Protestants told them it was so. Or because they read it themselves and conclude it is true. So if David Robertson tells me the Bible is God's word - I have to take his word for it, or I have to read it myself and agree with him. Either way, I have applied somebody's critical faculties - my own, or David Robertson's, or Luther's, or the Early Church's - and/or somebody's lived experience - to the text and concluded that it is indeed God's word. So this is a classic Anglican both/and. If the Bible is God's word, the reason we know it is, is because the Church, acting through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has confirmed that it is. And then part of the Church changed its mind and had another bash.

Now the Bible is a library. It is clearly not "a" book - that is why modern translations contain a list of the books in the Bible. That's why there is a popular Pub Quiz, "How many books are there in the Bible?" to which the incorrect answer that is given is 66, when the real answer is "depends what you think is in and out, and how many books you think Chronicles is."

And if the Bible is a library, then it begs the question of whether the individual books reflect the "values and consciousness" of God, or the authors. To which the only logical response, if the Bible is God's word, is "both", surely. If the Holy Spirit wrote the books of the Bible using the authors as robots, simply inscribing God's words, then there ain't much point putting an author's name on them. God could have just written the whole lot, like the tablets on Sinai. The fact that there are authors attached - some of whom we argue over - tells us that it matters whose point of view that particular book was written from. It matters that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians; it matters that Luke wrote Acts, as it tells us who the "we" are when we read the narrative, lets us put the story of Acts into the context in which the story exists. And given these authors are regarded as saints or prophets, priests or holy men, then the fact that they reflect God's "values" (can God have values?  Or do all human values merely proceed from the nature of God. Discuss.) should mean they also reflect the consciousness and values of the ones who wrote them.

I guess I'm saying this. That the Bible is a reflection of God's nature, and of its authors' lived experience. That because the Church came to define what was in the Bible, does not mean that it was not acting within the will of God. In fact, given the Bible tells us that God was incarnate, the fact that the definition of the Bible is the common work of Church and God is exactly what you'd expect from this kind of God.

But most obviously, most clearly, most unarguably - because  this is built into the structure of the Bible itself - the Bible is a library.

Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.


  1. And if you want an example in that library of an 'unreliable narrator',try the book of Nehemiah, especially the chilling bits towards the end about breaking up families of mixed marriages.

  2. Are you saying that your book "The Write of the Church" are now part of the bible, because it seems to form current Christian Experience in their place. God's word, breathed, though would seem to be a claim too far?


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