Question: I watched a couple of the "Sharing the Light" messages on YouTube, and I was curious if you believe that the bible is the word of God. What is the purpose of the bible for Christians? (Steve, asked by email)
Answer: The writer of what we call John’s gospel said the “word” was an eternal Reality and that it was made “flesh.” The institutional Church has always interpreted that to mean Jesus was the word (voice, messenger) of divine truth. In the Hebrew scriptures, the “word of God” was the prophetic word spoken by the prophets to their particular communities. The bible that we have is a collection of sacred stories that the Church canonized hundreds of years after the writers of those stories had died. So, when we call the bible the “word of God,” it almost suggests that God dictated every word, or that God somehow channeled a heavenly message through human vessels…in other words, that God wrote the bible. I must say that I do not believe that. We find too many human prejudices in the bible that I could never attribute to God. And we find information that we now know to be scientifically inaccurate. We also find inconsistencies in the bible (like two contradictory creation accounts).
So, while we may euphemistically call the bible the world of God, we must not mistake that to mean the “words” of God. The bible is a collection of stories written, edited, translated, interpreted, and taught by humans. The bible covers multiple cultures and it covers about 1300 years of writing. The stories are wonderful in that they show people struggling to make meaning in their lives and they share their experiences, beliefs, hopes, disappointments, creativity, and growth. We aren’t meant to idolize their stories, but to courageously follow their example. We are meant to ask our own questions and share our own stories. As we follow the brave examples of the biblical characters, then the divine word comes alive in us. I find the bible to be very important, but only after we liberate it from the limitations of literalism that we have traditionally tried to place on it.