Reconstruction Faith in the Bible

This might make you think less of me, but sometimes I google my name. I know, I’m so vain. There is a little bit of truth in that, but it’s also to keep an eye on who’s preaching the messages that I post online and also to track where my books are being mentioned. And yes, I am a little vain; the last time I checked, there were over 260,000 results.

A number of years ago, I stumbled on a website promoting a book called, “O’Habits: 40 Success Habits of Oprah Winfrey and the One Bad Habit She Needs to Drop!”

One of the pages on the website was called “What people say about Oprah.” On that page, there were a number of famous people quoted, people like Roseanne Barr and David Letterman. And then there was this ringing endorsement, Ordained Wesleyan Church minister Denn Guptill surmising what Jesus would say to Oprah: I think that Jesus would say, “Well done, Oprah.”

And I did write those words; they were part of a message entitled, “What Would Jesus Say to Oprah?” that I preached at Cornerstone in 2008, but they were just 9 words from a 2912-word message, and they were 9 words taken out of context. The very next word after that quote was the word . . . “but”, and we all know what comes after the but.

It is interesting that the author of the book, Warren Cassell is a lawyer specializing in Intellectual property. Hmmmm.

This is week five of our reconstruction series as we talk about ways to strengthen and rebuild, if necessary, our faith and relationship with Christ and His church.

Sometimes, in talking to someone who has walked away from their faith and the church, they will say that their process of deconstruction began when they began to question the bible.

They either found it confusing or disturbing. They had seen memes about the bible highlighting verses that seemed to promote slavery, racism, sexism, and genocide. They had heard the media and celebrities ridicule the bible as being anti-science and full of weird laws and regulations. And, as a result, they chose to walk away rather than look for answers to their questions.

When we started this series, Pastor Rob recommended a book for the preaching team called “How Not to Read the Bible” by Dan Kimball. And many of the ideas that I’m sharing today came from the book. And maybe you are thinking, well, Denn, couldn’t we just read the book? You probably could, but you probably won’t, so just consider this the Coles notes version of the book.

If you want to go deeper, we are actually offering a video study on the book over the next several months in various groups.

So, this morning, we are going to deal with three principles you need to recognize as you read your bible.

The first thing you need to recognize is that The Bible is a Library, Not a Book. When we talk about the Bible, you’ll hear people refer to it as the “good book”, and we often think of it the way we would think of any other book. It was a front cover, and it has a back cover and a bunch of pages in between. All the things we think of when we think of a book.

When we call it a Holy Bible, the word Holy means set apart for a sacred use, and for Christians this defines the bible. And the word Bible comes from the Greek word, Biblia, which means books. And that’s books plural and not book singular. The word bibliophilia means a love for books.

But the Bible is more than a single book; it is a library of books. It’s a library that contains a broad and diverse range of books, from history books to law books to books of poetry. It is a library that consists of sixty-six books written in three languages by more than forty different authors over a period of 1500 years. Some of the books of the bible are separated by more than a thousand years.

And in the digital age, that’s even more difficult to get our heads around. When we open the bible on our phones or tablets, it seems to flow seamlessly from Genesis to the Revelation.

I love libraries and have ever since I was a kid, school libraries, public libraries, bookmobiles, and impromptu libraries that spring up on cruise ships, hotels and the little birdhouse libraries on the side of the road. They are awesome. And they are all laid out with different types of books in different places; at least, that’s the way they are supposed to be organized.

If you find a book of poetry in the history section, it’s in the wrong place. And if you found a book of poetry in the history section, it would be a mistake to read it as a history book because it’s not a history book. It is a poetry book. And it’s meant to be read, interpreted and understood differently than a history book. So if you were in the history section and found a book called Songs of a Sourdough and flipped through it, it might seem to be a book about the history of the Yukon.  But when you started to read,
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.”

You would realize that it was a poetry book, not a history book and would need to be read differently than, say, Pierre Burton’s book Klondike, which is a book of history and not a book of poetry.

And it’s over a hundred years old; some of the words have lost their meaning, or their meaning has changed.  A Sourdough was someone who lived in the Yukon, to moil for Gold meant to work hard.  And let’s not even get into the meaning of queer.

If you found a book in the library that was written 400 years ago, you would understand that it was written for a different time and a different culture. You wouldn’t try to read it and process it like you would a book written this year.

And if you picked up a law book that was written in 16th century Scotland, you wouldn’t expect those laws to make sense today necessarily.

So, our bible is a collection of books, made up of different genres, written by different authors at different points in history. And so, this should impact how we read and understand individual bible stories and verses.

The library, which we think of as our bible, consists of sixty-six books, published together as one volume but it has two very distinct sections.

The first, what we think of as the Old Testament or Old Covenant, contains 39 books, and the second part, what we think of as the New Testament or New Covenant, contains 27 books.

Dan Kimball writes, “’The Bible’ is one volume of sixty-six books containing writings from two different covenants outlining two major ways God provides for human beings to know him and relate to Him. Not understanding this can lead to much misuse and confusion.”

If we were to separate the books of the bible and place them on a bookshelf by subject or genre, it would look something like this.

And like most libraries, the Bible has many human authors. They came from all walks of life: shepherds, farmers, tentmakers, kings, doctors, fishermen, philosophers and priests, who wrote in three different languages: Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.

That’s why you find so many different writing styles in the Bible. Even the same author will have different styles depending on what they are writing.  I have three titles on Amazon, two that I wrote and one I edited, and they are all very different in subject and style.

But what makes the Bible unique is that behind each of those different authors, there was one common author. We believe that each of those authors was inspired by the Spirit of God to write what they wrote. That goes back to the scripture that was read earlier, 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

Maybe you are wondering what Cornerstone’s view is of the Bible. Glad you asked. Here is the official stand of the Wesleyan Church, which we are in complete alignment with.

“We believe that the books of the Old and New Testaments constitute the Holy Scriptures. They are the inspired and infallibly written Word of God, fully inerrant in their original manuscripts and superior to all human authority, and have been transmitted to the present without corruption of any essential doctrine. We believe that they contain all things necessary to salvation; so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man or woman that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. Both in the Old and New Testaments, life is offered ultimately through Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and humanity. The New Testament teaches Christians how to fulfill the moral principles of the Old Testament, calling for loving obedience to God made possible by the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit.”

So, The Bible is a Library, not a Book.  And it’s definitely not a collection of Facebook Memes.

The next thing that we need to realize is that The Bible was written For You, but it Wasn’t Written to You.  We believe that the Bible was inspired by God, and we believe in the trustworthiness of the Bible.  We believe that it is God’s message for us and for all people of all time. 

But, the Bible wasn’t originally written to us.  It wasn’t written in today’s English, and it wasn’t written in King James English.  It wasn’t written to people who were facing the cultural conflicts and assumptions that we are facing today. 

Instead, it was written to people in a different time and a different place who had questions we don’t have, and the questions that we do have would no doubt baffle and confuse them.

And I truly believe that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are there for us to study, and learn from and lean into.  It is there for us to know God more through His word.  It tells us about our origin, our purpose, and our salvation.  It gives us direction and a vision, and most importantly, it introduces us to Jesus. To His message, his love and his forgiveness.  Let’s go back to what Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16–17 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

One of the best examples of this is the creation story.  There are so many questions that people have about creation, and probably no other part of the Bible is so openly criticized and mocked as the first few chapters of Genesis.

We have so many questions about the creation story, we want to know what the bible says about the age of the earth, about dinosaurs, about Darwin and evolution.  We want to have debates about macroevolution vs microevolution and carbon dating.  And we open the pages of the book of Genesis, and we struggle to find the answers to the questions we have.

But we have to understand that the creation account is written for us, but it wasn’t written to us.

The book of Genesis was written by Moses, and its intended audience was the people of Israel after they had escaped from 400 years of slavery in Egypt.

While the Israelites were living in Egypt, they would have passed down their oral traditions and talked about the promises that God had made to their ancestors.

They would have heard and repeated the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But they lived in a culture that worshipped a plethora of Gods and had any number of creation stories.  And they didn’t just live there for a few years; they lived there for hundreds of years through multiple generations.

They weren’t interested in whether or not Adam and Eve had belly buttons or who their children married.  They needed to know that there was only one God and that He had created everything.  They needed to know that God had a plan for them and that his promises were true. They needed to know how to worship God properly. They needed to be reminded that they were separate and distinct from the pagan cultures of the day.

They needed to hear the words of Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

The questions we have today aren’t the questions that were being answered in the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. 

As one scholar said, “My Bible was Moses’ Bible first.”  Genesis was written for a people who had been living in a polytheistic Egyptian culture for four hundred years, and they needed to be reminded and taught about who God was and what he had done in creating the earth and the sky. 

They didn’t know and couldn’t comprehend the scope of the universe that we know today. But what they did need to know was that God created what was under them and what was over them, in terms and ideas they could understand.

As Galileo famously pointed out, “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go,”

Throughout the Bible there are verses and stories that seem confusing to us, but they made perfect sense to the people that it was written for, in their time and culture.

Did you know that in Toronto, there is a bylaw that prohibits dragging a dead horse down Yonge Street on Sundays?  Not a problem, if you want to do it from Monday to Saturday?  That seems weird, but I would be willing to wager that it made sense when it was written.

So, the Bible is a library, not a book, and it was written for us but it was not written to us.

The third thing we need to understand is Don’t Just Read a Verse.  I don’t know how many times I have reminded you that a verse out of context is a pretext.  But, we, me included are fond of our favorite verses, in context or out. 

I want this T-shirt.  (I can do all things through a verse taken out of context.)  And that is a poke at all the people who take Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. As a promise that they can do whatever they want.  But in context, the verse before that one says, Philippians 4:11–12 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.  I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.

So, if you want to learn how to be content with whatever you have, how to live on almost nothing or with everything. If you want to learn the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. Then here is God’s promise for you, Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Another one of those verses is Jeremiah 29:11 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.

The principle is true: God has a plan for us. But this promise was for the people of Israel after they had been conquered and taken captive by Babylon. The next verse goes on to say, Jeremiah 29:12–14 In those days when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.  I will be found by you,” says the LORD. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

The principle is true, but the specific promise was made to a different people in different circumstances.

Sometimes, you will hear someone say that the Bible forbids tattoos.  They are referring back to Leviticus 19:28 Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.  But that wasn’t talking about the decorative tattoos that people get today, body art so to speak.  When you put the verse in context, you discover that the neighbouring nations that worshipped Baal used tattoos and mutilated their body as part of their worship, and God was telling the people of Israel not to be like those people.

There are other verses that seem strange and are sometimes mocked because people haven’t taken the time to discover the good reason for the thing they don’t understand. 

Again, in the book of the law, we discover Leviticus 19:19 “. . . Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread.” 

But this wasn’t a moral law. There was no moral reason to prohibit wearing clothes made from two fabrics.  But in Exodus, we discover that the garments for the high priests were made by weaving linen and wool together. So perhaps the good reason was that the clothing of those in the priesthood was to be different from everybody else’s.  And not just anyone could wear those clothes.

If that seems weird, just this week, a man from Cape Breton pled guilty to charges under the Police Identity Management Act.  What was his offence? Having clothes and other items that were for police officers. 

When we cruise to the Caribbean, we are told that we are not allowed to wear anything with a camouflage pattern or in olive green on some of the Islands.  Why?  Because those items and colours are reserved for their military.

So let’s go back to where we started from, 2 Timothy 3:15–17 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

And when you run into problems with things you don’t understand in the bible, or things that confuse you or disturb you, instead of throwing up your hands and walking away, remember those three things.  The Bible is a library, not a book.  The Bible was written for you, but it wasn’t written to you. Don’t just read a verse.

The staff is around to answer your questions, and if we can’t answer, we will tell you and help you find the answers. There are all kinds of resources online, but just remember Abraham Lincoln’s advice: “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

One thought on “Reconstructing our Faith in the Bible

  1. Very interesting and true.Thank you for bringing this up…we need to b reminded of these points every once on a while

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *