This weekend I’ve been thinking a lot about Christianity and the Bible. A good friend of mine was the guest on a podcast, and he spoke at length about how he’s reached a place where he no longer sees God through a restrictive Christian-only lens; he’s okay admitting that God is bigger than whatever label humanity decides to put on him. While I didn’t necessarily agree 100% with the conclusions he reached because of this understanding, I agree wholeheartedly with the foundational concept. We probably don’t know as much about God as we think we do.
That thought process was stirring in my mind on Sunday at church when my pastor was doing a sermon in 1 Peter. While he was talking and sharing some context for the book, something hit me about the Bible and how, as a Christian, I can sometimes shape the Bible to speak to my life and make it say things that the original writers probably never intended it to say.
First though: I’m not a Bible scholar. I haven’t attended seminary and likely never will. I have, however, grown up steeped in Evangelical Christianity. I’ve attended church my whole life, serving in leadership capacities and going on mission trips. I don’t say the following from a position of authority, but rather from a background that I am very, very familiar with.
I think that Christians don’t want the Bible to be old. I think that we’re scared to acknowledge that humanity has grown and that some things the Bible says may not be as directly applicable as they once were.
Even worse, a big problem in Christianity today is deification of the Bible. Basically, Christians take the Word and hold it up to the same level as God, and then fit the original meaning of scripture to apply to our modern lives. In this way, Christians make God choose a side on modern issues and debates.
I grew up hearing “don’t take Bible verses out of context.” I think that, overall, is a common sentiment among churches. I have “Ephesians 5:32–33″ inscribed on the inside of my wedding ring, not because it is a reference to the huge chapter about husbands and wives, but because it is the reversal where Paul says “I’m actually not talking about marriage between a man and a woman, I’m talking about Christ and the Church.” Can it apply to marriage? Sure. But the primary way it does this is by pushing the idea that God’s love is perfect for the Church, and we should emulate that love. You can only glean that meaning from Ephesians 5 by reading the chapter as a whole, in context.
The Bible talks a lot about slavery. Guess what? It’s not talking about the way a boss treats his workers. It’s talking, quite literally, about slavery. It’s discussing a reality that we have a hard time wrapping our minds around in 2016 because first-world humans have moved well past slavery as a social construct. When a pastor or teacher takes verses on slavery and applies them to the modern times, the comparison is not apt.
The Bible is old. The writers talk about things that simply aren’t realities we deal with today. That’s okay. Can we glean some modern teachings from verses that bring up ancient concepts? Sure, but I think it’s dangerous to do that without first acknowledging that the comparison is far from perfect. When we start to change the Bible’s words to fit our modern lives we are changing the meaning at the detriment of the core message.
Jesus came to right so many of the wrongs that inflicted ancient culture, some of which are still very much around, and he does that by changing hearts. Slavery didn’t become culturally unacceptable all at once — it took key individuals (William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, etc) with changed hearts standing up for those being taken advantage of. Only then did the hearts of the masses start to change as well. Even then, social justice and equality is a battle we still fight today.
We need to take the Bible’s core message and apply that. We don’t need to change its words to fit modern realities.