Four Ideas on What the Bible Really Is

Is the Bible a library, or a monolythic book?

Is the Bible a library, or a monolythic book?

Like it or not, western culture owes a lot to the Bible. From views on law and human rights down to common phrases and vernacular, much of what is commonly accepted in current culture can be traced back to things written in scripture. 
That said, the Bible is arguably the most disputed book of all time. There are those who would like nothing better than to have it disappear entirely along with pagers and pet rocks. There are others who see it as inspirational, even if they don’t embrace or believe everything it has to say. But all of the contradictory views of scripture can be summed up in one of three categories: 

By NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) (originally posted to Flickr as Gutenberg Bible) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


The Grab Bag: 

The “Grab Bag” approach to the Bible is essentially an approach that assumes that the passages in the Bible have some sort of value, whether they see it as a prophetic code like the writings of Nostradamus, a book of inspirational sayings like Chicken Soup for the Soul, or even as a book inspired by God, this approach to the Bible is largely intuitive and involves taking passages out of context in order to prove a point. This is a process known as eisegesis-the interpretation of a text by reading into it one's own ideas. This approach is largely unhelpful because one could prove practically anything they wanted by reading whichever passages most closely prove their point, and a large portion of the in-house quibbling in Christianity results from this approach to reading scripture. 
Another example of the “Grab Bag” approach is The Bible Code. As defined by Wikipedia, the Bible Code is “…a purported set of secret messages encoded within the Hebrew text of the Torah. This hidden code has been described as a method by which specific letters from the text can be selected to reveal an otherwise obscured message. Though Bible codes have been postulated and studied for centuries, the subject has been popularized in modern times by Michael Drosnin's book The Bible Code. 
“Many examples have been documented in the past. One cited example is that by taking every 50th letter of theBook of Genesis starting with the first taw, the Hebrew word "torah" is spelled out. The same happens in theBook of Exodus. Modern computers have been used to search for similar patterns and more complex variants, and published in a peer-reviewed academic journal in 1994. Proponents hold that it is exceedingly unlikely such sequences could arise by chance, while skeptics and opponents hold that such sequences do often arise by chance, as demonstrated on other Hebrew and English texts.” 

By Anonymous (photo by Adrian Pingstone) (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Religious Mythology

The “Religious Mythology” approach to the Bible is a school of thought that takes the Bible as a patchwork product of various writers with a diverse set of superstitious or religious views. These writings, through their various copying and editing over the years were changed to reflect whatever religious beliefs were widely embraced at the time so that any uniformity in the teachings of the Bible is the result, not so much of beliefs that remained consistent across centuries of time, but rather of revisions to make earlier writings match current beliefs. The “Religious Mythology” view may give a nod to some historical details contained in the Bible, but usually considers these so obscured among mythological elements as to be largely unreliable. As an example, in the Old Testament/Torah, this view would cite the similarities between elements of the book of Genesis and Babylonian myths, and conclude that during the time that Babylon controlled the majority of the Middle Eastern region, Hebrew scribes worked the Babylonian beliefs into their writings. 
In the New Testament, this view would, among other things, cite the seeming dissimilarity between the teachings of Jesus – teachings about social reform and the coming of God’s Kingdom – and the writings of Paul who seemed to focus on the building of a church separated from culture and society and on a sort of “internal kingdom” wherein the believer is the vessel of an immaterial Spirit of God. They would say that these contradictory views, or re-interpretations of Jesus’ teaching reflect an evolution of the Christian religious ideas over the years. 
People in this school of thought tend to pick scripture apart using broad assumptions. If there is an apparent change in the style of the writing, then that section was added by a later author. If the text makes a clear “prophetic” reference to a later event, that was retroactively added to the text or that text was written after the fact. If a different name for God is used, then this indicates that this was a different group of writings that were spliced together with the other writings. 
To this view, scripture is an interesting historical study or a work of literature, but cannot seriously be regarded as conveying any meaningful truth. 

Valentin de Boulogne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Unified Text 

This approach to the Bible takes the text to be, on the whole, the communication of a unified message that remains consistent across history. This view is largely held by orthodox Jews for the Old Testament/Torah, and Conservative Protestants for the entire Bible who believe the message is consistent because it was God-inspired. While most others would have difficulty believing that any text could remain consistent across a thousand years of time and thousands of re-copying, the Unified Text school takes the consistency of the scriptures as evidence of its inspiration. 

The “Grab Bag” method of interpreting scripture is inherently irrational. It has no real interest to what the text is actually saying; only what they can make it say. 
The other two methods are faced with two facts of scripture that have to be explained: some unity of message across the entire text of scripture, and the presence of the supernatural. The “Religious Mythology” approach begins with the assumption that the supernatural cannot exist, and so must find some other explanation for those things. The “Unified Text” method assumes that the supernatural is the explanation for these things.