Throughout history our religious beliefs have been instrumental in shaping our social and political structures.Whether we are devout or not, the fundamental philosophies of any given religion will dictate the way in which we interact with each other on a mental, social and political level. The Western world is no exception and has based its theology on a text known as "The Bible." But what is "The Bible?" Is it a collection of scrolls written by a group of old men? Or is it the word of God as so many claim it to be?
If the Bible really is the word of God, then it should follow that the chapters and verses will be clear cut, easily understood and lack ambiguity. But this is not the case.The Bible is ambiguous and many of its texts contradict each other which in turn implies that the scribes who wrote them had differing views on the divine word of God. Interpret the Bible one way and you get Ecclesiastes 5:3:
"For a dream cometh through the multitude of business:....."
Interpret it another way and you get Job 33:15 & 16:
"In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then he openeth the ears of men and sealeth their instruction."
Ecclesiastes regards dreams as nonsense and suggests that we pay little attention to them. Job, on the other hand, regards dreams as the vehicle through which God communicates with people. Such contradictions suggest that the Bible is not so much the hard and fast word of God, but a collection of scrolls, written by various people, who had opposing views on our relationship with the Supreme Being.
For the last two thousand years the Bible has been taken at face value and these contradictions accepted on faith. Perhaps this is due to an innate fear deep within the psyche that forbids us to question the texts in an academic or even logical way. We have this fear even though the contradictions leave democratic societies in a quandary. Do we accept Judaic/Christian theology on faith even though some of its precepts defy all logic? Or do we give the Bible a miss altogether? If theology advocates a certain philosophy, eg: discrimination as advocated by Canon law which bases it's principles on the epistles of Paul and the words of Peter:
"Man only is created in the image of God, not women: therefore women shall serve him and be his hand-maid."
While our social norms advocate another, being equality between the es, then this poses a problem and results in a huge disparity between our social and religious ethics.If our religious philosophy advocates servitude and slavery without due recourse to the law and basic human rights, 1 Peter 2:18 & 19:
"Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to thefroward.For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief and suffering wrongfully."
While our economic reforms stipulate the just and fair treatment of employees, then this results in a huge disparity between our economic and religious ethics.I believe that it is time to challenge the texts, confront the contradictions and attempt to make sense of the Bible so that our rich religious heritage can provide a sound framework on which to ground our psychological, social and political philosophies in the future.
Societies today are a far cry from the Hebrew herdsmen who crossed into Canaan and polygamy no longer forms part of our family structures. Draconian states no longer hold sway as they did when the masses in Palestine were suppressed and finally massacred under the Roman Empire's sword. We are very different from the men and women in the Middle Ages who were burnt at the stake for daring to question the status quo or disagree with Roman Catholic doctrine. Today we cherish our hard won freedom and this in turn should enable us to use our greatest gift, the ability to think for ourselves rather than becoming brainwashed by one fundamentalistic ideology or another. By so doing, we can make up our own minds as to the validity and/or significance of a given text and we should have the right to accept or reject what the scribes wrote long ago. To quote from Qumram Text 4Q416,418, fragment 10, column 2, lines 15 &16:
" ..in the abundance of your (15)intellectual potential, investigate the Mystery of Existence."
In other words, contrary to orthodox belief, I believe that it is for us to question, it is for us to undo the tangled rope of contradiction in the Bible in order to arrive at a workable religious philosophy that is not only pertinent to the modern world, but applicable for all time.
Throughout my efforts to try to resolve the contradictions, I have found that the Bible, rather than being one coherent and continuous belief system, contains two different stories, two different philosophies on life. A person or philosophy that is damned in one particular text is lauded in the next which in turn creates a contradiction. In order to resolve these contradictory beliefs, I have used the premise: democracy, equality, a justice of liberty and self empowerment in order to sift the chaff from the wheat. Only by using such a yard stick, can these ancient texts become coherent and the Bible "jig saw puzzle" falls into place.
Should you not agree with the doctrines of democracy, equality, a justice of liberty under the law and self empowerment, then in many instances you may find my conclusions to be sacrilegious. If, however, you do judge the world by these standards, and as I have stipulated, you can accept that our religious beliefs shape our social and political structures, then I hope that you will find my interpretations enlightening in the face of a new world order that desperately needs a revised religious epistemology to support it.
From the Introduction of: The Firstborn of God. Resolving The Contradictions In The Bible. by Gail Evans. (copyright 2000)