I read an interesting book recently that got me thinking. The book was called Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. How’s that for a provocative title? And to think, I picked it up – of all places! – at the church’s Garage Sale. Boy, you can get anything there!
The book was written by Bart D. Ehrman, who chairs the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina. Ehrman argues that the Bible we hold in our hands today is far removed from the writings of the original authors. Through thorough and exhaustive study of biblical languages and the earliest know manuscripts, Ehrman concludes that the words of scripture we have today have gone through countless revisions, accidental slips of the pen, and even intentional and agenda-driven changes. He asks the question, “If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture?”
His argument raises a lot of valid questions. Contrary to what some folks may say, the Bible is, as Erhman says, “a very human book.” That is not to take away from its divine inspiration. I believe what Paul tells Timothy, that all scripture is “God-breathed.” But I also know that the Bible didn’t drop out of the sky one day, and that those who claim, “If the King James Version was good enough for Paul, then it’s good enough for me!” don’t get it.
The story of how the Bible came to us is a fascinating one, and much too long for this space. Here’s the short version: God worked in this world, and humans wrote it down. The Bible is a divine-human collaboration (as is the church). God worked through humans to bring the revelation of scripture to light.
But by doing so, God knew what to expect. We humans aren’t perfect (can I get an “Amen”?). So if God chooses to work with us, God better be ready for the consequences, like churches that fight over the color of carpeting, pastors that preach snore-inducing sermons, and authors that insert their own opinions or let their emotions run away with them.
While many folks will argue that the Bible is infallible (meaning without any errors), I would take another approach. I believe the Bible is true. Period. Does that mean I believe we have to follow it word for word? If we should, then all our women better wear long-sleeved dresses to church next week (1 Timothy 2:9) and our men should come penniless and penitent (Luke 18:22).
I believe every sentence in the Bible contains God’s truth. Sometimes that truth is right on the surface (“Love your neighbor as yourself”); other times, it may require some digging on our part to unearth it (pick about any verse in Revelation!). The Bible is the word of God, and deserves to be treated with such authority. But we must also realize that God gave us brains to use in interpreting that word.
Was the Bible changed as it was passed down through history? Ehrman makes a compelling case, and I believe it very well may have been. But do you think that hinders God’s ability to be present in those words? If God can work through conniving Jacob and cowardly Peter and you and me, couldn’t God work through a clumsy scribe or an opinionated editor? I believe the Bible we have in our hands today is exactly the Bible God wants us to have. To claim anything else is to give humanity too much credit, and to not give God enough.