A lot of us tend to judge religious texts by modern standards. That is, we assume that they’ll be coherent, chronological, and without contradiction. It seems rational, right? I mean if we’re going to live life by the words in a book (and tell others to do the same), that book better damn well have it straight. The better question to ask is what should we have straight?
Academia has long since discovered the numerous inconsistencies with ancient religious texts. The Bible for example, has multiple unknown and unnamed authors. We don’t have the original texts, just copies of copies of copies. The order of events even in the first few chapters makes no sense, logically or chronologically. When I was studying textual criticism there was so much that didn’t line up it was hard to even sort through it.
So what does this mean? Isn’t the Bible inerrant? Infallible? What does it mean that these books that have been heralded as the greatest and most enlightened texts of all time are full of inconsistencies? Should we abandon the faith of our parents? Should we run around and point all this out to straighten people out? We need to get these religious nuts on the right track, right?
The point we need to drive home is that religious texts, like the Bible, are not modern texts, and they’re not scientific books. They’re also not history books, although they have rich histories. They’re religious texts. They’re theological works. They’re theologically loaded narratives that teach and instruct us how to live life. To judge them by modern standards is to tell Emily Dickinson that her grammar’s wrong.
In the case of the Bible, what we need to get straight – what it’s all about – is that God is in charge and he loves us. We’re super important. We’re spiritual beings, His creation, with a destiny and purpose. God wants to be in relationship with us, now. He wants to give us Life – in His Son, Jesus. This theme runs through the entire bible. To miss this because the texts don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny is a tragedy.
The biblical themes, the theology, the narratives, and the examples of faith trump inconsistencies. Many well-meaning religious folk spend a lot of time and effort trying to justify religious and theological texts in a scientific manner. These efforts are interesting, but not necessary – and God certainly isn’t worried about it. One’s time is better spent exemplifying the faith that the religious texts nail.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson