On Sunday evening, Greg came back from Winterfest, a huge youth event in Gatlinburg, TN. We were glad to have him back and immediately celebrated by going out to McAlister’s with one of our gift cards. On the way there, he was telling me about the weekend, which he very much enjoyed. His glowingly positive reviews were briefly interrupted, however, when he paused to rant about one of the videos that was shown. Apparently, this video accused the Bible of being too hard to understand, and placed the blame for its complexity on all the ways we’ve tinkered with it: adding chapters and verses, for example, or putting Jesus’ words in red letters. Greg was greatly perplexed throughout the video, and was even more annoyed when he was handed a Bible that was put together to rectify this alleged wrong perpetuated against Scripture. This New Testament didn’t have chapters or verses, and the books of the Bible were put in a different order:
Greg was downright cranky over this innovation, which inspired me to launch into my diatribe against chronological and/or “harmonized” versions of the Bible. We both ranted on for awhile, and then Greg summed up both of our viewpoints with the question,
“Why can’t we just let the Bible be the Bible?”
A few minutes later, we both started laughing when he raised the question, “And when did we get to be such cranky conservatives?”
I will admit the irony in our viewpoints: we get annoyed with innovations in the presentation of Scripture, yet our annoyance overlooks the fact that the very order of the Bible that we hold so dear is itself an innovation, put together during the Council of Carthage in 397 and 419*. And while I found the Winterfest Bible’s order to be unnecessary, I have to admit that the arrangement of books made at least a little sense, according to my brief analysis of the table of contents. Luke tells the story of Paul, and so Paul’s letters come after Luke/Acts. Matthew, Hebrews, and James are the “Jewish” books. Mark’s gospel is thought to be informed by Peter, and so Peter’s letters are listed after that book. And all of John’s writings are together. It’s not a totally absurd arrangement. In contrast, the traditional arrangement of the New Testament lists the gospels first (fair enough), and then groups the epistles by author. But they place the epistles within each authorial group…wait for it…in order from longest to shortest. Longest to shortest! Really? We couldn’t order them by chronology…or content…or chronology…or theme…or chronology? We went with longest to shortest?
I say all that to acknowledge that my own preferences for Scriptural presentation are just a little bit arbitrary.
Furthermore, my preferences for other Bible innovations are riddled with inconsistencies. For example, here is a brief list of the types of Bibles that are okay according to Kim:
–Bibles geared toward certain ages or gender (i.e. children’s Bibles or men/women’s Bibles).
–Those Bibles that look like teen magazines (whatever gets them reading, amIright?)
–Most standard versions
Here is a brief list of Bibles that induce eye-rolls from Kim:
–Bibles geared toward certain interest groups (i.e. patriots, hunters, soldiers, couponers, etc)
–NIV 2011 version
Now, see if you can spot the inconsistencies here. Why are age/gender based Bibles, and even magazine Bibles okay, but not Bibles for interest groups? And what’s with my intolerance with The Message? It doesn’t even claim to be an interpretation, but a paraphrase! I can read my kids heavily edited storybook Bibles all day long, but I’m going to turn my nose up to The Message? Hmmm…let’s just say there’s a fair amount of sheer cantankerousness represented in these views.
But with the NIV 2011 and the chronological/harmonized versions, there is something deeper.** It seems to me that both of those versions come with an unwillingness to let the Bible be the Bible. I might be misunderstanding this feature of the new NIV Bible, but my understanding is that many of the pronouns were changed to become gender inclusive. Now, I’m all for the inclusion of genders, believe me…but that’s not the language in which the Bible was written. It’s just not. It seems that in changing those pronouns, we are trying to improve upon the Bible. To that, I say, let the Bible be the Bible.
Similarly, the Bible wasn’t told in a chronological story. You can put the books roughly in order, but they will still overlap and retell the same story from different angles. And that seems to be how God wanted it. If He wanted to give us one seamless narrative, He would have. But He didn’t. And I have to have faith that there are four gospels for a reason. And furthermore? They. don’t. harmonize. (Don’t believe me? Take all four gospels’ versions of Jesus’ last week and try to put them into one narrative that doesn’t contradict itself or leave anything out. I dare you.)***
But see, we want the Bible to be this way. We want it to share our gender sensibilities and our preference for a seamless, coherent narrative. We are in a period of history that values that things, so we want the Bible to value them, too. I understand that, I do. Believe me, there are times I want to get all Thomas Jefferson on the Bible and cut out the parts that offend me, like how women are unclean for longer after they have a girl baby, than a boy. Or, you know, all the slaughter of whole populations, including women and children. Or that vexing verse about women being saved through childbirth. (I mean, really–what’s that about?) But I can’t cut those things out…because they are in the Bible.
And…say it with me…I have to let the Bible be the Bible. I have to let go of my desire for the Bible to function as a handy book of rules, or a science textbook, or a seamless narrative, or a Modern document, or a postmodern document, or a politically correct document…or even a book with all the answers. (Believe me, I am generally full of questions after I read the Bible.)
Instead, I struggle to embrace the Bible for what it is:
The God-breathed story of God’s pursuit of man.
The God-inspired revelation of His Word, which is the person of Jesus.
The messy history of a sinful people who interacted with a God who spoke to their historical context.
The book of all the answers that I need.
I have to let the Bible be the Bible.
So, on a scale of 1-10, how cranky a conservative am I on this Bible thing? Also, what are your views on what the Bible is or isn’t? And are you also creeped out by the interest group Bibles, or do you think those are cool? Inquiring minds want to know!
*Hmm, I always thought it was the Council of Nicaea in 325, but Wikipedia is telling me a different story(only the most intensive research is featured on this blog, folks). You can do your own thorough research here.
**These thoughts represent my current opinions, but are certainly subject to change. The first time I read through the Bible was using a chronological version, and I loved it (although even then, the editor’s assertion that he was putting the Bible “in its proper order” grated on me). So clearly, my views on the presentation of Scripture have been evolving, and I have no doubt that they will continue to evolve. But this is where I am right now.
***Greg would like it to be known that he has no problem with the 2011 NIV or The Message. And I would like it to be known that I have no problem with the Winterfest Bible:).