Is the Bible relevant today ?

The bible is a volume of 66 books divided into two groups (The old and new testaments) It is written by a number of writers dating back two thousand years and beyond and set in a culture that is very different from our own. So it is certainly legitimate to ask the question in view of the massive changes in social structures, attitudes, technology, economics and education. 'Is the Bible still relevant today'?

Those who are critical of the Bible may see it in a variety of ways. For many the Bible is not easy to understand and contradicts itself. Some see it as a book of rules and regulations and absolute morals that do not fit well into the modern setting. Some say that it has been used merely as a means of social control over the poor by the rich and powerful. Others claim that it promotes sexism, racism and encourages division and violence. Many naturalists complain that the Bible is unscientific, at odds with our current knowledge about the origins of the universe,  that Big bang and evolutionary theory have disproved the creation story and that its continued teaching in religious education amounts to indoctrination and child abuse. The Old Testament is often quoted as being particularly harsh and that many of the words used in the bible are culturally alien. For these reasons it is seen by some as traditional old fashioned and irrelevant.

However the Bible encompasses many styles of writing. History, Narrative, Law, Wisdom, Poetry, Letters, Prophesy, and its origins come from a story telling tradition passed down through generations of tribal nomadic Hebrews, eventually written down and later presented at various councils and collated into the Bible we see today. To fully understand the bible  we need to understand its meaning in Greek Hebrew and Latin through which it was translated, for there are many senses where we do not have words in English that convey the original meaning.

Many read the Bible in a purely literal sense or pick out individual verses to justify a particular point of view. It is therefore important to realize that the bible has an overall context and that many issues are held in tension that simply reflect the paradoxical nature of life itself. Many critics insist only on a plain reading of scripture through the eyes of 21st century western society rather than understanding that which was relevant then to the nomadic culture of ancient Hebrew people, including those underlying principles which can be discerned and still used by us today.

The creation story only appears within the first 15 verses of Genesis, forms a tiny part of the overall writings yet for some these define the entire scriptures. Primarily the bible is not a scientific text book, rather its purpose is to transform human beings by putting forward the idea that only through a spiritual life with God can we attain what we are made to be. The Bible is like a jig saw puzzle which is revealed to us through study, discussion, and meditation. When we understand the various styles of writing, the use of symbolism, hyperbole and analogy we can fit the pieces together and begin to unearth the deeper layers of meaning to what for many becomes  like a relationship, a personal emotional experience. We call it then both a living word and a word for living, more like a love letter to humanity.

The Old Testament writings reflect the harshness of the culture that existed at that time, it is not promoting that kind of moral landscape now but through its stories we are shown that the human struggle to be good and spiritual is fraught with problems. Its themes and lessons reoccur within those biblical characters and illustrate what a relationship with God looked like without true love and grace. Far from being irrelevant all the moral problems that existed then still exist today.

We can then understand more fully the ancient story as being fulfilled in the New Testament through the teachings of Jesus which reaches its culmination in the historic events around his crucifixion. The values that were extracted from the new testament writings went on to form the basic codes of many modern societies, ideas such as equality before the law, liberty, democracy, non-violence, fidelity and respect for property. Personal values around faith, hope and selfless giving in love, all inspired people toward goals of justice and the relief of human suffering and poverty.

All these are central in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus spoke against Racism, Sexism, Judgmental behaviour and the abuse of religious and political power in his day. He did this with great moral authority as he lovingly shows us the pathway to God and what the kingdom of heaven should look like on earth. Central to this is having faith in Jesus himself and the seemingly improbable things he did in his healings and miracles, for through faith we can enjoy the Holy Spirit which is the power and inspiration for much good in our society and through which we experience God directly.

We would know very little of these things if the Bible had not existed, many of the institutional benefits we now enjoy and the good personal values we hold are biblical in origin, many of which we now take for granted.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 SOME THOUGHTS                                                                                       If we are to say that the Bible is now irrelevant, that we have extracted from it the best bits rejected the 'bad' bits and can now condemn it to the dustbin of history, how then are we to hang onto those values we have learnt when we are confronted with evil. What is it that will remind us of what is good. What outside agent will stir our conscience and inspire us?  For Christians it is the Bible that motivates and strengthens us in the daily struggle of life because we know that human morality is not always self evident, yet we can see that the teachings of Jesus are there to prevent us from harm because at its core he taught us to love God and to love our fellow man. Our experience of God through prayer and the holy spirit confirms what we have read in scripture. The Bible is divisive only in the sense that not all people can accept these two loves as interrelated or the way in which it has and can be achieved. The practice of loving our fellow man can be a very hard call at times, the quest for personal fulfillment can be elusive but the Bible is relevant because Jesus teaches us with God’s help how best it can be achieved.

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