What Do We Do With The Bible?


We’re in our month of “Back to Basics” and the questions/concerns/fears are already rolling in. So let me start by saying we see you and we hear you.

Figuring out your faith is complicated at the best of times. Adding in concerns about your sexuality and gender identity (especially when the church has often been pretty awful at dealing with those concerns) just makes everything else more fraught.

I hear you asking, “Tell me what to believe. Show me what I’m supposed to do next. Explain it to me. Help me.” And I get it. Especially for those of us who grew up in traditions where the was always only one right answer this push for certainty can feel overwhelming. We want to know what to believe. We want to get it right.

But it’s not quite that easy.

So let’s start at the beginning. The Bible.

Since the Bible is the book that so often shapes our conversations about what it means to be a Christian we need to start by understanding what the Bible is…and what it isn’t.

Growing up in a fundamentalist evangelical church I was taught several things: The Bible is the inerrant and inspired Word of God, the Bible is instructive and will give us the answers to any questions we might have, the Bible is the best way to understand God, and we should read and memorize the Bible.

What about you? What were you taught about the Bible growing up? 

It all seems pretty straightforward, right? Read the Bible, understand everything about God.

But it’s not quite that simple. The Bible can be confusing. It’s sometimes disturbing. It doesn’t always say things clearly. And that’s just reading it at face value. What about the historical context? The differences in social traditions and morals? The problems with language and with translations?

The Bible is a collection of texts of many different genres. There is poetry and mythology, songs and laments, stories and geneaologies and letters. It’s got the Hebrew Scriptures bundled together with the Christian Scriptures.

The Bible was written over hundreds (possibly thousands) of years being passed down first orally and then written. It was written by hundreds of authors, edited by still others, and translated by many more.

The Bible is not a monolith.

The Bible is complicated and messy. It sometimes contradicts itself. There are factual errors (numbers of troops listed, place names, the order of events).

The Bible is not a rule book.

It’s not intended to be a list of do’s and don’t’s where if you just check the things off the list you are good to do. It’s instead intended to be the story of a community of people figuring out together what it means to serve God.

The Bible doesn’t have all of the answers for what it means to live in the year 2017.

How could it? It was written in a completely different time with different values and morals.

The Bible is not the only window we have to God.

I often hear people saying that either the Bible is the inerrant Word of God or its totally worthless. That’s rubbish.

The Bible can (and does) have authority and meaning without it needing to be inerrant. The Bible has authority because it’s been declared Sacred Scripture by communities throughout the ages who use it to guide and inspire them. The Bible is given its power by how it is used when read in community.

Sometimes that power has been negative as we’ve seen when people use the Bible to justify their own prejudices and bigotry (like how the Bible was used by slaveowners and how it’s used today by people who hate LGBTQ+ people). Which is why we can’t just take what religious leaders say at face value. We have to read and learn and study and explore.

We are also given the gifts of community, of reason, and of personal experience. All of these things help us to see and understand who God is and what God wants from us. Queer and transgender people can and must read and interpret the Bible for ourselves in community.

So here’s what the Bible is:

It’s a collection. It’s an inspiration. It’s life giving.

It’s the story of several communities trying to make sense of themselves, their place in the world, and their relationship with God.

The Bible tells us what God is concerned about. The Bible tells us the story of Jesus.

And if you read Scripture from Genesis to Revelation what you’ll see over and over again is a God who is concerned with people who are on the margins; the poor, the oppressed, the sick, women, the underdog. God is concerned with building communities centered on those marginalized people. God is concerned with the liberation of those people; both their spiritual liberation and their economic and physical liberation.

God is concerned with justice and with moving people to do the work of justice.

It’s the story of a hopeful future, one where everyone has what they need, where we work together to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth.

The Bible isn’t a rule book, it’s so, so, so much more.

Want some help learning new ways to read the Bible?

  • What Is The Bible by Rob Bell
  • Reading the Bible Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg
  • Walking Toward Resurrection by Father Shannon TL Kearns
  • The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus by John Dominic Crossan

If you’re looking for something a bit more academic:

  • Binding the Strong Man by Ched Myers
  • The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan

PS: We’re having a special, free webinar on September 21 to dig into all of this even more. The webinar has passed. There are two ways you can dive deeper. Join the waitlist for when we hold a course on how to read the Bible and/or watch a replay of this webinar in the Sanctuary Collective webinar archive.

This article was published by Fr. Shannon Kearns