The book we had read this time, in the Good Faith Book Club, was 'The Badly Behaved Bible' by Nick Page. In his book he provides a modern perspective of the Bible, emphasising that it is not one book but a collection of 66 books written by different people at very different times. Many were not written as 'Scripture' as such but were collected much later. Many were written centuries after the events they report. They had often been handed down orally as stories of the peoples' experience of God and the Hebrew people in the Old Testament and of the emerging Christian Church, with the story of Jesus in the Gospels as the most important part.
We all thought it was a good book and we agreed with it! That could have been the end of the discussion but there were interesting themes that we wanted to discuss.
One of the most difficult is the portrayal of God in many parts of the Old Testament as a jealous God urging his people on to destroy their enemies including the women and children and babies, particularly if they were worshipping other gods. Several explanations have been given over the centuries for this including those who felt that God was completely justified because what God wants must be right! Nick Page feels that a lot of the stories have been exaggerated over the long period of oral transmission before they were written. Also, the people were only just getting to know what God was like and the revelation was partial. However, we felt it could also be that in that day and age anything a leader proposed had to be said to be sanctioned by God or else they would not agree. So it was often purely political to say God commanded! After all, in both the world wars of the 20th century, both sides claimed God was on their side, with no religious justification at all.
Another interesting theme that was shown was that in the early part of the Old Testament the Hebrew people believed in many gods like all the nations, but that Jaweh had a special covenant relationship with them. Solomon who built the first temple and who had many wives also built temples to the various gods of his wives. This is Polytheism. Later they believed that their God was much superior to the gods of other nations, while not denying them. This is Monolatry. Later, certainly by the time of the exile they realised that there was only one God who created everything, and all other gods were frauds; simply idols made of wood and of no value. This is Monotheism, which along with Judaism and Islam is what Christians believe today.
Nick Page had a chapter on doubt which he felt was extremely important and is shown by many biblical characters and makes them ask questions which is so very important to faith development. We should always encourage our congregations to express their doubts and have a conversation about them so that we all may learn more. Much of the Bible comprises stories and is in no way history as we recognise it today. The writers wanted to get across their developing understanding of God and whether what they describe actually happened is nothing like as important as the God truth we may find there. A side issue which comes up in the story of Job is that Satan, thought of as the devil himself is actually described in the original as 'The Satan'. It was a job title and not a person. In Job, Satan's role is taken by an angel playing 'devil's advocate' posing situations for God to test!
The final view is of course that for Christians the true revelation of God is in Jesus. Nick Page quotes Archbishop Michael Ramsey as saying '...God is Christlike, and in him there is no unChristlikeness at all'! So, in all the reading of the Bible we need to remind ourselves of this and to see Jesus as the true and final revelation of God.