What Bible do you read? I think it may be a good question to ponder as we enter into a new year. I am not just referring to translations (King Jimmy or NRSV) vs. paraphrases (The Living Bible or The Message), but the more troublesome tendency to pick and choose parts of the Bible to pay attention to and those parts we think it is OK to ignore. On that count, I fear most of us must plead guilty, even if we are keenly aware of the all-too-human-tendency to cut and paste and are trying to avoid it. Who has not sat in a comprehensive Bible study like Disciple and heard someone comment: “I can’t wait until we get past this part, it is so … boring … violent … bloody … troublesome …”
Of course, Christians have always known that some parts of Scripture are more edifying than others, that is a simple truth that would be difficult to deny. How many sermons have you heard on the left-handed gutting of Eglon (Judges 3:20-23) or the violent raping and subsequent dismemberment of the concubine in Judges 19:25-30? (Though I must say I did preach once at a minister’s conference on domestic violence where the latter passage was my text). But the question I pose here runs deeper than the recognition that we like certain parts of the Bible more than others. The problem occurs when we dub ourselves senior editor of our own privatized version of Scripture that is tailored to fit our personal felt-needs.
The list of such self-proclaimed editors is legion, including but certainly not limited to Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the U.S. in his book “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,” also known to many as the Jefferson Bible. Jefferson took it upon himself to compile a manuscript of Jesus’ teaching that removed the “magical” and superstitious elements of Scripture that he found so objectionable. The result is a “bible” rid of such pesky difficulties like miracles, virgin birth, resurrection, and anything in Jesus’ life that might smack too much of divinity. In the words of Marilyn Mellowes:
“Jefferson saw Jesus as
a man, of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, (and an) enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions of divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition by being gibbeted according to the Roman law.
In short, Mr. Jefferson’s Jesus, modeled on the ideals of the Enlightenment thinkers of his day, bore a striking resemblance to Jefferson himself.” (from “Thomas Jefferson and his Bible”)
Jefferson’s efforts resemble the marble-playing Jesus Seminar that started out trying to separate the historical Jesus from the Christ of faith, a project that many scholars today would find problematic at best. But the more interesting question I would raise for further reflection is: Do we do the same thing in our own use or misuse of Scripture? Do we not also want to boil everything down to 5 principles for living or 10 ways to make the most of God’s promises? Are these things not also attempts to “cut and paste” Scripture to suit our own needs?
For further reflection:
- What parts of Scripture do you find objectionable, challenging, or difficult?
- Which passages are your favorites?
- Do you engage in a systematic method of study, reading, reflection, and sermon preparation that might expose you to texts you might avoid on your own?
Any thoughts and reflections that you want to add? What bible do you read?