The sanitized version of the scriptures that is taught in Sunday School classes and preached from the pulpit gives a one-dimensional view of the complex heroes and heroines whose stories are told in the Bible. Consequently, those who were raised in religious denominations that do not require regular bible study remain unaware of the sometimes contradictory and often perplexing actions of those who have been presented as ultimate role models. And even those whose religious backgrounds in- clued regular reading of the scriptures are often unaware of the conflicts reported in the Bible because they read it through the distorted lens of the religiously correct in-terpretations they have been taught.
But an objective reading quickly reveals that far from being exemplary role models who exhibited a few, understandable, human frailties, some biblical heroes behaved in ways that are best characterized as mean-spirited, contemptible or ungodly.
In the secular world, the destruction of pertinent records and a conspiracy of silence have often been used in an effort to suppress those facts of a person’s life that are deemed undesirable. But the bible is unique in that although the facts have not been changed countless generations have managed to ignore much of what the good book has to say about the less savory aspects of some of its most revered heroes.
Unlike the interpretations of many of its readers, the Bible does not present a one-sided view of the events it chronicles. It records the continuity and the changes that took place in the understanding of who God is and what constitutes a godly life. The Bible tells of the struggle between opposing values that manifested itself in the political, social and religious life of a nation. It is a struggle that continues in our own time, in a Western civilization that established itself on a Judeo-Christian foundation.
Because the scriptures preserve a record of the heights to which a people can aspire, as well as the depths to which they can fall, the revelation of a God of mercy, love and compassion co-exists with the worship of a violent god-of-war, made in the image of fallen man. The compassionate Shepherd of the 23rd Psalm vies for worship with the violent deity who demanded the extermination of “every man, woman, child and animal,” in the defeated city of Jericho.
Unfortunately, there are those Christians who claim the Bible as their moral and spiritual guide yet refuse to acknowledge that it documents a struggle between opposing values. They are “Biblians”. For them every word is inerrant; free from error, and equally true. For them the worship of a violent god who demands the death of His enemies is the same God who tells people they must turn their weapons of war into implements of agriculture: that they must beat their swords into plowshares.
Biblians preface the scriptures they quote with the words “God says” or “the Bible says.” This gives equal value to whatever point they are making and equal value to its source. The teachings of Jesus and the great prophets of Israel take their place along side of the views of obscure biblical characters like Jephthah and Jabez; men whose spiritual development leaves much to be desired.
Along with identifying just who said what in the Bible, the essays in this book shine a spotlight on biblical facts which the committed, as well as the casual, Christian reader seem to ignore.
For example: the Bible reports that the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were not primarily sexual; they were sins of social injustice. And rather than portraying the mighty Samson as a godly hero, the scriptures tell the story of a brawling, hedonistic bully who killed forty innocent men because he lost a bet. There is also the much-vaunted wisdom of Solomon, which did not prevent him from building altars for the god Molech, who was especially pleased by human sacrifices.
The Bible can be a beacon for the spiritual traveler, but when the reader refuses to acknowledge what the text actually says, or makes no distinction between the precepts of the God of divine revelation and the dictates of the god created by human beings in their own fallen image, it loses its value as a moral and spiritual guide.
Unlike Christianity, which elevates the teachings of Christ above all others, the veneration of whatever the Bible says has the effect of neutralizing the teachings of Jesus and devaluing the oracles of the great prophets of Israel. It is a Christian aberration that can best be described as Biblianity. It is the sanctification of a book that often seems more like the worship of an idol. Instead of a graven image, carved or sculpted, it is the printed work in a gilt-edged book that is glorified. For Biblians, it has become a sacred object, an icon proudly carried about as a sure sign of their commitment to godliness.
WHAT THE BIBLE REALLY SAYS gives the reader an overview of the Bible in the hope that many will discover for themselves its greatness. It is a record of two thousand years of human striving and human conflict. It documents the struggle between good and evil; between violence and nonviolence; between religious correctness and spiritual understanding. It is a struggle that continues in our own time.
We know what the struggle entails, but because there is still so much to overcome we lose sight of the gains that have been made. In the world of a Judeo-Christian culture, the slavery that was an integral part of human history for millennia has been out-lawed. Women have increasingly participated in and given leadership to the world beyond the home. Compassion for the animals, those other sentient beings with whom we share the earth, is beginning to manifest itself in ways that challenge the age-old claim that they are “things” to be used and abused, without interference or repercussions. And we begin to understand that the earth, itself, cannot sustain itself if human greed is allowed to pollute and plunder it without restraint.
But the more we understand the more we are able to recognize the ways in which racism, sexism, specieism and ecological abuse manifests itself in our society. This can make the struggle seem endless, with no resolution in sight. But not to worry: the Bible tells how the struggle ends. Good triumphs over evil; justice over injustice; compassion over hatred and strife. The last book of the Bible, The Book of Revelation, describes the world of that triumph.
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. . .And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away...”