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Ten myths about the Bible

From the Christian Science Sentinel - June 20, 2012

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1) The Bible is drier than the Mojave Desert.

True, the Bible is, in a sense, just a bunch of words. But the reader’s desire to understand God, to love Him and one’s fellow men and women more, and to grow in grace brings the Bible to life. Our desire to grow spiritually converts the Bible from a desert of words into a luxuriant garden of spiritual truths and inspiration.  

2) The Bible teaches religiosity not spirituality.

Actually, the Bible is profoundly opposed to a surface spiritual practice. It demands honesty with oneself and others, freedom from hypocrisy, and that one love God and others unconditionally. 

A strong example is Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, in which a priest and another worker in the Temple refuse to help a man who has been beaten up. Finally he receives aid from a compassionate and generous man of a religion that was detested by Jesus’ compatriots (see Luke 10:25–37).

3) The Bible is anti-women. 

Some letters purportedly written by Paul say that women should dress and act modestly and keep quiet. But these are views about what was appropriate in that time and culture—not comments on the superiority of one gender over another. In fact, millions of women and men, throughout history and today, have found that the love of God as explained in the Bible, reforms, frees, and even heals. Consider Mary Baker Eddy, who found in the Bible the answer to her own suffering, as well as a system of healing upon which to found a church. In this church, men and women have enjoyed equality since 1879.

4) The Bible is exclusivistic.

That is, it teaches that only some are “in” while most are “out.” For example, this statement of Jesus is often interpreted in a narrow, exclusivistic manner: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). But as the four Gospels indicate, Jesus was not trying to get people to accept a certain phrase or even a certain narrow teaching. He invited everyone everywhere, and in all time, to love God supremely, and to love their brothers and sisters. This is the way, the truth, and the life by which we come to God. 

5) The Bible says that people who aren’t Christian are just plain wrong. 

In fact, the writers of many parts of the Bible seem to go out of their way to emphasize that everyone everywhere can recognize and base their lives on God as infinite Love. In the book named for him, Jonah is told by God to go to the heart of the empire of his people’s enemy—to the great city of Nineveh—to get citizens there to repent. Not at all interested in being a prophet, Jonah flees by boat in the opposite direction. The sailors on the boat, all idol-worshippers, show themselves to be more pious than he is. When he does finally preach in Nineveh, the Ninevites repent, which ironically disappoints him greatly (see Jonah, specifically 1:5 and 3:5). 

In the New Testament, Peter has an experience that shows him that God doesn’t care about a person’s background as long as the person is truly righteous (see Acts 10:1–35).

6) The Bible teaches we’ll go to hell if we don’t accept Jesus as our personal savior. 

It’s possible to have such a narrow, and, frankly, skewed interpretation of the Bible, but you’ll find few biblical passages that actually talk about hell. Rather, many passages talk about the blessings that flow—here and now and eternally—from doing right (see the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, for example). 

And here’s a passage that emphasizes that salvation is won as we think and live the way that Jesus did: “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;  and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). 

7) The Bible contributes to an unhappy status quo in societies around the world.

This is a really serious misconception. In fact, one could argue that it was the availability of the Bible in the vernacular that drove forward the Reformation. The Good Book was the main inspiration for ending the transportation of Africans as slaves to the United States, and many ministers and others who fought for civil rights for African Americans in the latter part of the 20th century leaned heavily on the Bible. 

The love of God as explained in the Bible, reforms, frees, and even heals.

The Book of Books has many traditions within it, one of the most powerful being its call for social justice. For Jesus this was not a call for political change but for a radical letting go of impurity, insincerity, selfishness, and worldliness. He said, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29). In other words, he expected people to experience not so much an external revolution as an internal cleansing and repentance. Of course, whenever an individual engages in such a spiritual practice, society is blessed and made more just. 

8) The Bible is old-fashioned and becoming obsolete. 

For thousands of years, the Bible, which has easily outsold any other book since it was printed for the first time in the 15th century, has shaped Western law and culture. Right now, the Ten Commandments from the Bible form the basis for laws in many countries. 

Ways of thinking and living will evolve, but the Bible will always be one of humanity’s most striking achievements. An achievement of humanity? Yes, the Bible was written several thousand years ago by inspired people, people who were seeing the eternal, unchanging reality of God. The Bible on the whole teaches us to see our own unchanging nature as the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:26, 27). 

9) The Bible should be interpreted literally.

The Bible abounds in metaphors, parables, and stories. Interpreting this richness literally would kill its spirit with the deadness of the letter. The  Scriptures heal us as we open our hearts to their spirit. 

10) You could study the Bible for centuries, but it can never save you from dying. 

Christian Science teaches that to understand the Bible spiritually is to be guided to eternal life. Jesus said, “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (John 8:51). 

Rather than death being a biological process, we die when we give up hope, when we resign ourselves to discord and disease, and when we stumble into the darkness of selfishness, lust, and self-condemnation. The Bible rescues us from all of this and lifts us to a higher perception of God as the only Life now. This knowledge is practical and will save us bodily to the degree that we understand and prove it in daily living.

Lyle Young is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher from Ottawa, Canada. He now lives in Boston, Massachusetts, and is a member of the Christian Science Board of Directors.

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