How often have you found yourself drifting away while listening to a monologue?
When the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy says that Scripture has one divine author and that it is wholly and verbally God-given, without error or fault in everything it states … it basically tells us to shut up and listen. There is no room for dialogue here.
However, so many who have bought into this approach to scripture have found themselves drifting away amidst the continual drone of a monologue that does not involve them.
God delights in conversation. He wants to hear what you have to say. In fact David tells us of a God so intrigued by us that he knows our thoughts from afar. He even observes with interest our sitting down and standing up. It is almost as if he is in love! (And you are welcome to replace the ‘he’ with a ‘she’.)
Not only does God delight in direct conversation with us, he gives us ample room for conversation with one another. For God is not simply interested in making us understand him, but in helping us understand ourselves. And so the scriptures are full of such conversations … dialogues that often reveals more about us, than what they do about God.
For instance in Job 42:7 God enters a conversation that has been going on for more than forty chapters already. Speaking to Eliphaz, God says that he is angry for “…you have not spoken of Me what is right…”
So here we have a scripture in which God disagrees with what was said about him in scripture!
According to this scripture, God Himself does not agree with everything in scripture.
The previous 42 chapter contain much of Eliphaz and his friends opinions … opinions that does not differ much from a lot of religious teachings today. Opinions with which God apparently strongly disagrees. But how many people will quote any verse from the Bible, including these 42 chapters, and say: “…but the Bible says …” as if the Bible only says one thing. It doesn’t. But this is often the kind of foolishness encouraged by the doctrine of inerrancy when it says the Bible has ONE DIVINE AUTHOR and everything it states is without fault. It doesn’t. It has many less-than-divine authors. Ironically, recognizing this is what will enable to see the overall guidance and, in a sense, ‘authorship’ of God.
In fact many biblical writers explicitly disagreed with other biblical writers. Jeremiah once conversed with people who claimed to be wise because they had the Torah (most translations read ‘law’) of YHVH. Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible. So their argument seems very sound and not unlike arguments we hear today. How does Jeremiah respond? Rather shockingly! He does not tell them that they are interpreting the Torah incorrectly, but rather: “What you have is the product of the lying pen of the scribes.” Wow! Jeremiah 8:8 calls the Torah the product of the lying pen of the scribes.
There are many other theological disagreements in scripture as well.
- Early Hebrew religion practiced human sacrifice – later writers condemn this practice.
- Early Hebrew writers believed in the existence of many different gods – later authors condemn this as foolishness as Monotheism became more accepted.
- The growing expectation for a Messiah also transforms the very concept of what the Messiah would be.
- Even the concept of Satan is non-existent in early Hebrew writings. It is however a concept that develops and we can trace the history of its development throughout scripture.
How these ideas changed over time and how the scriptures develop these themes, is explored in much more detail in the book ‘Desire Found Me’. Today I want to focus in on one: How the concept of God changed.
The predominant world-view in ancient middle east was Polytheism – the belief in many gods. Typically the view included a hierarchy of gods. The highest god was known as El in most of these cultures. The next level down consisted of divine family members. Another level down often had named servants and a further level consisted of unnamed servants.
…Israel, like every other tribal nation in their region, believed in many gods and that Yahweh was their tribal God. From this polytheistic background, their monotheistic theology grew and only culminated during their transition to monarchy. The journey from polytheism to monotheism was a gradual evolutionary process but also a revolutionary change as the very nature of God was redefined.
(Rabe, Andre (2015-01-24). Desire Found Me (Kindle Locations 1426-1430). Andre Rabe Publishing. Kindle Edition.)
What I want to demonstrate now is that some of the authors of the scriptures were Polytheistic in their worldview.
One of the oldest texts in the Bible is found in Deuteronomy 32: 8,9 and the Dead Sea Scrolls give us the most authentic version of it.
When Elyon divided the nations,
when he separated the sons of Adam,
he established the borders of the nations
according to the number of the sons of the gods.
Yahweh’s portion was his people,
Jacob his allotted inheritance.
What we have here is a typical Polytheistic hierarchy. Elyon, the most high god, is dividing up the nations according to the number of his sons. To Yahweh, one of Elyon’s sons, he gives Jacob.
Yahweh is seen as one of the up and coming warrior gods … and his reputation is growing, so much so that verse 43 says:
Praise, O heavens, his people
Kneel before him, all you gods.
But Israel grew in their theology and Monotheism came to replace Polytheism. The belief in many gods and especially the scriptural witness to this belief became intolerable to later editors of the text. The Masoretic text was therefore edited to reflect their new theology as follows:
When Elyon divided the nations,
when he separated the sons of Adam,
he established the borders of the nations
according to the number of the sons of Israel.
Yahweh’s portion was his people Jacob his allotted inheritance.
The words ‘sons of god’ was replaced with ‘sons of Adam’. Multiple other such edits happened to hide any trace of Polytheism and keep the ancient text in line with their newfound theology.
The move from Polytheism to Monotheism presented many other unforeseen problems as well. The problem of evil is easier to explain when there are many gods. If no one god’s will is sovereign then conflict between the gods is inevitable and often spills over into our human affairs. But if there is only one god who’s will is absolute then everything that happens is his will. This is exactly what early versions of monotheism proposed. Isaiah writes “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” (45:7)
This view however creates much theological tension. To believe in a good god who is in control of everything becomes difficult as all evil is his doing as well.
It is clear that the shift from many gods to a singular Lord of the Universe gives rise to an existential frustration amongst God’s chosen people as they grapple with the reality of a God who creates both weal and woe. It would appear that, over time, an exorcism of sorts takes place; the negative aspects of Yhvh are cast out and assigned to alternative beings, such as the Destroyer (Mashit), the ‘smiting angel’ (hammal’ak kammashit), and of course, hassatan. Eventually it is hassatan, ‘the Adversary’, who will become the embodiment of evil, but this, too, is a slow, evolutionary process, with many more twists and turns to explore.
(T.J. Wray and Gregory Mobley, The Birth of Satan, page 51)
As a consequence of the developing monotheism, the concept of satan is constructed. Let me show this to you in the text. We will look at two versions of the exact same events.
2 Samuel 24 was written during the early monotheistic period
1 Chronicles 21 was written later after the concept of satan became acceptable.
The basic events of the story, with which both versions correspond, are as follows: David decides to do a census of Israel and Judah. Not everyone agrees with this – it had potential tax implication! Consequently, some debate follows. However, David’s decision stands. It takes about nine months to complete the census. Shortly after the census some kind of plague strikes Israel and seventy thousand people die. It is obvious to the writers that David sinned and so caused this just punishment to come upon the nation.
From a purely monotheistic point of view, everything happens under God’s control and so 2 Sam 24: 1 reads as follows: “And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.”( 2 Samuel 24: 1 KJV)
In other words, it is perceived that God is angry with Israel, mad enough to kill seventy thousand of them… but it seems that even YHVH himself does not feel that he has enough justification for such a killing spree and so he devises a plan: he seduces David to do a census and in doing so secures all the justification he needs to carry out his murderous plan.
It is none other that YHVH himself that inspires David to do the census. (the word translated ‘moved’ can also be translated ‘seduced’) And it is YHVH himself who sends the plague. This interpretation of the events is in perfect harmony with early monotheism – God is in direct control of everything.
By the time the Chronicler writes his version of the events, the concept of Satan is much further developed and so he interprets the events as follows: “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” (1 Chronicles 21: 1 KJV)
Describing the exact same event, the Chronicler can no longer ascribe the evil of the event to God directly. The concept of Satan has developed to the stage where such evil events are no longer directly caused by God but by the accuser, the adversary.
(Rabe, Andre (2015-01-24). Desire Found Me (Kindle Locations 1931-1946). Andre Rabe Publishing. Kindle Edition.)
This is a plain and simple theological difference between the authors of 2 Samuel and the authors of 1 Chronicles. The same story is told at different times and theological developments means that the events are radically re-interpreted.
The purpose of this articles was to demonstrate the lively conversations, including disagreements, that are present in the scriptures. Where does this lead us?
God and concepts of God are not the same.
The Bible is full of concepts about God. People conversing about the meaning of life, the reason things happen, the nature of the divine.
In the midst of all these concepts of god, God begins to reveal Himself as not-a-god.
God is not any of our ideas of what god is or should be. God is not even the one true god among many gods. That is just a reduction in the number of gods. God does not exist as a being among other beings. Rather as the source of all existence and the sustainer of all beings, no thing defines or confines Him.
He patiently allows us to work through all our projections of god and once we’ve reached the end of our own imaginations, He unveils us as projections of Himself. This self-unveiling would reach a climax in the person of Jesus Christ. In this event God would take us beyond ideas, beyond text, as the Word becomes flesh … but more about that in upcoming articles.
Why is all this significant. Well for me … its a very intimate part of my story. A story in which I lost the kind of faith that was based on inerrant text, but found the kind of trust that is based on honest conversation. A conversation in which scripture has a prominent voice. However its no longer the kind of dominant voice that prescribes dogma, but the voice of a compassionate friend who has experienced the same doubts and confusion yet somehow made it through to a brighter and more beautiful place. Recognizing the many voices in scripture does not obscure the voice of God, in fact it makes it more distinct.
Is this series starting to change the way you approach scripture?