Thursday, December 22, 2011

500 Posts

I recently passed a milestone on this blog: My post about Matthew 28:16–20 was my 500th post. (I probably should have posted this “milestone” post one post ago, except I figured I’d rather put up the Matthew Summary first.)

It’s kind of odd to me that my Bible Blog has now reached 500 posts while my “main blog” has become practically dormant. I guess I just don’t have much to say these days—and what I do have to say I’m saying on Google+ or Twitter or Yammer or LinkedIn—whereas this Bible Blog is much more targeted, and therefore leads itself to sustained use. (Well… except for a long period of almost a year where I posted close to nothing…)

I never mentioned it at the time, but I first started this blog in response to a series on Slate. David Plotz decided to work his way through the Bible and blog about it piece by piece. (I forget if he was doing it chapter by chapter, book by book, or on some other schedule; I lost track of his series after a few posts. There is a link in Slate to the series which doesn’t work, but Plotz’ summary can be found here. I believe he was only going through what Christians call the Old Testament, though, not the New Testament.) Plotz was purposely approaching the Bible as “a hopeful, but indifferent, agnostic” (his words), rather than as a believing Christian or a believing Jew. In the end, Plotz decided that everyone should read the Bible—although, from my perspective, for the wrong reasons. You see, the Bible has been at the center of Western thought since it was written, and so much of the way we think and even the phrases we use come straight from the Bible; Plotz argues that reading the Bible will help us to understand where these things come from. He gives a bunch of examples in that summary post, things like “the writing on the wall,” or the first person to put a dummy in a bed to fool people into thinking a person was there, or who Jezebel was and why her name has become a byword for “bad women” in our culture.

But as for belief, Plotz says this:

You notice that I haven’t said anything about belief. I began the Bible as a hopeful, but indifferent, agnostic. I wished for a God, but I didn’t really care. I leave the Bible as a hopeless and angry agnostic. I’m brokenhearted about God.

After reading about the genocides, the plagues, the murders, the mass enslavements, the ruthless vengeance for minor sins (or none at all), and all that smiting—every bit of it directly performed, authorized, or approved by God—I can only conclude that the God of the Hebrew Bible, if He existed, was awful, cruel, and capricious. He gives us moments of beauty—such sublime beauty and grace!—but taken as a whole, He is no God I want to obey and no God I can love.

So Plotz approached the Bible as a non-believer, and left the Bible still a non-believer.

When I first saw Plotz’ posts about blogging through the Bible, I thought that a believing Christian should do the same. Someone who could go through the Bible not just looking at the literary merits or cultural significance, but at the spiritual significance of the events unfolding throughout the book (from a Christian perspective). I didn’t envision this as a response to Plot’ series; I wasn’t thinking of trying to argue against Plotz or anything. And I’m not trying to argue against him here, either; as a non-believer of course he’d have a different perspective on his biblical readings from a believing Jew, who in turn would have a very different perspective from a believing Christian. I simply envisioned this blog (or maybe wiki—that was my first idea, at the time) as a resource by Christians for Christians.

I personally wasn’t going to do it, however, because I don’t know enough about the Bible. I’m no biblical scholar, and without resources like the ESV Study Bible or the NIV New Student Bible or other online commentaries I know nothing more than what is on the page in front of me. So I surely wasn’t going to write something that would be an authoritative resource for other Christians. Not that I think you have to be a scholar to write about the Bible, of course, but I think there is a big difference between a non-believer blogging through the Bible vs. a person who believes that the Bible is the divine Word of God—a person who bases his/her very belief on this book. I think if you’re going to write a resource for others on a book which you consider to be a central source of truth, you should know what you’re talking about. (After all, if you believe the book is true, and then you misinterpret part of it, wouldn’t you be leading people astray?)

And then I just decided to go ahead and blog through the Bible for myself. After all, I’m a Christian, so I should be reading this book on a regular basis anyway. Why not create a diary of what I’ve read? And we all know that writing down what we study and giving it some structure helps us to understand it better, so blogging my way through the Bible would be especially useful to me. So the word “diary” is an important one; this is simply a chronicle of my journey through the Bible, not an authoritative source for others to come and get wisdom. I may be getting things wrong, occasionally. (Hopefully not often!) That being said, the vast majority of comments that come to this blog are of the “thanks for your resource” variety, so if people are getting use out of it, I’m glad.

Like Plotz, when I first started reading my plan was to go through cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation. I got as far as I Samuel and started to get very bogged down; as a Christian, I need to sprinkle some New Testament readings into my Old Testament readings. So I decided to follow a reading plan that came with my old NIV New Student Bible, which had a three year plan for reading through the Bible alternating between Old and New Testaments. (Obviously it would take me longer than three years to get through it; it took me over a year just to get through Matthew!) So I’m currently playing catch up; I just finished Matthew, and I need to get all the way through John before I go back to alternating between Old and New Testaments. (I still haven’t figured out how I want to tackle Psalms or Proverbs; I used to worry about that, but it’ll be years before I get there anyway so I’ve still got lots of time to think about the format for those posts.)

So I’ll continue blogging my way through until I’m called home or I finish. (And if I finish, I’ll have to decide if I want to start over and do it again…)

Again, though, let me stress that I have nothing against David Plotz, nor against his idea of blogging his way through the Bible. Quite the opposite, I applaud his effort. I’m writing about him because he was the original catalyst for starting this blog, but not because I want to “call him out” or argue these points with him. I would very much expect any non-believer to disagree with me (or Christians in general) on interpretation of many passages in the Bible, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that Plotz sees God as “awful, cruel, and capricious” from his point of view. Obviously I disagree with that, and my reading of the Old Testament through a Christian’s eyes is a large part of why I disagree with him. He says that he sees moments of “sublime beauty and grace,” and “Grace”—the Christian definition of Grace—is exactly why we disagree on interpretation of the Bible, especially the Old Testament.
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