The Human Origin of the Bible

Marcus J. Borg, in his terrific book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, describes two different ways of looking at the Bible.

The more traditional way is to see the Bible as a divine product:
The inspiration of scripture is understood to mean that God guided the writing of the Bible, directly or indirectly. What scripture says, then, ultimately comes from God. (22)
The alternative is to see the Bible as a human product, which is the way Borg proposes.

I suspect a lot of people are somewhere in the middle, acknowledging to one degree or another than humans were involved in the writing, while maintaining at the same time that God was somehow involved, at least some of the time.

Borg anticipates this possible objection, but rejects it:
Why see the question as an either-or choice? Why not see the Bible as both divine and human? In my experience, affirming that it is both only compounds the confusion. (26)
The problem, he points out, is that when the Bible is seen as both divine and human in origin -- or partly divine and partly human -- it tends to lead to the attempt to separate what comes from God from what is merely human. To discern, in other words, what parts we have to take really seriously, and what parts we can dispense with. The problem with this is obvious enough:
[T]he parts that we think come from God are normally the parts we see as important, and thus we simply confer divine authority on what matters to us, whether we be conservatives or liberals. (27)
So there are some people, for example, who insist that everyone observe the prohibition of homosexual behaviour, while showing little or no concern for those who violate the prohibition of planting two kinds of seed in the same field (Lev 19.19), or for women who braid their hair, or wearing gold jewellery (1 Tim 2.9).

It does sort of raise the question, though: There are countless books that are "merely human" in origin -- why even bother with the Bible at all?

Some other time.

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Blogger Joe said...

As a soil scientist by training, I'd like to do some theological thinking about the two-crops-in-one-field thing at some point. Whilst there might be some circumstances where it is a bad idea, I can't see that there are many.

Regarding the other stuff, I guess it is a bit about seeing what you want to see. I've had some profound moments watching movies. I doubt the writers intended that quite in the way I experienced it, but the combination of wanting to be spoken to, my emotions etc meant that I learnt something useful. And maybe if we expect to hear something of God when we read, we will.

OK I've not said that well, do you know what I mean?

3:30 p.m.  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...


The "don't plant two kinds of seed in one field" thing is probably an example of chukkim, a mitzvah with no apparent human reason behind it. (The very notion of "chukkim" -- which makes numerous appearances in Christian tradition, too, though this is not often admitted -- is one of the religious tendencies that really needs to be rooted out.

With regard to your second point, please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the Bible isn't enormously valuable for the spiritual life. But I'll write about that soon.

6:18 p.m.  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

BTW: And yes, I do know that you mean. And I agree.

6:18 p.m.  

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