The Bible is not a book

Mar 19, 2015 by

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So often we hear, “The Bible says . . .” What exactly does that mean? Especially when topics are controversial, the conversation stopper is often something like, “The Bible is clear about that.”

book-610334_1280But what is the Bible? A book? In fact, it is a library of books. I often wish we would divide it into separate volumes to carry around for a few days. I guarantee we would stop thinking of the Bible as one book.

The Bible library is a history of God’s people over time, places, cultures and contexts. It tells the stories of tribes, patriarchs and matriarchs, kings, rulers, people groups and, eventually, Christian churches scattered over Asia. It is thoroughly interesting and genuinely exciting at places. It is inspired and inspiring. This library has prose and poetry, hymns and sermons, family histories and mystical revelations. It is sweeping in its ability to connect to human emotion as well as political events. It is amazingly contemporary and agonizingly contradictory.

Bible study is really the mining of 66 library books.

Once, a pastoral search committee posed a trick question to me: “How do you define the Word of God?” Well, I bit. I delved into a complicated explanation of the Bible, its relevance to the church and my own use of Scripture. The deacon calmly replied, “The Word of God is Jesus.” Oops.

No matter if we are pastors or congregational leaders, youth or elders, we are always connecting our daily lives to the Bible library. What does a certain story, parable or history section of the library say about our stories, our complicated lives, our contexts? I have found that a Psalm can help me cope with a loss or a painful situation through its hymnody or poetry. I also like to reread a Gospel section where Jesus tells a story when asked questions.

It seems that consulting (and listening to) the Bible library presents a perspective, an era, a voice, even counsel and truth for contemporary application. Understanding the varying Bible library books is important.

Today there are those who claim that by reading the Bible they can find the one “Christian” answer to every question of public policy or personal behavior. But sincere Christians disagree on most every topic and find a Bible text to underscore their point of view.

Christians should beware of slick, easy answers. The Bible library has enormous value and should be consulted at every point of spiritual decision. The Bible library has words of wisdom and words of correction. But it is neither a scientific textbook nor a cohesive philosophical treatise.

Bible study must be individual (personal) and corporate (group). Bible study in the church must be preached as well as practiced. Understanding the Bible must be informed by a Christocentric viewpoint.

In spite of nearly five centuries of Scripture exhortation by Anabaptists, modern Mennonites are woefully short on scriptural discernment and long on biblical osmosis. We hear about the Bible each Sunday, but we rarely do more than that. This “drive-by” study is, I suppose, better than nothing, but it hardly passes for delighting in the Scriptures.

We love the Scriptures and are admonished to go “back to the Bible” when faced with ethical, theological and daily living issues. However, we must stop with clichés and easy answers about biblical writing lest we forget the Bible is not a book but a library of wisdom inspired by the Holy Spirit that is alive today in the church.

Dorothy Nickel Friesen is a retired pastor and conference minister. She lives in Newton, Kan., and is a member of Bethel College Mennonite Church.


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