Making Sense of the Bible

By Kristen Johnson

Reverend Adam Hamilton’s book Making Sense of the Bible is a comprehensive, easy-to-understand, compelling document about what the Bible actually is. As one who was raised in the Church, and has been filled with doubts and questions throughout most of my life about the Bible, I finished the book feeling inspired, encouraged, and most of all, that my questions and concerns do not make me a heretic.

I admit to being somewhat of a “Doubting Thomas” at times, which I doubt is all that uncommon. This book really, really helped me. Reverend Hamilton discusses a wide variety of issues in the book, but there were a few that really spoke to me and helped strengthen my faith:

Books of the Bible: The author spent quite a lot of time discussing the “how” and “why” of which books made it into the final versions of the Old and New Testaments. It was very interesting to read about the different criteria used and the how and why of scholars and what may have been their thinking as to why Protestants, Catholics, and others view some books as scripture and others as not, etc. In particular, I really enjoyed the “Old Testament in 15 minutes” chapter, because I have often found the Old Testament to be confusing, contradictory to the message of Jesus, and violent.

Inerrancy and Infallibility of the Bible: I really, really enjoyed the author’s discussion of why he feels that the Bible is not necessarily completely “inspired” and that it takes into account human authors. (I realize in agreeing with him that I will likely be cutting off family ties….okay, maybe not that bad, but I’ll be labeled a heretic for sure.) Basically, we are looking at the message of Jesus as our hope for salvation, grace, and our way of living (serving our neighbors, forgiving people, loving our enemies, etc.) It’s okay to think that human authors certainly got it wrong when they ascribed genocide, slavery, rape, subjugation of women, etc. to inspired of God.

Evolution, Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden: I deeply value the author’s discussion of the reality of science and the fact that the Bible is not intended to be a historical or scientific document. The authors of the sections of the Bible who discussed things like how the earth was created, and stories about Noah and the Garden of Eden were looking through a lens of the knowledge they had at the time. Also, it’s important to look for the message behind stories like Noah and the Ark, and Adam and Eve, and not the historicity of such events. What do the authors of these stories want us to learn? How can we better understand God and how we are to live from reading from these stories? Arguing over whether or not Noah actually had an Ark, or whether or not Adam and Eve actually existed are counterproductive and beyond the point.

Paul and his letters:  I’ve always been confused by some of the things I’ve read in Paul’s letters (view of homosexuality, subjugation of women, slavery, etc.) and I’ve often wondered how his letters became seen as “inspired” and “scripture.” The truth is that we are reading somebody else’s mail, according to Reverend Hamilton, and we have to read it through the lens of Paul’s time. We also need to consider the fact that he likely never intended for his words to become canon. We can certainly learn from the advice he gave to congregations in the early formation of the Church, but again, we need to always view every book through the lens of what we can learn from the message of Jesus.

On that note, the historicity of the gospels, the multitudes of people who were witnesses to his miracles and resurrection, and the people who were willing to die (as pointed out by Reverend Hamilton) absolutely sealed in my mind that Jesus really is the Messiah, our Savior, and exactly who the Bible says He is.

Thank you to Reverend Hamilton for answering some questions that I have struggled with for at least 40 years. And, thank you for helping me to understand that to question something, to have doubts, can actually help cement in my mind the realness of our Savior and His message.

Serve all with love.

Photo courtesy of: stocksnap.io

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5 thoughts on “Making Sense of the Bible

  1. Wow! I’ve doubted too, to the point of fretting against him and even blaspheming him in my heart. However, He always leaves the 99 to save the one, his sick son (me). Someone once said: “Unless you’ve really hated God, you’ve never loved Him”. God amazes me in the most awesome ways.

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      1. We’re no better than the Apostles and I would say inferior ! We doubt, they doubted. We flee, they fled . They were perplexed as we are some times. His “strength is made perfect in weakness”. Aloha ~

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  2. There is nothing wrong, in my view, with doubt. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says, “test everything, hold fast to what it good” so questioning faith and testing what is taught isn’t biblically unsound. In fact, my rejection of Hamilton’s position is based on testing, not emotional or even religious reaction (I’ll get to that in a second). I appreciate the sentiment of your review of Hamilton’s book and your own struggle with faith. Still, I can’t accept Hamilton’s basic premise which, ultimately, is a restatement of the neo-orthodox position. Neo-orthodoxy is an accomodationist position in which the Bible is NOT the word of God but only CONTAINS the word of God. It is an emphasis on the fact (and I do say FACT) that the bible is a human book, written by human authors and we MUST take into account culture and time when interpreting the text. I do not doubt this. I don’t think that the doctrines of inerrancy and inspiration are wooden constructs – to do so would deny the humanity of the bible and would lead to absurdity and contradiction. We must, indeed, consider the culture and author in hermeneutics (interpretation). Literal hermeneutics, therefore, seeks to find the INTENT of the original writer and the PRINCIPLES they were inspired to record and agrees with neo-orthodoxy on this point. That is the POSITIVE contribution to theology and hemeneutics that Neo-orthodoxy has made. I point this out to make it clear I don’t doubt the salvation of those who disagree with me on the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy because, as an evangelical, I believe (biblically) that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. Thus, people who deny inerrancy (as Hamilton does) are NOT necessarily “not saved” and I make that point first because my defense of inerrancy isn’t about disowning you for taking this position. I’ve known for a very long time that you disagree with me on this issue and I don’t think I’ve disowned you – so no fear there! Still, I can’t accept the view that the bible is not inspired or inerrant, because if I did I would have to A) arbitrarily decide which portions of scripture are actually the word of God and B) make this decision based on human reasoning. This is exactly what Hamilton is doing. I’ve not read the book, only a short article interviewing him about the book. To decide which portions are inspired based solely on what makes the reader comfortable is arbitrary and such arbitrary “standards” are really no standards at all – just personal preference and what makes your preference any more authoritative than anyone else? On the other hand, if the bible IS “God breathed” (not dictated but inspired) then there should be reasonable explanations for difficult to reconcile passages. If there isn’t, then perhaps the bible isn’t a revelation from God at all. I believe there are reasonable explanations for the difficult passages you appear to be concerned about. For example, the historicity of the Flood and Adam and Eve…Jesus Christ said that Adam and Eve were real people and the Flood was a real event. To deny this is A) to say Jesus was not telling the truth (He lied – which is contradictory and incompatible with His own teaching) B) Jesus wasn’t really God in the flesh so he wasn’t saying anything true or false – just a human view (incompatible with salvation – for if Jesus was merely a man His death would mean nothing in terms of salvation over the death of any person) or C) Jesus was wrong (incompatible with the doctrine that God is omniscient). The idea that Jesus was merely accommodating the unscientific understanding of the ancients means that Jesus was willing to deceive to make a point – which doesn’t follow if He was the Theistic God in the flesh since the bible teaches God is truth and cannot lie. Finally, there is the view that these words of Jesus must be a bad translation – but with over 25,000 ancient documents of the bible to examine it is clear we can reconstruct to over 99% accuracy what the originals said – and these passages are authentic. So, since I believe Jesus is God in the flesh and God cannot lie – it follows the Flood was a real event in history and Adam and Eve were real people. Now – there are plenty of people who deny this based on current theories in geology or cosmology and I’ve spent half my life studying these issues. There are excellent, scientifically robust explanations adequately defending the historicity of the Flood and the actual existence of Adam and Eve (see icr.org). This is, of course, not the place to go into that. I know from a sentiment point of view people get pretty uptight about issues such as genocide, homosexuality, rape etc – but there are explanations for these passages too. Very quickly – there are plenty of places in the bible where the text simply explains what happened – just because it was recorded doesn’t mean God approved! There are other places where human activities are merely regulated since God knows that human cultures in opposition to His nature are going to continue regardless of His ideal and the people of God have to survive in this milieu (Divorce is an example) and there are places in the Bible where a cultural practice masks a deeper principle (such as greeting each other with a holy kiss – it’s not the kiss that’s the point, it’s the greeting). Time does not afford me the chance to respond to all of these things. For example, Dr. Geisler’s Systematic Theology (which does answer these issues in some detail) is over 1,200 pages long. My point is that as an evangelical, I look to understand the text believing that God cannot error and His inspired revelation cannot be wrong – thus, there must be a reasonable explanation for difficult passages and this is what I’m studying rather than arbitrarily assigning difficult passages to, “this must be the place where it’s not really the inspired word of God” (an arbitrary position). Again, my disagreement does not mean I hate you or want to disown you. And I appreciate your willingness to put your positions into sincere words in this forum. I do the same with my positions – and some of my positions have changed with deeper study. Since you’ve read Hamilton’s book, perhaps you would be willing to read evangelical book? Try Biblical Inerrancy: The historical evidence (https://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Inerrancy-Historical-Norman-Geisler-ebook/dp/B00GG16M8G/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1482103780&sr=8-7&keywords=geisler) or The Big Book of bible difficulties: clear and concise answers from Genesis to Revelation (https://www.amazon.com/Big-Book-Bible-Difficulties-Revelation/dp/0801071585/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1482103780&sr=8-9&keywords=geisler). I have read neo-orthodox books (books by Pinnock for example) in my studies – we don’t just read evangelical works so I would challenge you to read either of these to see the evangelical view. Love you…

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    1. Thank you very much for such a thoughtful and detailed response. I always value differing opinions, particularly when, as you say, salvation is by faith alone, and someone who disagrees on inerrancy, etc. isn’t (as I say) a heretic. Although I disagree with many of your points here, I am always willing to listen, carefully consider, and research alternative views. Frankly, that’s why I am where I am today……needless to say, I don’t believe how I was taught as a child. But, that’s a relief – I’m sad to say that I never felt anything as a kid which always confused me and made me really sad. I’m glad that there are lots of ways to come to know God, and that He never gave up on me, despite my many doubts throughout my lifetime.

      Yes, I will order one of the books by Geisler and I will review it on my site. I will also try to have an open mind, but of course we are all “prejudiced” in our views based on our life experiences. I confess that this is probably my 4th or 5th book by Reverend Hamilton and he is one of my favorite authors. And, he’s also a fellow Methodist which automatically puts him in my “good” category.

      Regarding Geisler – I am pleased to read that he is highly educated and works as a professor, though I would imagine he is in a school unlike the Christian College that I attended. I’m always willing to consider an Evangelical view, though I am very familiar with the Evangelical view, given our upbringing. 🙂 The Inerrancy book you have here is not available in a paperback and I think that’s a subject I would find most interesting. I found a few others online – is there another one that you recommend?

      Love you back…..

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