Reader Question: How can anyone really take the bible seriously? It was written soooooo long ago and has gone through one translation after another. If someone sat down today and pounded out a bunch of stories because “God spoke to them” and said we should obey everything within them, would we believe it?
The Bible was written long ago, between two and three millennia past. It has been translated many times, but the content of our best current translations are remarkably consistent with the oldest manuscripts we have of the ancient texts. The reason we can still take the Bible seriously while being frank about the cultural and societal shifts humans have undergone since its writing, is that we believe that moral and spiritual truths remain true for all time. We may not take seriously anymore the laws about the proper ways to sacrifice a sheep at the Temple, or the prohibition of sitting in a chair where a menstruating woman recently sat. But we can still take seriously the fundamental thrust of the Bible that we are all created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), that God asks us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), that our life can’t be reduced to material possessions (Luke 12:15), and that we should love one another as God loves us (John 13:34). These are all enduring lessons that the Bible attempts to convey. In the same way, other world religions communicate similar spiritual truths, even though their writings are as old as our sacred scripture (if not older).
Ultimately, we search for the spiritual truths of our Bible. We aren’t asked to “obey everything” within it. We must study it, be in conversation with it and about it, and discern the truth that is to be had. We should do the same with modern writings, not swallowing them unreflectively because the author claims God spoke to him/her. But we give the books of the Bible more weight as sacred texts because for thousands of years Jews and Christians have found wisdom and truth in its pages. In that manner, we say the Bible is inspired. The wisdom contained within does not expire, although it may be more challenging to uncover it from the distance of 2,000 years.