The Bible, with fuzzy edges

posted by Kaihsu Tai on November 10th, 2008

The United Reformed Church has a three-year programme called Vision4Life: for this coming year, the first year, we will be looking at the Bible in the Church’s life. It made me try to articulate how I think of the Bible.

It was Mike Benedetti who got me interested in the Apocrypha. I remember that summer nearly ten years ago, sitting in a hotel room in Iqaluit, Nunavut, tired from hiking, but discussing Bel and the Dragon (and, incidentally, also Thomas Aquinas) with some enthusiasm. It is quite a blessing that the early Councils of the Church gave us four Gospels rather than just one ‘consensus version’. I recall that there were a few quarrels about the Letter of James, and (common with Judaism) Song of Songs. John Calvin did not write a commentary for the Revelation of John. And my New Revised Standard Version, in its table of contents for the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books, had entries such as:

(c) in the Slavonic Bible and the Latin Vulgate Appendix
2 Esdras (= 3 Esdras in Slavonic = 4 Esdras in Vulgate Appendix)
(Note: In the Latin Vulgate, Ezra–Nehemiah = 1 and 2 Esdras)

So, unlike people who claim that the Bible is somehow divine data (à la the Book of Mormon) that has to be interpreted literally word-for-word (I overgeneralize), I am glad to have inherited a Bible with fuzzy edges. This does not make me take the fuzzy-edged Bible less seriously – in fact, one has to take the Bible more seriously.

Look at it this way. The Acts of the Apostles (‘Episode 1’) is a sequel to the Gospel according to Luke (‘Episode 0’). And now we are at about Episode 21, in the 21st century. And Paul, when he wrote his letters, probably did not expect all Christians in the last 20 centuries to agree with him on every single point! He probably would be surprised if everything he wrote were to be taken as timeless truths. I now see the Bible as a collection of stories alive and constantly inspired by the Holy Spirit; one that is still being written. Kanye West had it right: If the Bible were written today, he would be in it. We all would be in it.

But with such standard, the arrow of history (of the Christian Church) points straight at my nose – and yours. Do we live our lives worthy of inclusion in the stories of the saints, not just those in the Old and New Testaments, but down the last 20 centuries as well (and those to come)? Do all my text messages and email to sisters and brothers stand up to the calibre of Paul’s? Faced with these questions, I can only work out my salvation with fear and trepidation (and lots of joy!).

So, here is my Bible with fuzzy edges, which comes with a big arrow pointing at my nose and a big cloud of witnesses.

(For a good set of sequels, see Justo L. González (1984) The Story of Christianity, 2 volumes. San Francisco: Harper. ISBN 0-06-063315-8 and 0-06-063316-6. I am also looking forward to my friend Diarmaid MacCulloch’s ambitious project History of All Christianity Everywhere with the British Broadcasting Corporation.)

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3 Comments

  1. On January 15, 2009 at 18:32 Kaihsu Tai said:

    Today our minister Carla Grosch-Miller said she would paste the Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail on the back of the Bible. That’s the spirit!

  2. On September 29, 2009 at 01:10 Kaihsu Tai said:

    Diarmaid’s book is out: A history of Christianity: the first three thousand years. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/sep/19/history-christianity-diarmaid-mccullouch

  3. On October 10, 2015 at 15:23 Kaihsu Tai said:

    Carla’s book, Psalms redux, is out now.