Feb 132013

As some of my readers know, I’ve been a reader for some time of philosopher Ken Wilber. While the level of detail in Wilber’s system can be annoying, I find it’s always good to check any new ideas against his criteria, because if you don’t – you’ve usually missed something.

One of the key components in Ken Wilber’s philosophy is the notion of quadrants, and what it says is this: Most things can be looked at in four different ways. They can be looked at either from an inner perspective or an outer perspective, and they can be looked at as individuals or as members of a group or system – giving four perspectives. Like this:

The left-hand side is the interior perspective, the right-hand side is the exterior perspective. The upper half is individual, the lower half is collective.

The easiest example of these perspectives is a human being. We can look at a human being and study him from the outside (upper right) and study his brain structure, his biology and its underlying chemistry. This will give us a great deal of insight into him. We can also study his environment and how his organism interacts with the atmosphere, the food supply, the traffic flow, etc. (the lower right). We now have a different set of insights, equally important.

But this leaves out an entire half of the picture. What is it like to be this person from the INSIDE? What are his thoughts and feelings? What meanings does he attach to things? What does he feel? These questions are all in the upper left quadrant. Finally, what is his relationship to other people, seem from within the group? What are the values and beliefs of his family, his community or his social group?

Our tendency as modern people is to focus on only one quadrant (often the upper right) to the exclusion of or devaluing of everything else. All quadrants are important, and none should be reduced or folded into another or important insight is lost.

Ok, after this overly-long introduction, how do we apply these principles to spirituality? Let’s analyze first the case of the fundamentalist. This person may believe that he or she is deriving all of their truth from the Bible or the Koran. But in fact, they are focused almost entirely in the bottom left quadrant – the inner social group. They are relying – not on the Bible, but on the meanings and values attached to the Bible by their group. The idea that another group can attach entirely different meanings to the same Bible is confusing to them.

They are also unwilling to actually examine the Bible externally in the right-hand quadrants. Objective examination of the texts would show evidence of copy errors, redactions and multiple sources. Objectively comparing the text with history and science would show evidence of historical and scientific errors or ignorance. These objective incongruities are all ignored or pushed aside in favor of the values and beliefs of the group.

Certain kinds of skeptics, on the other hand, privilege the other quadrants. They assume that the ONLY value the Bible can possess is objective factual value. That it can be a useful source of poetry, mysticism, meaning and value is ignored. That it can be a basis for community interaction,  and social solidarity – providing a literary and mythic vocabulary is likewise unimportant. Their focus is entirely on the right-hand quadrants, particularly the upper right.

Those of us attempting to live spiritually in a modern world had best be able to live in all the quadrants at once. We must be open to the mystical, the poetic and the metaphorical, and value inner spirituality. We must be aware of the prejudices and preconceptions our group mentality may lead us into. We must be willing to accept the insights of objective insights of history, science and textual scholarship without blindness. But we must also be aware of the potential blindness of those who try to live only in the upper-right quadrant of the individual externals.

Apr 122007

There once was a knight who served a noble king. One day his Lord summoned him with an important assignment.

“War is coming to our country from the east. My castle will be heavily attacked. You are one of my most valiant and courageous knights. Therefore, take my beloved daughter to your castle high in the mountains. Guard her from harm and keep her safe, so that when I have put down this attack, I may come and bring her home.”

Zealous to do his Lord’s will, the knight brought the princess to his mountain castle. He doubled all his fortifications. He locked the princess in the tallest tower, with gates of iron set in impenetrable stone. He put up his drawbridge, bolted and locked his massive gates, and melted the key so that no one could betray him by opening the doors for the enemy. He smiled to himself thinking how his Lord the King would reward his efforts.

Months passed, and eventually an army approached the knight’s castle, bearing the banners of the King. “It’s a crafty trick!” thought the knight. When messengers approached his locked gates, he poured boiling oil on them and showered them with arrows. He laughed with glee as the messengers fled from his gates, thinking how pleased the king would be that he had stood his ground against deception. Meanwhile, the army outside settled down for a long siege.

The next day, the army sent an arrow over the knights walls with a message attached, signed with the king’s own seal. “My poor King” thought the knight. “They have captured him – perhaps killed him, and stolen his seal. But I will be true to his final command”.

The next day, a figure approached the gates dressed in the royal robes, but the knight, sure it was an imposter, sent the figure scurrying back behind the lines with a volley of arrows.

Every day, messengers approached the gates, and every day, they were repulsed. Finally, after a long siege, the day came when the knight, weak with hunger – his soldiers all dead, was unable to keep the army from his door. Massive battering rams were set to work on the great gates, which eventually came crashing down.

The knight, all but dead, drew himself up to his knees, brandishing his sword in shaky hands. Then, through the dust, appeared the figure of his King and Lord – greatly angry. The knight collapsed on the ground. When the King’s men finally opened the tower where the princess was locked, nothing was left but a rotting corpse.

The moral? When you’re defending the Truth, make sure you leave an opening so that the Truth can still reach you. Otherwise, it may turn out your defending nothing but a pile of bones.

Moral #2 – Sometimes the person you think is the enemy really isn't an enemy at all.

Dec 182006

In previous postings, I argued against the notion that “The Word of God” means the written Bible. In the first, here:
I argued that the Bible itself says that it is more the spoken word that is portrayed in the Bible as carrying divine power. In a second installment, here:
I said that the written Bible represents a “static” form of the dynamic “Word”, which can sometimes choke the life out of any new, living, developing, growing expressions of divine power.

Taking a scholarly/critical approach to the Bible, I think we can see a few examples of this occurring. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll simplify the scholarship somewhat, and assume that the scholars know what they are talking about. If time permits, I’d like to examine more of the evidence for the multiple sources in the Old Testament.

In 410 BC, on the Egyptian island of Elephantine, a group of Jews sent a rather peculiar letter to the Persian governor of Judah asking for authorization to rebuild the temple of Yahu (Yahweh) on Elephantine, which had been destroyed by jealous priests of a rival temple. This temple was apparently built shortly after the immigration of a garrison of Jewish soldiers to the island during the reign of Manasseh of Judah (son of Hezekiah). The Jews there not only worshiped Yahu, but also several other deities, including Yahu’s female consort. They express puzzlement in their letter that the Jewish leadership of Jerusalem, to whom they have written, haven’t answered them.

To modern readers who take the Bible as history, this is confusing. Didn’t these Jews know that the laws of Moses commanded the offering of sacrifice in only a single location, and that the prophets had said the temple at Jerusalem was this location? Didn’t they know that the laws of Moses dictated that only descendents of Aaron could be priests, and only Levites could assist them? Didn’t they know that ONLY Yahweh should be worshipped, and that he did not have a consort? No, apparently they didn’t know these things.

The reason they didn’t know these things is that the Law of Moses and most of the rest of the Old Testament is apparently a bit of revisionist history. It projects backwards into the ancient past – laws and regulations that were developed very late in the history of Israel and Judah, by two groups of what could be described as religious fundamentalists. Ironically, while these two groups (one from the Northern Kingdom and one from the Southern) not only disagreed with the popular religious practice of nearly everyone – they also disagreed quite strongly with each OTHER. These two groups were the Levite (Mushite) priests of Shiloh in the North, and the Aaronid priests of Jerusalem in the South.

At two periods in time, during the reigns of Hezekiah and later Josiah – each of these groups was able to alternately put “their man” onto the throne, to institute a religious reform according to their group’s ideas, and attempting to destroy all competing religious ideas and practices. We might think of this as the Jewish version of England’s enforced Puritanism under Cromwell – except that it happened twice, with a different group in charge each time.

In each case, the reforms probably centered around a written guideline – which was passed off as being “The Law given to Moses”. In Hezekiah’s case, this was probably a document that scholars call “P”, the “Priestly source” of the Old Testament. It’s showpiece is the book of Leviticus, but it includes other parts of the Old Testament, including the Genesis 1 and part of the flood story. P focused on priestly laws, systems of sacrifice, specific instructions for religious observance. It implied that the Jerusalem temple was the only proper place to sacrifice, and that only descendents of Aaron could be priests. Aaron was the hero of “P” and Moses role was downplayed slightly. “P” was written partly in response to several earlier collections of sacred writings which had begun to circulate. Apparently the “P” source felt these earlier sources had problems. This is not to say that the “P” writer necessarily acted dishonestly. He may have been assembling older traditions of his priestly family – traditions which had been legendarily created by Moses as part of the Law.

The other religiously zealous group – the priests of Shiloh, were not entirely pleased. They were Levites, and believed that ALL Levites were proper priests, not just the sons of Aaron. They believed themselves to be descendents of Moses, and superior to Aaron. Hezekiah had destroyed one of their most precious religious artifacts when he destroyed the brass serpent of Moses that was kept in the temple. The Shiloh priests were also the ones who had produced some of the writings that “P” was written as a “rebuttal” to.

One of these Shiloh was Jeremiah. Read carefully what he says in his book of prophecies.

Jer 7:21-22 WEB
(21) Thus says Yahweh of Armies, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat meat.
(22) For I didnt speak to your fathers, nor command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices:

In other words, Jeremiah is saying that this new “P” document, which is circulating, claiming to be the Law of Moses, and commanding all sorts of sacrifice, is a fraud. He’s even clearer in this scripture

Jer 8:8 WEB
(8) How do you say, We are wise, and the law of Yahweh is with us? But, behold, the false pen of the scribes has worked falsely.

The false scribes Jeremiah rants about were the authors of Leviticus.

The Shiloh priest waited their turn. Hezekiah died and his reforms were quickly overturned by a population that had no taste for the priestly religion. Several generations later, king Josiah comes onto the scene. He is raised from boyhood by the priests of Shiloh. When he is a man, he begins a reconstruction project on the temple, under the direction of the priests of Shiloh, who are now the favored group. Lo and behold, one of them “finds” in some dark corner of the temple, a book – “The book of the Law”, which they bring and show to Josiah. He is horrified at all the laws his people are breaking, and begins another purge, this time focusing on the particular enemies of the Shiloh priesthood.

Scholars are reasonably sure that the “book” Josiah was given was Deuteronomy – the law book of the Shiloh priests. Some scholars, such as Richard Friedman, believe the author of this book – or at least its editor, was Jeremiah himself. Again, Jeremiah wasn’t necessarily acting deceitfully. The Law code he wrote down may well have been passed down to him as having come from Moses. The act of “finding” the book in the temple, however, was probably a ruse. This source, called “D”, eventually included a longer history of Israel from the view of the Shiloh priests.

Josiah died young in a battle and his reform quickly died with him. It was not until the return from captivity that a scribe, most likely the Aaronid priest Ezra, assembled the various sacred sources, including “P” and “D” into one book of the “Law of Moses”. Ezra was sent back to Jerusalem with this book under his arm, and with authority from the Persians to enforce the rules of the book on the returning Jewish population.

It was in THIS third age of “bibliolatry” that the priests of Elephantine wrote to Jerusalem asking for help rebuilding their temple. This group, which left Jerusalem in the reign of Manasseh, apparently had no idea that Judaism had been totally transformed by Ezra into a religion of the book. To them, the reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah had been brief, odd blips in history. But as a result of the new books of Moses, the Elephantines with their multiple temples, multiple gods and “illegitimate” priests were now arch-heretics.

In summary then, while at various times in Bible history, the idea of a written Book as the authoritative “Word of God” was promoted, there was much controversy about such claims by rival groups, by the prophets, and as I said earlier, by Jesus himself. The Bible actually represents a compilation of several, somewhat contradictory written sources from various periods, each having a point of view and each claiming to come more or less directly from God.

Dec 072006

In a previous article I argued that Christians who think “The Word of God” means exactly and exclusively a leather-bound Bible with gold edging are laboring under a false assumption. The Bible itself uses the phrase to mean “the spoken word”, and the prophets Jesus, and the apostles had issues with the veneration of the literal words of scripture. I also pointed out that the history of the Bible shows no signs of God intending it to be his one and only communication to humanity.

I postponed the question “How did the Bible come to be so venerated” for another article – this one.

I’d like to begin at a very high level with a concept that Robert Pirsig uses in his works, particularly “Lila – an Inquiry into Morals”, and which I’ve discussed briefly before here:


Pirsig talks about “Static Quality” as opposed to “Dynamic Quality”. You may remember, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that Pirsig refuses to actually define “Quality”. But in spite of that difficulty, we would look for “Quality” at the cutting edge of experience. The ground floor of reality – before there is any time for analysis, or for subjects and objects to be distinguished, or for categories to be applied. You could easily associate “Quality” with God, or with the “God behind God” to use Tillich’s phrase, or the Tao, or many other things.

This primal Quality enters our existence as something called “Dynamic Quality”. As such, it is unstructured, but full of creative power. It is the force behind change, growth and new development. You may recall that I said the phrase “the Word of God” in the Bible conveyed a sense of dynamic creative power, that entered into a person or group and grew in an organic manner. This is Dynamic Quality. This is what the Bible seems to be referring to when it talks of God’s “Word”.

As the force of Dynamic Quality enters the world, it becomes habituated. It develops form, structure and order. It becomes “Static Quality”. This corresponds to things like the Bible. A static expression that solidified out of dynamic spiritual experience. Static Quality gives us laws, moral codes, dogmas, cultural patterns.

It’s easy to think of Dynamic Quality as “good” and Static Quality as “bad”, but both are necessary. By itself, Dynamic Quality is like fire. Its energy can not only create, but destroy. Jesus’ saying in the Gospel of Thomas is interesting in this context: “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes… He who is near me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.” (Thomas 10,82)

But if it is totally uncontrolled, fire can destroy too much. Without something to contain and preserve the creative achievements of Dynamic Quality, there can be no progress. This is where Static Quality comes in. Static Quality is a stake in the ground – a foundation on which the next wave of Dynamic Quality can build. If it were not for Static Quality, every new human being who comes along would have to build from scratch starting with stone-age technology, stone-age thinking, and stone-age art. Isaac Newton said "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. The giants represent Static Quality, whose job is to solidly maintain the progress of the past.

On the other hand, Static Quality can easily become TOO static. Laws, systems, morals, dogmas and cultures can become so entrenched in the static that Dynamic Quality has little room to operate. In trying to keep the village safe from fire, Static Quality can end up outlawing fire entirely, and so dooming the village to cold, stagnant death. Whenever a system becomes so rigid that no new creative development can occur, Static Quality has been allowed too much authority.

So any culture, institution or system must find the appropriate balance to allow growth without dissolving into beautiful chaos. One of the reasons science has been so successful is because it seems to have found such a balance. New theories are encouraged, but established theories have some inertia, and are somewhat difficult to discard.

In religion, on the other hand, Static Quality has become a serious problem. Using the weapons of Divine sanction, with eternal rewards and punishments – Static Quality has been elevated to an ultimate religious virtue – Faith. Faith in the sense of absolute acceptance of an absolutely unchanging creed, and an absolutely infallible canon of scripture – the written Bible.

Dynamic and Static Quality often alternate in waves of fresh inspiration followed by a crystallization. Evidence of such waves can be found in the history of the Bible.

More on that next installment

Nov 292006

Here is a sample of quotes I picked off the internet recently:

“The Word of God is the basis of our faith. If you don’t have a true copy of the Word of God, forget about faith”

“Each pastor in the room represented literally thousands of believers who longed to have a copy of the Word of God… As each man briefly held the whole Bible, the poignancy of the moment would often overwhelm him before he tearfully passed it on to the man beside him….Once all of the pastors had an opportunity to hold the Bible, it was placed back on the table. A white cloth was then laid over it, and the 25 pastors kneeled on the hard floor around the table and spontaneously began to pray.”

“LBC will send you your own Bible, absolutely free! No strings attached… We simply want to provide you with your own copy of the Word of God. “

“There is nothing more important than your copy of the word of God, and equally as important is your ability to believe in the reliability of your English-translated text”

“God’s Word For The Family (Burgundy Genuine Bonded Leather Gold Edges) “

“all you have to do is paste the following code into the HTML of a page on your website and your users will be able to search The Word of God, the Whole Word of God, and Nothing But the Word of God “

“The Entire Word of God in 365 Short Readings”

Underlying all these quotes is a particular set of assumptions – assumptions so engrained into the fabric of some versions of Christianity that it is very difficult to actually step back and examine them carefully. They are…

1. That “The Word of God” means the Bible. The Word of God is an object consisting of printed letters on paper, bound in leather with gold edging. The Word of God is an object you can (and should) own.

2. Everything printed in the Bible is the Word of God, and ONLY what is printed in the Bible is the Word of God. The text of the Bible is the complete, comprehensive, exhaustive and entire communication of God to man.

We are all familiar with this point of view. But WHY do some Christians adopt this point of view? I believe the answer to this question is a bit complex. One thing I believe we can demonstrate – it is NOT because this point of view represents the attitude of Jesus, the early Christians, or even the authors of the Bible text itself. Let’s start by examining the Bible at face value. According to my count, the phrases “Word of God” or “Word of the Lord” appear, in the King James translation at least, 435 times. I took an hour or so to examine these verses. In how many of them, do you suppose, does the phrase “Word of God” or “Word of the Lord” apply, without any ambiguity whatsoever, only to specific WRITTEN scripture? As far as I can tell, not once. It’s possible I’ve missed one, and I’d be happy to correct myself if someone wants to point one out. But it’s clear that “The Word of God” never or almost never explicitly refers to the WRITTEN word, but often explicitly refers to something else.

So what IS the “Word of God” (according to the Bible) if it is not the written word? The Hebrew used for “word” in these phrases is usually “dabar” and refers quite clearly to a SPOKEN word. Occasionally the word “peh” is used, meaning “mouth” (again indicating a spoken word). Occasionally, “millah” is used, also meaning a “saying” or spoken word. In the Greek New Testament, several words are used – “rhema”, which again, refers to a spoken utterance, and “logos”. “Logos” also means a spoken word. It also has many complex meanings in the various Greek philosophies. It can mean “truth”, “form”, “pattern” and can represent the underlying structure of reality itself, and the first emanation of the kosmos from the primal unity. The writers of the New Testament take advantage of these meanings and several times refer to Jesus as the Word (logos) of God. Many of the usages of “Word of God” in the Bible make it entirely clear from context that the “Word” is spoken, and heard – not written and read.

Isa 1:10 Hear [not read] the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear [not eye] unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

Isa 39:8 Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken [not written].

Hos 4:1 Hear [not read] the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel:

Jon 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying [not writing],

Luk 11:28 But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear [not read] the word of God, and keep it.

Rom 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing [not reading], and hearing by the word of God.

Heb 13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken [not written] unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

There are hundreds of such examples. But isn’t this a technicality, asks the literalist? If the phrases recorded in scripture were the “Word of God” when they were spoken, aren’t they just as much so when they are written down? I believe there is a key difference. The Bible regards the “Word of God” not as a simple collection of syllables, but a divine, creative, spiritual force that enters into a person, “comes upon” them, and allows them to communicate powerfully – something that lives in people and grows. [Note, in reading these passages, remember that “word” means “spoken word”)

Num 11:25 And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.

Eze 1:3 The word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.

Act 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

Act 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Heb 4:12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Even in the Bible itself, there are several scriptures that indicated that it is not the actual words of preaching or scripture that are of primary concern, but the animating spirit behind them:

2Co 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

1Co 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.

But didn’t the prophets and Jesus and the apostles regard the written Old Testament as God’s word? I believe there are conflicting indications. Let’s start with the Old Testament prophets. Isaiah says:

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. (Isa 1:11-14)

Hear the prophet seems to be condemning the very observances of the law that the five books of Moses make clear are God’s direct commandments. But is it perhaps simply that God is displeased with these observances because of the hypocrisy of Israel? That argument could be made, but look at what Jeremiah says on the same topic:

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Put your burnt offerings unto your sacrifices, and eat flesh. For I SPAKE NOT unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: (Jer 7:21-22)

Isn’t that interesting. Jeremiah clearly says that God did NOT speak to Israel in the days of the Exodus and command burnt offerings and sacrifices, yet the book of Exodus clearly puts these commandments into the mouth of God – for example:

And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. (Exo 20:22-24)

It sounds very much like Jeremiah is accusing Israel of INVENTING the sacrificial system as a human tradition and placing it into the mouth of God. Later, when we step back from the face-value approach to the Bible, we can talk about the sources that went into the Old Testament and their conflicting agendas – but to return to the Bible, it appears very much as if Jesus says the same thing as Jeremiah. At the beginning of Exodus 20, God begins a long discourse of “his” laws It begins: Exo 20:1 And God spake all these words, saying,… and continues for several chapters, with the grammar making clear every few verses that it is still God talking (ie Ex 22:23) An even longer list is found in Deuteronomy. The Lord begins speaking to Moses in Deu 18:17 ( And the LORD said unto me,) and continues non-stop for many chapters. And yet, Jesus directly contradicts several of these commandments, or at least teaches that they are the commandments of men, not of God. Compare, for example:

Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. (Exo 22:11)


And Moses spake unto the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded. If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth. (Num 30:1-2)

As opposed to…

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; … (Mat 5:33-34)

“God” directly commands oaths for certain things, Jesus prohibits them. Also notice that Jesus doesn’t attribute these commandments to God, but to “them of old time” Next –

Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (Exo 21:24)

As opposed to:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Mat 5:38-39) Again, not only does Jesus contradict Exodus, he downplays Exodus as simply a tradition – something that “hath been said”

Then there’s divorce:

When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. (Deu 24:1)

As opposed to:

It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Mat 5:31-32)

They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. (Mat 19:7-8)

Again, Jesus contradicts Deuteronomy, and also makes this a human commandment of Moses, whereas Deuteronomy portrays it as the word of God.

Here’s another interesting indication of Jesus’ opinion of scripture. It’s a verse often quoted by “Bible only” Christians to show the importance of scripture – but the irony is usually missed. To the “pius” who rejected him, Jesus says this:

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. (Joh 5:39)

Notice, Jesus doesn’t say “search the scriptures, for in them ye HAVE eternal life” he says “for in them YE THINK ye have eternal life”. Jesus makes it clear earlier that these people don’t have the TRUE “word of God” – they only have the dead letter of scripture:

And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. (Joh 5:38)

The “ye think” uses a Greek word (dokeo) which is often used not only of opinions, but often of manifestly false ones. For example:

Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought (dokeo) that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. (Joh 11:13)

It’s clear that Jesus is criticizing his opponents for honoring the scriptures, but NOT having living word of God. What of the scriptures that are traditionally sited to justify the Bible as the Word of God? Most of them become completely unconvincing when it is realized that “word of God” in scripture generally refers to the spoken word and it’s unique spiritual power – for example:

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Mat 4:4)

The “word” here is clearly the spoken word (rhema). The fact that Jesus is quoting scripture to Satan is not particularly persuasive, as Satan responds by quoting scripture right back. In fact, several verses imply that scripture can be put to dangerous uses (such as 2 Peter 3:16)

About the best remaining verse that can be salvaged is:

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2Ti 3:15)

Unfortunately, while the scriptures (and the author here must mean the Old Testament, since it would have been the only scripture available to Timothy) may have been sufficient to save Timothy, they apparently were NOT enough for many other Jews who studied them from childhood. The conversion success among the Jews, who HAD the Old Testament scriptures to work with – was quickly eclipsed by the growth of Christianity among the gentiles – most of whom had NOT studied the Hebrew scriptures.

But wasn’t it God’s plan, and Jesus’ purpose – to found a church that would be based upon and rely upon the Bible? If so, why is there no record of Jesus ever writing anything down (except in the sand)? Why is there no record of his instructing his apostles to write anything down (with the tenuous possible exception of a brief letter at the beginning of Revelation)? Why did no original manuscript in Jesus language of Aramaic even survive? Why was it not until the next century that any lists of which books were scriptural was even contemplated? Why was it not until several centuries later that any collection resembling our current New Testament appeared? For centuries after that, only churches and the wealthy could afford a hand-copied edition of the scriptures. Not for 1,400 years (and the invention of the printing press) would a bible be commonly available. Not for hundreds more years would the literacy rate be high enough that most European Christians could read one.

The modern image of every Christian running around with a Bible under their arm is a very strange and unusual situation in the history of Christianity. Yet this image has imposed itself upon our mentality so strongly that many Christians can’t hear the phrase “the word of God” without instantly thinking of a thick book, bound in leather, with gold edges. We have become the Pharisees Jesus warned us about 😉

If time permits, I’d like to continue with this examination, stepping back from the direct scriptural approach.