Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Over the years, the combination of books that make up the Bible has been as disputed as which Doctor Who spin-offs are official.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but as I understand it the combination of books that make up today’s Bible were only definitively agreed upon about 500 years ago. Therefore, the accepted norm could well be slightly different again in the not-too-distant future, maybe even within this century.

Given the way that some parts of Christianity argue over certain nameless hot-topics in the Bible, casting-out the bits we don't 'get' might well turn out to be the way in which the Christian faith continues to diversify.

Different versions of the Bible even currently disagree over the correct order that the individual books should be printed in. For example, today’s mainstream Bible sorts Paul's letters first. Meanwhile the Hebraic Roots Version, for example, places the Pauline epistles later.

And then there’s that hole in the middle – between the old and new testaments - where the disputed deuterocanonical books come. Do y’count them or not?

I’ve always wanted to see a Bible that printed everything in chronological order, particularly if the deuterocanonical books are included. (which I haven’t read yet, falling as they do outside the generally agreed Bible)

There do appear to be a few "chronological" Bibles out there, but even my definition of "chronological" is probably different to another person's. For example, does one sort by book, verse or individual word? Does one merge similar verses? Where do the prophesies come?

In our super-customised society, where even the colour, sound and texture of one’s phone are individualised, it seems odd that our unique individual relationship with God should be locked into a single one-size-fits-all textbook.

What if everyone got to choose which books went into their own customisable Bible?

I see two problems:

1. We’d only pick the stuff we agreed with, and as a result we’d never be challenged by it. In the event of finding something we disagreed with, we’d just delete that book.

2. Such a list would surely be determined by answering the question “Which of these books do I believe are true?” Actually I guess that's sort of the same point.

Most Christians decide to believe that the whole Bible’s true, and then we're disciplined by whatever that includes. I’m sure we all have different reasons for that belief, but my one’s rubbish. I choose to believe it because 4-500 years ago this is the list a group of catholics (a denomination I don’t even belong to) said were the true ones, and today everyone tells me the same thing.

And anyway, what exactly does “true” mean?

At last here’s a quote from 2 Timothy:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

- 2 Tim 3:16-17 (NIV)

That often gets quoted as evidence of God's authorship of the Bible. Unfortunately 2 Corinthians says this:

When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.

- 2 Corinthians 10:12b (NIV)

Even if true, today the “God-breathed” nature of the Bible (which I accept) seems to have been seized-upon and exaggerated to sometimes superstitious extremes. Today’s Bible, so you might be told, is the Holy infallible unchanging word of God, which must never be added to, subtracted from or re-ordered, and should be read instead of self-help books, which are misleading, because their very existence implies that the Bible is in some way inadequate.

What does ‘scripture’ mean in the above verse? I’m no expert, but I look at the wealth of quite brilliant writing by some of today’s Christians (to clarify: certainly not my own) and have to honestly ask if that isn’t God-breathed too?

Sure that’s a dangerous path. A Christian writer might try his best to follow God in his/her writing, but write a book of which, for sake of argument, maybe 10% is his/her imperfect misunderstanding.

Fairly, we have to apply that question the Bible’s authors too though. Paul was also on a journey of learning. Surely he would have got stuff wrong as well?

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

- 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV)

Here, and elsewhere in his letters, Paul seems to believe that Christ’s return will be within his generation. If it hasn’t happened within 2,000 years, we have to fairly ask how much of Paul’s writing is God’s, and how much Paul’s.

Some certainly seem happy to apply that to their opinion of Ecclesiastes, so maybe we’re already picking and choosing.

Some people point at apparent contradictions within the Bible as evidence that it wasn't written by God. Flying in the face of that, Jesus seems to me to positively enjoy contradicting himself, sometimes within the same sentence.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

- Matthew 10:39 (NIV)

"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

- Matthew 20:16 (NIV)

When I come across passages that appear to contradict each other, I suppose I tend to have three methods of continuing to believe in both of them:

1. There might be a way of reconciling them that I can’t presently think of.

2. They are both true, but at different times / circumstances / contexts.

3. (in the case of Jesus’ quotes above) Both extremes can be true, but usually truth can be found somewhere between the two extremes.

I find some of Paul’s teaching hard, because it is so extreme. As it comes with so much other teaching in the Bible though, I have to consider if I should be looking at point three.

If one has made a genuine commitment to follow God, then implicit in that is the decision not to blindly obey what others say about him, alive or dead. Listen to them, yes. Take their thoughts on board, yes. Pray about it all, yes.

But one's first commitment is to God.

The Bible points to God, but the Bible is not itself God.

And maybe, just maybe, we should be careful not to become people who are actually distracted from God by the very signpost that is pointing us to him.


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