The Bible is a dominant force in our culture today. It is a source of comfort and encouragement for millions and a source of abuse and pain for millions of others. As a former Southern Baptist pastor and university Bible professor and now since 1981, an openly gay pastor, teacher, writer, Internet evangelist, and community activist, I have had to face and deal with the Bible as both a blessing and a curse, a source of healing and a weapon of oppression.
Homosexuals are not the only people who are systematically attacked and oppressed by the abusive use of the Bible. Women, children, various racial groups, and other minorities also have suffered under the lash of religious and Bible abuse. My web site on Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse is written from the point of view of a gay man and is addressed primarily to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. This is my world and my arena of personal experience and Christian calling.
I believe, however, that what I have learned about the Bible and how to use the Bible in positive and healthy ways is of value to all people of faith and not just for homosexuals.
Many people who have been oppressed by the Bible and religion have understandably abandoned the Bible and no longer see any practical or spiritual value in the Bible. This holiday season is a good time to take a fresh look at the Bible and discover for yourself how you can be objective about the Bible and use it for spiritual and practical encouragement and help.
Give Yourself A New Bible
Changing the way you see the Bible and what it means can be like finding a new Bible that finally speaks to you and offers positive spiritual encouragement and help.
For me, Jesus is the key and guide to a healthy objective use of the Bible. I have discussed Jesus’ use of the Bible in “Jesus and the Bible” in my site. No two people experience Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus in exactly the same way, which leads to the kind of diversity and variety in life and ministry of individual Christians as described by Paul in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. These three chapters set forth the principle of diversity within faith and open the door for individuals to experience Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus in ways that fit each person of faith.
The words “diversities” and “varieties” used by Paul are the Greek word “heresy”, which can mean both good and bad diversity. Without “heresy”, the church denies the freedom “for which Christ set us free” (Galatians 5:1) and the freedom that the Spirit brings (2 Corinthians 3:17). If you really follow the teaching of Paul, you “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is working through you both to desire and to accomplish God’s will” (Philippians 2:12-13) and thereby celebrate and enjoy your individuality within the diversity that is God’s gift to all people in Christ.
Biblical literalism and judgmental legalism are blinding and binding forces that work against discovering the liberating truth in Jesus and in the Bible as viewed by and through Jesus. The use of certain “proof texts” like 2 Timothy 3:16 to prove that the Bible is “the word of God” not only ignores the clear message of John 1:1-14 that Jesus is the word of God but also uses the same kind of selective, ignorant, and out-of-context abuse of the Bible that is employed to attack and condemn oppressed and outcast people.
I have regularly added new material to my web site section on “Hebrew and Greek” within the larger section on “The Bible and Homosexuality”. If you have not recently looked at the “Hebrew and Greek” material, you might find helpful information for seeing the Bible in a different more positive and liberating light.
Whenever you have Bible questions that you think I might be able to answer for you, please e-mail me and I will try to find and send to you the information you need. My most recent addition of material about the history of the Bible and the source of chapter and verse divisions was the result of questions asked by readers of my site.
Your questions about the Bible can help me to know what new material I need to add to my site. Please share your questions with me. I can learn and do learn a lot from you.
Changing Forms and Shapes of the Bible
Dr. Clyde T. Francisco was a great scholar and teacher who taught me many of my Bible courses at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He was my teacher after the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was published and had been condemned by many fundamentalists as evil and as a Communist book (because it had a red cover!). Dr. Francisco said that the reason the average church person had problems with the Revised Standard Version Bible was because their pastors had never taught the people that the Bible has a history. He was right.
No version of the Bible looks today as it did originally. Many changes have been made in the way that biblical materials are packaged. The original manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible were written on scrolls that were rolled up and tied with a cord. Even in the time of Jesus, individuals did not own Bibles. The sacred scrolls were kept in a special box in the synagogue and taken out for reading by special teachers and students and for Sabbath services. Changing the form of the Bible materials from scrolls to stacks of pages came early in the history of the New Testament. Perhaps the greatest difference in the original manuscripts and our Bibles today is that both ancient Hebrew and Greek were often written with no space between the words, without punctuation, and without any division into chapters and verses.
Bible materials were first divided into chapters in 1238 by Cardinal Hugo de San Caro of Spain. The division of Bible materials into verses was done in 1551 by Robert Estienne. No systematic plan was followed in either chapter or verse divisions, which often seem to be quite arbitrary. This means that until after the time of Martin Luther (1483-1546), no verse divisions existed. Luther’s translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into German, containing no verse divisions, was printed and widely used to fuel the fires of the Reformation.
The ancient manuscripts had no divisions into chapters and verses. Many of the chapter and verse divisions break apart complete thoughts and ideas that change the emphasis and thus the exact meaning from the original. Modern punctuation also serves to mislead the reader into separating ideas and breaking up the original ideas and emphasis in the text.
The Gutenberg Bible of 1455 was the first Bible printed from movable type. This Bible was the Latin version that was revised and translated by many scholars, including Jerome (AD 347-419), who revised and translated the New Testament. It contains no verse divisions. It also contains brief passages that have never been found in any ancient Greek manuscript. One example is the “Trinity” verse in I John 5:8, “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth…” This passage has never been found in any ancient manuscript.
The verse is in the Latin version, however, and when the King James translators came to it and did not find it in the Greek manuscript that they were using, they simply translated the Latin into Greek and used that as their basis for the English translation that is included in the KJV of the Bible! Other passages, including the last seven verses of the Book of Revelation, were also missing from the Greek text; so the scholars also translated them from Latin into Greek and then based the KJV on their English translation of the Greek that they had created with no ancient manuscript evidence.
These are only a few of the reasons why you will profit from using a carefully researched and translated modern language Bible like the “New American Standard Bible,” which I have discussed in my material on “What Bible to Use” in the section on “Hebrew and Greek.”
The Bible does indeed have a history. Learn about it. The three volume set of The Cambridge History of the Bible tells the details. Also see relevant articles in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia: 4 volumes and a supplementary volume: Abingdon Press, 1962 & 1976. This is the best source I know for learning accurate information about the Bible.
Remember that the Bible had endured many years of history before Jesus used it, and he still found valuable spiritual resources in the Scriptures. God is still able to speak in any way God chooses to speak, and God speaks to those who are willing to listen. Jesus listened to God and heard in the Bible things that everybody else had missed. Jesus saw and demonstrated God’s inclusive unconditional love for all people. The Spirit of Jesus can guide your open minded study of the Bible and the working of God in your own life.
Learn from every experience and every person that pass through your life. The Bible has a history, and so do you. How has your personal history shaped your use of the Bible? What is God trying to say to you today?
The author of Invitation To Freedom and Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse, Rev. Rembert S. Truluck served in Metropolitan Community Churches in Atlanta, San Francisco and Nashville from 1988 to 1996. He earned a doctorate in sacred theology from Furman University, serving from 1953 to 1973 as a Southern Baptist preacher. He resigned as a professor at Baptist College at Charleston (now Charleston Southern University) and became an MCC pastor after being outed to the college’s board of trustees.