I don’t know about you, but when a bar of soap gets down to a sliver, I don’t throw it away. Instead, I press it on to a new bar so that I can use up the rest of it in the course of using the next bar. But that’s not what my mother did when I was growing up. She didn’t throw the slivers away either; that would have been wasteful and expensive. Instead, she would save up a bunch of the slivers for months. And when she had a big enough pile, perhaps 10 or 15, she would put them into hot water to make them pliable and press all of them together into one massive, misshapen lump—Frankenstein soap.
I hated when she did that. We’re not talking a single brand of soap here. The slivers might range from Camay at one end to Lava on the other. (For anyone unfamiliar, Lava was made with real pumice stone.) Worse, the different soaps had different wear rates, so the bar kept getting even more misshapen, with the worst soaps seeming to hang on the longest.
That Frankenstein soap is how I sometimes think of the Bible. By referring to scripture as the word of God, many Christians are viewing it as if it were a single, monolithic bar of soap, perhaps like a bar of Ivory—you know, ninety-nine and 44/100s percent pure. They may consider all of it as inerrant, as literally true. But that ignores the fact that the various parts of the Bible were written by very different authors, and for very different purposes, at very different historical times over a period of a thousand years. And those parts were not finally cobbled together to form the Bible we know today until several hundred years after the last of the parts was written. Those different genres include: mythologies (the Pentateuch), legal codes (Leviticus), histories (1 & 2 Kings, Chronicles, Samuel), poetry (Psalms, Song of Solomon), prophesies (Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation, etc.), allegories (Job, Jonah), biographies, er, hagiographies (the gospels), correspondence (Paul’s letters), etc.
What obscures all of this is that none of the Bible as we read it is the original text. None of it. All of it consists of translations of copies of copies of translations of copies, and so on. I grew up reading the King James Version, thinking that that is how the characters in the Bible actually spoke—in “thees” and “thous,” using words that were common to the 17th century lexicon but not today. The KJV is beautiful, crafted at the height of the Elizabethan period with a poetic majesty. But this is exactly what makes it misleading. Its consistent quality obscures the actual diversity of language, time periods, and genres that the Bible encompasses. This sameness also obscures the Bible’s vast number of contradictions and inconsistencies that show up upon careful analysis. Versions that employ more contemporary vocabulary and scholarship are an improvement but still suffer from the other problems inherent in working with copies of copies of copies.
Here is what I recommend. Read the excellent article cited below. It is longish, but it covers the history, complications, and contradictions inherent in scripture in a readable, persuasive way that I cannot hope to match. Please, please take the time to read it.
Here is the cite: http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/02/thats-not-what-bible-says-294018.html.
© 2017 John M. Phillips