Is the Bible True?

"Bible as Mythology" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Bible as Mythology” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Is the Bible true? What do you mean by true? Factual? Accurate? Historical? Meaningful?

I don’t think it was ever intended to be a history textbook.

We don’t know what part God is reading in the Bible. Or does he mean the whole Bible?

What’s funny to me about this cartoon is that “God” himself might be a part of that mythology!

Many years ago I used to think mythology was a bad word. Not anymore. Mythology is a powerful way to convey truth, or to convey untruth for that matter.

So if someone asks me “Is the Bible true?”, I would say that there is a lot of it that, through its stories and ideas, conveys what is true.

The first real shock to my theological world was when I began to question the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. Traumatic!

It wasn’t easy, but I’ve made it through to the other side.

Some accuse me of being anti-bible. I protest! I now respect the Bible more for what it really is rather than what I was taught it is or what I wish it to be.


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17 Responses

  1. Jordan says:

    It’s interesting that there are atheists out there who think that the scriptures can’t have lessons or truths in them just because the text isn’t true – which is ridiculous. Sure, I don’t think the scrolls are supposed to be a history textbook, as you say, so instead I have to ask why a certain voice or wording is in that spot. Why was this text preserved and not others?

    Whenever someone asks if the text is true or not, people on both answers’ sides shut down, and it’s sad that they do. Some, like regular visitors here, insist that it must be fully true and to suggest otherwise is a heinous sin. Others find the “no” as reason to throw away the text. Bad calls, really.

  2. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ Jordon
    “Why was this text preserved and not others?”
    Well, why was the Qu’ran, the Mahabharata, the Myth of Gilgamesh and many more preserved and others not?
    And what sort of self-fulfilling question is that?

    @ David
    You said, “So if someone asks me “Is the Bible true?”, I would say that there is a lot of it that, through its stories and ideas, conveys what is true.” And I’d wager you’d say the same for the above books I questioned Jordon about? And what would you say of the works of Shakespeare, Plato, Chuang Tze, Mark Twain …?
    If so, then those who question you of the Bible would consider your credit to the Bible to be empty.
    Why not accept their criticism rather than always trying to make yourself palatable? Why cling so desperately to the symbols of sanctity and identity? What is that clinging?

  3. Brigitte says:

    Jordan, in the version of Judaism you are exploring, I have been wondering whether you are required to keep commandments. It is one thing to say we have all these wise stories, which are really great, and this ritual worship, that really works for my soul, but there are all these commandments. What do you do with them? Are they part of wisdom, and you take them or leave them?

  4. Jordan says:

    @Sabio – there are various other texts that are referenced in Numbers and Deuteronomy that no longer exist. War chronicles, oracles, etc. Why did those die off? Why, in the end, do we end up with the Jewish Scripture as it is? Why were those preserved and others not? It’s not so much a self-fulfilling question, as you call it, so much as a call to explore the culture and ask questions, rather than assume that, since a text is “false,” it’s not worth exploring with a critical eye.

    @Brigitte, that is an incredibly intrusive remark and I’m not going to dignify it with a proper response.

  5. Sabio: Yes, I believe truth is found in all those works as well. So the Bible in and of itself is no more special. I don’t cling to any special status for scriptures.

  6. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ David: right, Mark Twain’s and JK Rowling Books along with the Ramayana and other literature hold no extra value for you. I agree. Books written by people have to be evaluated equally. No special status.

    @ Jordon: I think you missed by point.
    Why was the Qu’ran, the Mahabharata, the Myth of Gilgamesh and many more preserved and others not?
    Perhaps for no more of a heavy, significant reason than why Plato’s works remain but many others lost at those times. Things are often lost, just because they are lost. Things remain sometimes just because some group thinks they are highly useful. There is no magic or specialness to the present sanctified Hebrew anthology than to other anthologies: be it the Qu’ran, The Mahabharata, The Writings of Chuang Tsu, The Panchatantra and many many more ancient pieces of literature. No?

  7. Jordan says:

    Things can be “just lost,” but there are other documents that are considered noncanonical. Why is that? What was the justification for these choices? How were some books and writings more important, “truer” than others? I’m more curious about those – and I think you were missing my point in the first place, Sabio.

    The texts can, and often are, false, but despite that, there were reasons behind what was written, what was accepted, and it’s better to explore than ignore.

  8. Sabio Lantz says:

    @ Jordan,
    Oh, I have read a lot about why some books were chosen and others not. And how they were edited to get to where they are today — I am talking about the TANAKH here, same holds for NT. The answers to these questions are complex. I thought you were trying to imply something by asking. But it was not TRUTH that made the decisions of which books go in the various Bible anthologies.

    I think the “TRUTH” thing that David brings up here is hugely problematic in the first place but did not want to address that idealism.

  9. Brigitte says:

    Jordan, I don’t think there is such a thing as an “intrusive remark”. I asked you a very plain question. As the type of Judaism you are exploring keeps on getting mentioned on a public thread, here, one might ask you a question: do you strive to keep the Ten Commandments, or a general moral law, or all the other rules about Kosher food and holidays and Sabbath keeping? What is the big secret about that?–I have a friend in a different Canadian province, she has moved in her lifetime from Hare Krishna, to Roman Catholicism, to Judaism, to Hare Krishna, to Lutheranism, and now back to Judaism. She feels very strongly, that she needs to keep the food laws and the Sabbath laws. I asked her if she pre-shreds her toilet paper for the Sabbath and she said that she uses Kleenex. She covers her hair and she listens all day to various Rabbis. When she was Lutheran, is when I met her. I recall, too, that Dan, here, was trying to start a private e-mail conversation with me. Why the privacy? Just say what you mean.

  10. Jordan says:

    Brigitte, very simply what you’re doing is holding up this ideal that Jews must follow all the commandments in the Torah, which is impossible considering that about half have to do with temple rituals. You’re coming at MY spiritual path with a crude understanding of how Judaism works, rather than realizing that there are practically as many versions of Jewish practice as their are Jews. Your attempt at trying to extract an answer is itself intrusive and rude. You’re not seeing me asking if you give up all of your riches just because Jesus said that it was more difficult for one having many possessions to get into heaven than for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle.

    @sabio – Ya know, I’m starting to see your point, but I think I might have gone off on a different track than you did. My apologies for any misunderstanding.

  11. Brigitte says:

    Jordan, you can read, and you will notice that I did not ask you about temple rituals. We know that there is no temple, now. (Which makes me wonder whether in the mythical understanding there ever was a temple). If my understanding is crude, enlighten me. You can ask me about Jesus’ sayings, if you like. But should stop calling me insults. That is part of why I am asking you about rules. The Jewish books I have on my self talk a lot about caring and polite speech. I wonder if you agree with that or not? Just asking.

  12. Jordan says:

    (facepalm emote here)
    “I have been wondering whether you are required to keep commandments.”
    Ask a rabbi. Not me. Your attempt at telling me I have been treating you “unfairly” is quite obvious and disgusting. PLEASE drop it and move on with your life.

  13. Jordan says:

    So, Sabio, speaking of the mythology remark in the comic itself, how do you think local mythoi might have informed Jewish and Christian scriptures, beyond the messiah, angel, resurrection, and virgin birth stuff? I have a sneaking suspicion some bits and pieces of “truths” from other cultures might have sneaked their way into the writings.

  14. Brigitte says:

    Jordan, I have a book called “Chofetz Chaim. A Lesson a Day”. The concepts and laws of proper speech. Put together by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman and Rabbi Yitzchak Berkowitz. It was recommended to me by my friend who reconverted back to Judaism. I read a good chunk of it, but it seemed a lot of the same after a while. I thought maybe your teaching even if not taking things literally might include such concepts of proper speech. To simply put down people who ask you questions or with whom you don’t agree does not seem to be a proper Jewish thing to me.

  15. Jordan says:

    Admittedly, David, it took me a while to get past the idea of the scriptures being free of error or myth, but perhaps what I find true about the lot of it was that it was important to some people to pass it down through an oral tradition and then through written tradition (alongside the oral). There was something worth learning.

  16. I think there are classes of literature. “Scripture” is probably one.

  17. Jordan says:

    If I recall correctly, the Torah commentary I have actually compares the five books to various contemporary literature that survived along with the early documents so, yea, there’s a good case to make for religious scriptures being a category of literature to explore critically.