Honest Bible Study
Nearly every day I drive by churches that advertise the times for their Bible study classes, and I often wonder what, exactly they’ll be studying. One of the great frustrations of my time in ministry was feeling like I really couldn’t share what I knew about how the Bible came together and the geopolitical realities that shaped the text. I get the feeling that most believers wouldn’t want to hear it anyway.
For instance, many of the leading Israeli archaeologists say that the Exodus event probably never happened. They’ve been scouring the Sinai peninsula for years looking in vain for any shred of evidence that there was ever a mass departure from Egypt–or even a minor departure. No remains of campfires or meals or artifacts. Nothing has been found to corroborate the story. Remember the Bible says the fleeing Hebrew slaves numbered more than 600,000. Surely they would have left a little something behind! Can you imagine any preacher who wants to keep receiving a paycheck getting up in front of the congregation, reading from the Exodus account and saying, “And we have absolutely no proof this ever happened.”
More progressive minded Christians, who tend to have a less literal reading the Bible, might say that the veracity of the story really doesn’t matter because it points to “deeper truths.” One approach is to talk about the Exodus event as illustrating God’s “preferential option” for the oppressed. (This was the view of Liberation Theology.) Except the text doesn’t allow that interpretation because Exodus is filled with commandments that permit slave ownership. (see Exodus 21:1-11) So if the message of the Exodus event was “slavery is bad,” then the Israelites certainly did not get the memo.
Although I certainly no longer believe that the Bible was in any way inspired by a supernatural being, I still find it fascinating. Parts of it are a good read, and I might find those parts inspiring in the way I find Homer, Chaucer, and Shakespeare inspiring. But it sure would be fun, for the first time in my life, to be a part of an honest Bible study—a discussion group that isn’t afraid of looking at the text as it really is rather than pretending this is somehow a magical and divine book.