Who Cares About the Bible?

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Where does the Bible come from? Who decided what should be included in it? How do we know it is reliable? Why should we even care what it says? And even if we do care, how can we make sense out of such a big and confusing book?

With twenty years of studying and teaching the Bible professionally, as well as thirty years of reading it and absorbing it personally, author and pastor Tom Hilpert takes readers on a journey of discovery through the world’s best-selling, and most-printed book.

Written in clear, understandable language, Who Cares About the Bible? tackles the most important questions concerning this unique book. It is an excellent primer for anyone interested in what the Bible is, and how to properly understand it; and in addition, how to deal with the vast amount of misleading information that has been spread about the Bible.

Tom Hilpert has been studying and teaching the Bible professionally for more than twenty years. In addition to serving as a pastor, he is the author of the popular Lake Superior Mystery novels.

Chapter One

The Bible can be an irritating, frustrating and perplexing book.

If you read it much, you can easily find parts that are difficult to understand, or hard to accept. Even if you, personally, don’t read it very much, in these days of internet-driven social media, you don’t have to go far before you are bombarded by people quoting the Bible, misquoting the Bible, contradicting other people who claim they are quoting the Bible, and making things even more confusing, irritating and frustrating.

Some say the Bible contains God’s own words. Some say it was made up by the Roman Catholic Church to control people. Some people think the Bible contains a little bit of wisdom and a lot of silly, made-up stuff. Others think there is value in everything in the Bible. Some people think that the Bible does not have much value as a book of history, while others think it does. Some people think it is full of contradictions, while others see ways to harmonize the apparent discrepancies.

If you’ve spent much time online, you might have noticed some arguments on social media that go like this:

“Jesus didn’t say anything directly about homosexual sex.” (This is true).

“The Bible says homosexual sex is a sin.” (This is also true).

Maybe you are familiar with this discussion:

“The Bible says sex outside of marriage is sinful.” (True).

“The Bible teaches love and forgiveness.” (Also true).

Or perhaps you’ve heard one of these gems:

“God helps those who help themselves.” (Not in the Bible).

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” (Not in the Bible).

“Everything happens for a reason.” (Not in the Bible).

“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” (Again, not in the Bible).

As part of my work, I regularly post blog entries. Someone recently liked my blog, and as I often do, I went over to his blog, to check out what he was writing about. I noticed a post with an eye-catching title, and I read it. What I found is similar to many other blogs and social media posts that I have seen over the past few years. The basic argument went something like this:

  • Many Christians claim that, according to the Bible, [enter something here that the Bible says that bothers you, like: “it’s a sin to get drunk”].
  • But the Bible also says lots of goofy things, like:
    • Rapists can pay their victims’ parents 50 shekels, and get off the hook (the writer misquoted Deuteronomy 21, but I think he was referring to chapter 22).
    • It’s OK to sell daughters into slavery (Exodus 21:7)
    • It’s OK to marry multiple wives (21:10)
  • Since we don’t agree with these goofy things in the Bible, we shouldn’t pay attention to what the Bible says about drunkenness [or whatever it is that you don’t like about the Bible].

Most commonly, this kind of argument is made in order to justify whatever kind of behavior you like to engage in, while claiming that you follow the Bible. But logically, if that argument was valid (it isn’t – more on that later) there would be no reason to pay attention to any part of the Bible at all. If that blogger is right, we ought to just ignore it altogether as irrelevant. If he’s correct, we shouldn’t pay attention to what the Bible says about Jesus, or forgiveness, or love, either. To be fair, he wasn’t saying that in his blog, but it is the logical conclusion.

Now, some of those reading this book may happen to agree with that conclusion. You may think the Bible isn’t worth your time or attention. You might think “Seriously, who cares about the Bible?” Here’s my challenge to you: give me four chapters to get you interested. If you still think the Bible is essentially worthless after reading the first four chapters of this book, well, you gave me a fair hearing, and that’s all I can ask.

I suppose, however, that most of the people reading this have some level of interest in the Bible. That’s understandable: some of the most cherished values of our culture still come from the Bible. We still appreciate “do not murder.” We like the commands about loving our neighbors, forgiving others, and not hating. We like the bits that talk about justice, and those that tell us God loves us and forgives us. If we threw the whole Bible out, we’d be throwing those things out too. Most of those cherished moral values come originally from the Bible. Many of them cannot really be found in other religions. I think you, who have some level of interest in the Bible already, will find this book helpful, and I think you’ll even enjoy it.

By the way, I have two useful and reasonable answers to the person who posted the blog entry I mentioned above. I could explain it in about five minutes. But rather than do that, what I want to do is help you learn enough about the Bible, and how to understand it, so that you can answer questions like that yourself. You’ve heard the old proverb: “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he’ll spend all his nights and weekends in the boat, and his family will never see him anymore.”

Actually, I think the second part is “teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for the rest of his life.”

I want to teach you to “fish.” I could give you the answers to the questions posed by the blog entry I mentioned above. But then, when you encounter new questions, you’ll be dependent upon me, or someone like me, to give you answers again. I’d rather help you understand enough so that you can do some digging, and find the answers for yourselves.

It might take a little while. I’ve been studying the Bible seriously for more than twenty-five years. It won’t take you that long to get started and to begin finding answers yourself, but I do hope you look on the Bible as a source that you can, and should, continue to study for the rest of your life. I think that from this book you can learn enough about the Bible to begin.

So, we’ve briefly considered that the Bible can be confusing. It’s a big book, after all. It sometimes appears to teach contradictory things. But there’s another side to the story. The truth is, the Bible is a unique book.

For one thing, the Bible is the world’s most printed book. It is the best-selling book of all time – meaning, in the entire history of the world. Not only that, but about half of the population of the whole world derives its religious faith from the pages of the Bible.

Another thing: the Bible is unique in influence. Many of the most wonderful things in the history of the world have come about through the influence of the Bible. I understand if that sounds crazy to you. I won’t bore you with too much here, but consider these little things:

  • Slavery was abolished because of the influence of the Bible.
  • The foundations of modern democracy came from a biblical world view, as well as these ideas: the equality of all people, the right to own personal property, the right to freedom, laws concerning theft, murder and many more.
  • Many of the concepts and values that our culture holds dear also come from the Bible: tolerance of those who are different, justice for the poor and oppressed, fairness, caring for those who are needy, love for others and many, many more.
  • The whole concept of the University came about because of the influence of the Bible.
  • Hospitals were invented because of the Bible.
  • Some of the world’s greatest art was inspired by the Bible (we’re talking Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci).
  • Some of the world’s greatest literature was inspired by the Bible (we’re talking Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky).
  • Some of the world’s greatest music was inspired by the Bible (we’re talking Bach and Handel).
  • Some of the world’s greatest architecture was inspired by the Bible (we’re talking cathedrals and basilicas).
  • Some of the world’s greatest scientists were inspired by the Bible (we’re talking Galileo and Isaac Newton).
  • Some of the world’s greatest philosophers were deeply influenced by the Bible (we’re talking Augustine, Aquinas, Kant and Kierkegaard).

Especially in Western culture, much of what has endured through the centuries, and proved itself to be of great worth, sprang either directly from the Bible, or indirectly through the influence of the Bible on society as a whole. That influence spread to the rest of the world, partly through trade, yes, but also because of missionaries who were inspired by the Bible.

Not only that, but the English language, at least, is filled with biblical references, and most English speakers often quote the Bible without even realizing it.

Did you ever find yourself at wit’s end? That expression comes from Psalm 107. Maybe you’ve talked about your broken heart? It was King David who first expressed it that way, also in the psalms. Have you found yourself in a tough situation, and realized that it’s just your cross to bear? That saying comes from Jesus, who called his followers to “take up your cross and follow me,” (Matthew 16:24).

Here are just a few more:

Bite the dust; cast the first stone; fall from grace; fly in the ointment; forbidden fruit; the powers that be; rise and shine; scapegoat; signs of the times; the straight and narrow; drop in the bucket; wolf in sheep’s clothing; writing on the wall.

There are dozens and dozens more. Even when people swear, they are often getting their language from the Bible. (Think about it). For Pete’s sake (another), you could go to the ends of the earth (another), in a labor of love (one more), becoming all things to all people (again), and everywhere, you’d find people casting these kinds of pearls before swine (yep).

Sorry, I won’t do that anymore. But my point is that, even for those who do not think very much of the Bible, it profoundly influences us, affecting our very language.

Now, let’s be honest: the writings of Shakespeare have also greatly influenced modern English. That doesn’t mean I have to read all his plays, or change my life just because old Will made Hamlet say, “To be, or not to be.” But the information I just shared about the Bible should at least make us pause and say, “This book has been unquestionably influential.” It should make it a little harder to simply dismiss it.

So we have this conundrum: the Bible can be frustrating and perplexing. It is often claimed in support of contradicting arguments. At the same time, without question, the Bible has been profoundly and uniquely influential in human history.

When I think about all the confusion surrounding the Bible, I am reminded of the old story about the blind men who went to discover what an elephant was like.

One of the men felt the elephant’s trunk, and said, “An elephant is like a snake.” Another of the blind seekers found the leg of the great beast, and said, “The elephant is straight and strong like a tree trunk.” Another felt the tip of a tusk, and said “an elephant is hard and sharp and pointed, like a spear.” Yet one more felt the soft little tuft at the end of the giant animal’s tail, and said, “The elephant is soft and furry and small, like a mouse.”

Here is the thing: all of the men were correct. One part of the elephant is like a snake. The elephant’s leg is like a tree, and so on. What they said was accurate. At the same time, what each one said appeared to contradict the others. How could each one of them be correct?

Let’s take this one step further. Suppose you have never seen an elephant, and have only heard the descriptions given by the blind men. It would be tempting to dismiss the elephant as something ridiculous and imaginary. What could be sharp and pointed like a spear, large and rough like a tree, furry and small like a mouse, long and flexible like a snake, all at the same time? It would seem logical to assume that either the blind men are lying, or that they are wildly mistaken.

Of course, if you have seen an entire elephant – or even a picture of one – it is quite easy to harmonize the accounts. It is easy, because you have seen the whole animal, not just felt one part of it. The elephant is not nearly as weird and improbable as it sounds from the accounts of the blind men.

Many, many people approach the Bible in the same way that the blind men approached the elephant. They see a part of it, and they may even be correct in saying something about one little part of the Bible. But unless you see the whole picture, you have no idea, really, what it is all about. If you relied on the testimonies of those who only have part of the picture, it would be easy to say, “This sounds ridiculous and imaginary.” However, like the blind men with the elephant, people can say things about the Bible that are accurate, in a sense, and yet give you entirely the wrong idea.

All of the blind men were technically correct about the elephant. Yet, at the same time, because they did not have the whole picture, they were all also wrong. The same thing happens with the Bible, over and over again.

In this book, I want to show you the whole elephant – the big picture view of the Bible. I think, by the time we are done, you will be able to understand the Bible much more clearly.

 

THE POINT:

There is a lot of information and misinformation floating around about the Bible. It is a big book, and can be confusing and perplexing. The way that others use, and misuse, the Bible does not make it any easier. Even so, the Bible is one of the world’s most unique books, with a distinctive and profoundly positive influence on history. In order to understand it properly, we need to look at the big picture.

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