Saturday, December 5, 2015

Who wrote the Bible?

Who wrote the Bible? Let’s clear up the most common misconception. It wasn’t God. Was it “inspired” by God? Well, that’s complicated

Writing the Bible was the physical act of putting Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic words on paper, then translating them into other languages and differing versions within languages. God didn’t do that. Fallible, but inspired humans did.

The Bible appears in 513 languages. Which of more than 50 English translations do you read? Compare it with different English versions. Differences range from meaningless to meaning-changing. Compared your chosen version with another.

The stories were once told around campfires. People struggled to understand God. Most, like the Creation and Flood stories (yes, there are two of each in Genesis), came from other cultures and were adapted to fit new ones.

In ancient times, some opposed reducing oral tradition to writing. They wisely feared reducing God to words. Regardless, they were eventually reduced to writing. Some of the stories ended up in the Bible. Others didn’t.

Without printing presses, humans labored to hand-copy them. Imagine the monks, caged in monasteries day after day, copying the text from someone else’s copy. Were any words transposed, overlooked or altered?

With the printing press, humans were still involved, translating from one language to another, making choices about which words to use. Next we received countless versions of the Bible within each language.

God inspired some translators. Some were inspired by their own theological agenda, no less than the actual authors. Biblical scholarship is a relatively new discipline. Many feel the text is sufficient unto itself without delving into the history and culture of ancient times. The process of getting the Bible from the oral tradition to the version you read should make clear that God asks more.

William Bradford, the colonial governor of Jamestown, thought learning Hebrew would bring him closer to the original intent of scripture. Closer? Maybe, but not fully.

Tradition teaches Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, David the Psalms, the writings of the Prophets by he whose name each carries, and Ecclesiastes by King Solomon. Scholars have learned something different.

If only one man wrote the first five books, why the contradictions? God wants us to wrestle with the text the way Jacob wrestled with God. Scholars of good faith have many theories about who wrote those books.  Richard Freidman’s book “Who Wrote the Bible?” concludes, “There’s hardly a Biblical scholar in the world who would claim that the Five Books of Moses were written by Moses, or by any one person.”

Similar debates erupted about much of the Bible. For example, scholars believe that others wrote several letters attributed to Paul.

Does it matter? The truth always matters, especially when one sets out to use verses from select translations to prove what they think God’s says. Take one of the today’s great debates. Paul’s 1st Corinthians list of those “who will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” The “New Living Translation,” includes “those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality.” The Douay-Rheims Bible doesn’t include “homosexuals,” but only fornicators, idolaters, and adulterers. The Weymouth New Testament leaves out homosexuals but adds “any who are guilty of unnatural crime” whatever that is. We can pick and choose to prove our point.

Liberal Christians tend to find the authority in scripture by looking at the big picture, viewing it all as one story, written by deeply spiritual people, of how God and humans understand one another.

Since the beginning, humans sought a relationship with God. The words of the Bible describe that search. Men and women with deep, inexplicable spiritual connections to God, and an understanding far exceeding ours, wrote the Bible, producing writings that sustain us and guide us.

Let go of the indefensible idea that scripture is “the inerrant word of God.” It chronicles a human journey to understanding, giving our lives meaning while giving scripture greater inspirational power.

Rodger McDaniel is the Pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church. He has a law degree form the University of Wyoming and a master of divinity degree from the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.


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  2. We Muslims also engage in this discussion, examining the link to Muhammad (PBUH) when considering the legitimacy of actions/statements attributed to the Prophet (PBUH) regarding the word of God, The Compassionate, The Merciful. The words are an important guide, but the sincere connection still lies in the heart.
    Thank you for your thoughtfulness.