The Bible and the UCC

bible_and_uccWhat do we mean at St. James when we say that we take the Bible seriously, not literally?

We see the ‘library’ of writings we know as the Bible as testimonies of faith, the living word of God handed down to us through the experience of fallible human beings. It is God’s story, a story intended to include us.

We do not fear, but rather embrace the ambiguity and contradictions we find in the Bible; we can marvel that God thought so highly of us that we were not left with a mere rule book, but rather a word of so many dimensions that it would take a lifetime to explore.

We understand that the Bible has been misused, to mislead and do harm; but also that the answer to misuse is never disuse, but better use. We take the word of God seriously enough to question our own and others’ understandings with regard to the limitations of time, place and culture.

It can take some time for the implications of the truths revealed in the Bible to be fully realized. For instance, today we understand that slavery is wrong and irreconcilable with a Christian way of life. Yet early Christians, including the Apostle Paul, seemed to accept the practice. When Paul said that in Christ there is “no longer slave or free,” it came like a revelatory flash, but even he did not understand all the implications fully. Only hundreds of years later were the full implications of that understanding seen or lived.

We recognize that God is not restrained by the borders of our imagination. We are as fallible as those human beings who have gone before us, and we do not know through whom the Holy Spirit might speak. We have no authority figure telling us how we must interpret the Bible, rather we study, listen and seek discernment in community.

Excerpts in italics are from The Bible and the UCC, a booklet prepared by the United Church of Christ Writer’s Groupdownload PDF (5.60MB).

2 thoughts on “The Bible and the UCC

  1. Kirk Halgren

    I once was accosted by a fundamentalist as I filled my gas tank. He was handing out pamphlets and said he believes every last word of the Bible. I pointed out that the computer scientists (my tribe) were badly mistaken when they first tried to automate translation a few decades back. Initially they thought simply matching vocabulary was all they needed to do, but this ignores the role of culture and context in symbolizing meaning. I assured him that even a single translation from one language to another lost some meaning and added others, and the Bible has been through many different languages. A close friend, a former Carmelite nun told me that most scholars agree that popes back in the first few centuries edited out all mention of spiritualism (praying to our late relatives and friends) as well as reincarnation for political purposes. Even if Gutenberg got it perfectly when he printed it, the language itself changes over time. The word ‘girl’ used to include both genders, meaning simply a young person. ‘Redhead’ seems a misnomer for many who have bright orange hair, but originally the meaning of the word ‘red’ included other shades such as orange, gold and bronze. The word ‘orange’ entered English from French after the age of sail when explorers brought them back from the tropics. I told him if I had seen God write it all, and he used American English, then I’d believe each word. It seems clear to me that we are expected to think about what the Bible tells us. The Garden of Eden story to me is a metaphor for growing inside our mothers and being born into this world where we gain knowledge of good and evil.

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