Is the Bible a Book of Absolute Nonsense?

A reader named John recently left this comment on the post, “Curses or Consequences: Did God Really Curse Adam and Eve?

I think it’s the same as 99.85% of the worlds Scientists .. That man evolved and the bible is a book of absolute nonsense, written by anonymous bronze age Nomads, who thought the Earth was a ” circle ” at the centre of the Universe and the Moon was a ” Lamp ” ..

Christians are delusional and deceive themselves into believing things that simply cannot be true ..

Hi John,

Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. You may be surprised to hear that I agree with most of what you are saying—except your statement that “the Bible is a book of absolute nonsense.”

I’m a theist myself. Yet I enjoy conversations with thoughtful atheists. I often come away with new ideas and perspectives that add to my understanding of the universe we live in.

It is quite surprising to me, however, that many atheists and fundamentalist or evangelical Christians share the same approach to the Bible. They read it as if it were meant to be a literal, inerrant text. The only real difference is that the fundamentalists and evangelicals believe in that interpretation, whereas the atheists reject it—and the Bible along with it.

And yet . . . that literal view of the Bible is an anomaly in the history of Bible-based beliefs. In fact, it is a very recent development in Bible interpretation.

What sort of book is the Bible?

The Bible

The Bible

The idea that the Bible is meant to be read in a literal and scientific manner never showed up in Christianity until the early to mid 1800s. It was a response to the scientific revolution by a group of Christians whose rather black-and-white beliefs were threatened by the discoveries of science.

The Bible itself never claims to be literally true and inerrant. (See the article, “‘Christian Beliefs’ that the Bible Doesn’t Teach.”) That idea would never have occurred to its authors. The Bible was written in the “mythic” phase of humanity, before science as we know it today existed. People in those days simply didn’t think in terms of physics and biology. Instead, the cultures of that time thought in terms of metaphors and symbols of greater human and divine realities. Their storytelling reflects this way of thinking.

The error made by fundamentalists and by many atheists is to think that the Bible is a textbook of science and history. The Bible is not a book about science and history. It’s a book about the human condition, the development of culture and ethics, and the relationship of various human cultures to their God or gods. Even from a purely secular perspective, the Bible is a treasure trove of human literature and cultural history. It’s just not a book about science.

I realize that many people think there is a conflict between science and the Bible. But that is an artificial conflict generated by people who are reading modern, scientific meanings into the Bible that never even crossed the minds of its original authors. For a different view of the Bible from a spiritual perspective, see the article, “Can We Really Believe the Bible?” From a non-spiritual perspective, there is a lot of very good material out there written by secular scholars who study the Bible as literature and as cultural history.

My suggestion for you is not to get stuck on the low-level literal and quasi-scientific view of the Bible promulgated by Christian fundamentalists. It’s not an intelligent way of reading the Bible. And it has only been around for a couple hundred years—a mere 5% of the 4,000 year sweep of Judeo-Christian history. There are much more enlightened ways of reading the Bible, both from a secular perspective and from a spiritual perspective.

I’m not saying you have to believe in God. That’s your choice. I only hope you will reconsider your opinion of the Bible. Don’t swallow the fundamentalist view of it, as so many atheists do.

Thanks again for stopping by. Your thoughtful comments and questions are always welcome here.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Science Philosophy and History, The Bible Re-Viewed
7 comments on “Is the Bible a Book of Absolute Nonsense?
  1. terence avella says:

    Hi Lee,

    I am trying to get through Heaven and Hell but admittedly it is a bit of a tough read.  I was wondering what your recommendations are for Swedenborg translation type books.  I saw a few listed on the website but I was hoping one stood out.  Thanks.

    Terence

    • Lee says:

      Hi Terence,

      I recommend the New Century Edition full (not Portable) paperback edition of Heaven and Hell. If money is no object, the deluxe hardcover edition is very nice. You can read a review of it, with links to purchase it on Amazon, here:
      Heaven and Hell, by Emanuel Swedenborg

      If you’d prefer to buy it direct from its publisher, the Swedenborg Foundation, you’ll find a link toward the end of this post:
      Who was Swedenborg? What Should I Read?

      The New Century Edition offers the most readable and modern translations of Swedenborg’s works. In addition, the full paperback and deluxe hardcover editions have scholarly introductions and footnotes to help you understand unfamiliar words and ideas, and to put the book in the context of Swedenborg’s time. The Portable editions contain only the translation itself, without the introduction and footnotes. Since the New Century Edition is still in progress, not all of Swedenborg’s works are in print yet in that edition. But for the ones that are, it is the best and most helpful edition to purchase.

      For Heaven and Hell specifically, before you read it straight through from the beginning (which I do recommend), you might want to look through the Table of Contents and pick out a few chapters to read that pique your interest, just to get your feet wet. Heaven and Hell starts out with some rather theological and abstract chapters before it gets into the descriptions of heaven, angels, and how they live. Sometimes people don’t make it through those first heady chapters, so they never get to all the fascinating descriptions of everyday life in heaven, the world of spirits, and hell.

  2. Doug Webber says:

    I think we should clarify that while Gen. 1-11, the Prophets, and Revelation are symbolic, the rest is actually historical, but with a hidden meaning behind it. That the symbolic interpretation was taken by the Jews, can be seen in the first century writing of Philo of Alexandria. But beyond that, I think there is a general denial of anything spiritual or visionary, based on the philosophy of materialism.

    • Lee says:

      I agree that materialism is what’s blocking people from seeing deeper spiritual meanings in the Bible. Ironically, that materialism extends right into the so-called Christian Church itself.

    • Lee says:

      However, even the “historical” parts of the Bible are not history in the sense that we think of it today. The point of those books was not to provide an accurate account of what took place in earlier days–as much of history today aims to do. It was to provide meaning and context for the people and their relationship with one another, with others outside of their particular clan or culture, and with God.

      Writers in those days did not have the same sense as historians today that their stories must tell the accurate story of exactly what took place in a literal, material sense. It was more like storytelling to convey meaning. Yes, it was based on actual events as recalled by those who originally took part in them. However, as the story passed down through the generations as oral history, it went particular directions and took particular shapes in response to the experiences and ideas of the current community. By the time it was written down, it had taken many shapes and shades of meaning that were not present in the original events.

      In other words, the “historical” parts of the Bible are more like historical novels or like big screen movies “based on a true story” than they are like documentaries or histories. In a historical novel or a movie based on a true story, the author is illustrating certain themes or ideas or the interaction of particular human character types. The “history” or “true story” part simply serves as a framework in which to convey the human realities that the author wants to convey.

      So although the Bible does contain some historically verifiable people, places, and events, it would be a mistake to read it as if it were a historical account, or to rely on it to tell us the story of what actually took place historically. That was never the intention of those stories even in the minds of the original storytellers. They were not all that interested in the literal or material events of history. They were interested in conveying deeper messages about the human condition and our relationship with God.

  3. Well said! I just found your blog this evening, but I must say I’m already a fan.

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