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The Bible is dead; long live the Bible

Timothy Beal, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education urges people to read the Bible for themselves and hear the variety of perspectives, many voices and richness of the various books:

When it comes to the Bible, many feel there is a single right meaning—the one its divine author intended. “Well, what does the Bible say?” “The Bible is very clear about that.” This is part of the iconicity of the Bible in contemporary society, the idea of it as the one and only divinely authored and guaranteed book of answers, with one answer per question. No more, no less.

For many potential Bible readers, that expectation that the Bible is univocal is paralyzing. You notice what seem to be contradictions or tensions between different voices in the text. You can’t find an obvious way to reconcile them. You figure that it must be your problem. You don’t know how to read it correctly, or you’re missing something. If the Bible is God’s perfect, infallible Word, then any misunderstanding or ambiguity must be the result of our own depravity. So you either give up or let someone holier than thou tell you “what it really says.” I think that’s tragic. You’re letting someone else impoverish it for you, when in fact you have just brushed up against the rich polyvocality of biblical literature.

He concludes:

Attachment to the cultural icon of the Bible is similarly debilitating. It’s a false image, an idol. If you see it, kill it. The Bible is dead; long live the Bible. Not as the book of answers but as a library of questions, not as a wellspring of truth but as a pool of imagination, a place that hosts our explorations, rich in ambiguity, contradiction, and argument. A place that, in its failure to give clear answers and its refusal to be contained by any synopsis or conclusion, points beyond itself to mystery, which is at the heart of the life of faith.

We might even go so far as to say that the Bible kills itself. It deconstructs itself. Reading it undermines the iconic idea of it as a univocal, divinely authored book and our desire to attach to it as such. Scriptures have a tendency to exceed the boundaries of orthodoxy and resist closure. The Bible keeps reopening theological cans of worms. It resists its own impoverishment by univocality. In so doing, it fails to give answers, leaving readers biblically ungrounded.

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Bill Moorhead
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Blchitwood: Quite right. This, however, is their problem.

It's an excellent article. Prof. Beal is right on target.

(A gazillion comments on Dr. Beal's article. I had no idea so many ninnies read the CHE.)

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Blchitwood
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Blchitwood

This article will not be liked by those who worship the Bible instead of God.

Please sign your name next time you comment - thanks ~ed.

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