2. How should the Bible be understood?
Common answers from modernity have been that the bible is a manual for life, an answer book for every problem, and is completely historically and scientifically accurate. In other words, the bible is like a text book, where you can go to any section and receive training on some subject. Post-modernity has gone the opposite direction. Lately it has become more common for some to view the bible as just a story book. The stories may have good moral lessons, but most of the stories are not likely to be true. People merely made them up in order to try and teach lessons or explain things they didn’t understand.
I differ from both of these opinions. In order to try and understand things, we are always simplifying in order to try and classify. But these simplifications are always reductionistic. I propose that we look at the bible as it actually is: a collection of books written by many people for different purposes, in different contexts and in different styles. These people were unique individuals who had their own personalities and beliefs which influenced their writing. Despite these differences, all of these writings give us some insight into the overall story. However we must understand the differences in each book in order to correctly understand what that book adds to the story. And we must take all the books together in order to see the overall story emerge.
Most of the bible wasn’t written to be a manual for life, a science report, a theology text, nor a spiritual encyclopedia. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have some answers, can’t provide guidance, or isn’t true. What it means is that, for example, when the author wrote about creation, he wasn’t writing to give a scientifically precise account of the means by which it happened. Did everything happen as literally as written in Genesis 1? Maybe, maybe not. The point is, if evolution could somehow be proven or if the earth and universe is more than 10,000 years old, that doesn’t suddenly disprove the bible or the message in it. My stance on these matters is to believe what the bible says is most likely true (until proven otherwise), though recognize that there is a possibility it may not be as well. The bible may not be one-hundred percent accurate in the details on some matter, but that’s OK because that wasn’t the point. (The key however is to judge a scripture based on actual knowledge and not one’s own whims, desires or beliefs; otherwise the bible becomes a reflection of one’s own beliefs, merely saying what one wants it to. For more on this topic, see Biblical Inerrancy?.)