That no-gay couples decision: 11-21-14
Churches that succeed despite the odds: 11-24-14

Help understanding the Bible: 11-22/23-14

In recent years the number of worthwhile -- often excellent -- books about the Bible seems to have exploded.

How-Read-BibleThese are books by scholars and pastors that try to help readers understand that reading and understanding scripture is no simple task.

Serious Bible reading requires that the reader know a lot, including something about how the Bible came to be and how its first readers (or, more likely, hearers) would have understood it. It requires a recognition that something often gets lost in translations from Hebrew and Greek (plus a bit of Aramaic) to English.

And it requires a sense of humility as readers seek to hear what Jews and Christians often call God's word to them.

The latest among these valuable guides to Bible reading is How to Read the Bible Without Losing Your Mind, by Kent Blevins, a professor at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina.

It's a thoughtful, careful book that understands this reality: You can take the Bible seriously or you can take it literally but you can't do both.

I was especially taken by Blevins' discussion of what it means to say that the Bible is inspired writing:

To say that the Bible is inspired is not to make any unique claim for the Bible. If inspiration, from a theological perspective, refers to the activity of God's spirit in the world, that activity is not limited to the pages of the Bible.

That is not to deny that the Bible is inspired but it is to say that so are other works of art, other actions, other events. Good reminder.

Blevins also devotes considerable space to figuring out how this ancient collection of writings, compiled over a long period of time and written by many people, can be used to help us respond to issues today. His section on how to understand what the Bible says (or, more to the point, doesn't say) about homosexuality is especially helpful.

This new book stands now beside several others that in recent years have helped to educate people about the Bible. Among them I would recommend these:

* Making Sense of the Bible, by Adam Hamilton. I reviewed it here.

* Bible Babel, by Kristin Swenson. I wrote about it and several other Bible-themed books here.

* Two books by the same name: How to Read the Bible, by James L. Kugel (which focuses on the Hebrew Bible and which I wrote about here) and How to Read the Bible, by Steven L. McKenzie.

* Short Stories by Jesus, by Amy-Jill Levine. I reviewed that here.

* And I wrote about several more Bible-related books here.

There is less and less excuse for being biblically illiterate or for imagining that the Bible is some kind of magic guide book that contains nothing but historically accurate stories.

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TEN MORE COMMANDMENTS

There's a new book out that contains the Ten Commandments for atheists and others of that non-belief status. It's an interesting list, though the fifth one on the list, "There is no God," doesn't sound much like a commandment but more like a statement of faith.

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