Sunday, 12 March 2017

CAN THE BIBLE BE MADE INTELLIGIBLE ?

(Rev A.A. Morris, Wallsend.)
 It is a Christian's duty to understand the Bible. It is the duty of preachers to make it intelligible, and not to shrink from that task for fear of consequences. Why is it, that the majority of professional teachers of the Bible speak as if nothing had happened to the ancient idea that all Scriptures are equally inspired, of equal authority, and infallible?
The Bible will no more be destroyed as a revelation of God's dealings with men, of Divine love and compassion, and of human duty, because we speak the truth about it any more than the stars will fall from heaven if scientists analyse their composition. The claims of infallibility and inerrancy are so absurd that they foster infidelity and invite derision and contempt. No one whose opinion counts in the least degree now holds that the Bible was verbally inspired by God. It is a closed book because it is looked upon as a hopeless enigma. If we do not speak the truth about it, our children, grown to manhood and womanhood, will learn it from other sources, and will look upon the teachers of other days as either ignorant or cowardly. And this is continually going on. Truth is something we are ordered to find. Coleridge says, "He who begins by loving Christianity better than Truth will proceed by loving his own sect or church, better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all." Every scholar of the Bible must know that the story of Adam and Eve in the garden is not fact but fable. It is a beautiful and instructive parable. Who can ever think seriously of a literal rib being ripped from Adam's side as a foundation on which to build his wife, or a literal serpent, standing erect, beating a woman in an argument? The late Professor Denney, the most brilliant and influential of modern "orthodox" theologians, says "Studies in Theology" (p. 78), "No one who knows what science or history is can imagine that either science or history is to be found in the first three chapters of Genesis." The Garden story is only one of several similar stories to be found in records of ancient religions and mythology. The similarities are strong in all these legends. "It is an allegory of the birth of conscience, man's awakening to his secular conflict with evil. It includes answers to the old world wisdom to such questions as: Why is there such a thing as death? Why are men doomed to toil? Why the pains of motherhood? Why has mankind that shame of sex which the beasts have not? It teaches that man has freedom of will, that the world is to us a school of trial and temptation, that a single sin may lead to terrible results, that the sin of one brings suffering on many ....The whole story of creation in the Bible is a parable. We now know that evolution has been going on for countless ages, that geologists find relics of human bones and human handiwork which cause anthropologists to date man's life on the earth from 500,000 to 1,500,000 years, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Homer, and Socrates are but of yesterday.
 Many earnest people have tried in vain to reconcile the cruelties of the Old Testament done with God's authority and the God of Jesus Christ. The result too often is loss of faith in Christianity altogether. I believe the Old Testament contains a priceless revelation, but that means something very different to believing such fables as the sun and moon standing still for a whole day at Joshua's command, so that slaughter might be continued—the thing is so palpably ridiculous—or that an axe-head floated, or that an ass (four-legged) spoke, or that when a dead man's body touched the decaying bones of the prophet the dead man sat up and ran home, or that Elisha, when little children made fun of his bald head, cursed them in God's name (bad tempered old man), and immediately two she bears (note the sex) came out of the wood and tore 42 of the children. (2 Kings, chapter 2, verses 23, 24. In the face of this what do men—educated men—mean when they babble the old formulae "that all scriptures are equally inspired, of equal authority, and equally infallible?" Was David inspired when he called blessed those who would take the children of the enemy and dash their brains out against the stones? Is it not right to believe that David was blood thirsty, rather than that God was a party to such a horrid business? Did God inspire the heavy curses of the Psalmists upon their foes' (Psalms 180, verse 10; Psalms 100, verses 7-14, etc., etc.) Was the God of the Old Testament like the Greek god Jupiter, cruel and vindictive, a packet of crackers, or a bundle of thunderstorms, or did men impute to Him their own cruel passions because they did not know better. Someone has said that "In the beginning God made man in His image, and ever since man has returned the compliment by making God in his (man's) image." It would not be difficult to supply chapter and verse of the Bible of errors in history, of contradictory statements, of faulty science. But the value of the Bible is not impaired by this, for the Bible is not a book of science, but a spiritual guide—"not to tell us how the heavens go, but how to get to heaven." What a tragedy the literalist has made of the Book of Jonah. To take it as history is to awaken derision, as a story it Is one of the most beautiful ever penned. Beautiful as a parable, ridiculous as history. No one had more profound reverence for the Old Testament than Jesus, and yet, in the Sermon on the Mount, He points out its imperfect morality and criticises it freely. To be in company of Jesus is good company. By imperfect morality I mean such passages as (Exodus, chapter 21, verses 21-22; Deuteronomy, chapter 14, verse 21). and there are many.
 For cold calculated brutality the story of the extermination of the Midianites surpasses anything In the records of Attila the Hun. (Numbers, chap. 31). The story begins, "And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, avenge the Children of Israel on the Midianites." Twelve thousand Hebrews attacked Midian, who, for some reason, seems either unable to fight or fly. They slew all the men, destroyed the towns and hamlets; the women, children and cattle were driven off as spoils to the victor. When they returned to camp Moses was angry (despite his reputation for meekness) because the soldiers had not butchered the women and girls and boys. He (under apparent Divine inspiration) gave orders that all the women who were not virgins were to be slain, and all the boys and babies to be killed. To put the matter boldly, the fact is that, under Moses' directions, claiming God's authority, 12,000 soldiers had to deal with perhaps 50,000 women and girls, to sift out which were not virgins, and slaughter them. The great host of mothers and prospective mothers was slain, and 33,000 virgins spared. If they had been so many swine the work would have been revolting—but women, mothers, little children, with all the ineffaceable beauty, interest and hope of our common humanity upon them . . . The very soul sickens . . . Can we intelligently speak of this and other debauches as the Word of God without discrimnation? Will anyone attempt to justify this thing? They wrought these ghastly deeds because they were savages. They claimed God's authority because that was the custom of the times. The crude idea of God that men held in those dark days is shown in a passage such as (Judges, chapter 1, verse 9);: "The Lord drove out the inhabitants of the mountains, but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had chariots of iron." That is, they could not drive them out, and therefore God could not drive them out. To them the two things were one and the same.
 There is no time to speak of the modern revival of prophecy. Illiterate people are often easily persuaded by cranks to believe that the prophets of Israel were men who wrote history before it came to pass. This kind of thing is merely a survival from the ages of superstition. The ancient prophets could not more forecast the future course of human affairs than man the modern preacher. The Bible is treated an if it were a Chinese puzzle, as if God hid in its pages a plan of world history for ages to come. What did Daniel know about Napoleon. And yet the writings of the prophets are searched for information about the future history of Austria, Turkey, or the Papacy. Can anything be more pitiful! These cranks produce a literature, which is a jumble of pathetic nonsense. The Bible writers know no more about their future than we know about ours. They were as much mistaken in their guesses as men to-day. For instance, in the Old Testament there are many predictions about the future of Jerusalem. The staggering truth is that not one ever received fulfilment, except that one that Jesus uttered in a voice choked with tears. That came to pass, and that only. Why not teach the Old Testament on the principle that it is a record of a people struggling up from the lowest form of savagery to decency? A record of blood and tears, history, fiction, parable, myth, folklore. Then the pathetic story is one of infinite fascination and of deep spiritual significance. It is a good working rule never to believe anything that is attributed to God in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, unless it comes up to the character of God as revealed by Jesus. It was enough for Jesus if men tried to love God and their fellows, and seek to live in the spirit of Christ. It would be no loss to the world, but gain, if all theological systems, Westminster Catechism, and 39 Articles were all thrown on the scrap heap (they had a use, but that day has gone), and replace them with a simple Christian religion based upon the teachings of Jesus alone. Some day it must come to that. Jesus said no word about creeds. The one passport into His kingdom is love; the one test of a Christian is Christlikeness.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) , Saturday 26 August 1922, page 2

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