II Timothy 3:16
I teach a class on the Bible called Bible Basics (version 1.0). Fourteen adults showed up the first night. I started with this question: “Why would you come out on a Wednesday night for a class on the Bible?” Hands shot up. For the next ten minutes folks said things like: “The last time I had a class on the Bible was fifty years ago.” “I get frustrated when I start reading the Bible.” “I want to know why the Bible has so many contradictions and inconsistencies.” “I want to understand it better but don’t know where to start.” “The Bible confounds me.”
These were honest responses from people, most of whom are college-educated and many of whom have graduate degrees. They weren’t afraid to admit that reading the Bible can be intimidating business. We also got around to lamenting that whenever the Bible is in the news, far too often it is used by people in power as a weapon against those without power.
I reminded the class that whenever we talk about the Bible as “inspired by God” we place ourselves somewhere on a wide spectrum that includes others who make the same claim. To make my point, I noted what churches in the same town have on their web sites about their understanding of the Bible. Some claim that the Bible is “complete and entirely without error in the original manuscripts.” Another church wants web visitors to know that the Bible is “verbally inspired and therefore contains no errors as originally given of God.” Another congregation announces on its page that membership requires one to believe in the “plenary inspiration of the whole Bible.” The what? Plenary inspiration, as I soon discovered thanks to google search, is the belief that the whole Bible in all its parts is equally inspired and authoritative.
“All scripture is inspired by God.” Many understand this to mean that the Bible is as changeless and fixed as cured cement — once said, always said; truths once spoken and interpreted never vary, what was normative once is normative today. I recall a lecture given by my friend Dr. Norman Kansfield. In speaking to church folks he said something close to this: “If we say we worship a living God, then God, like all things living, is constantly changing and our understanding of God is constantly changing.” That’s the message God had for Moses at the burning bush. When Moses asked for God’s name, God didn’t say, “I am who I am,” or “I am today the same I was yesterday.” A more faithful reading of the Hebrew text is: “I will become who I will become.”
In that truth I find the Bible’s inspiring message. God will become for us what the current situation, present danger, or future reality requires God to become for us. That’s why slavery is no longer “God-ordained,” why relationships between men and women are no longer hierarchical, and why gays and lesbians should never have to change a thing about their orientation or behavior.