October 19, 2012

Who is the Bible Written for, Anyway?

Filed under: Uncategorized — kevinocoin @ 4:02 pm

Christian culture in North America is exceptionally confused about how Christians are supposed to engage with those who do not profess faith in Jesus.  Some people are very happy to keep their faith a private thing and never discuss it with others, while some take every opportunity to share by bludgeoning people over the head with the Bible and seek to create laws based on a certain vision of biblical morality.  There are certain other (and healthier) approaches than these, but both of these are equally laid bare when we consider the seldom-asked question: “Who is the Bible written for, anyway?”  When we answer that question correctly, the best approach to sharing faith become much clearer.

We should be very clear about the fact that the Bible, first and foremost, was delivered into the context of a believing community.  It was given by God to those whom he was instructing toward being in relationship with himself — be it Israel or the Church.  The Psalms were the song-book of Israel, the Pentateuch was written to the Israelites to teach the story of creation and let the people know how to worship God, Judges and other history books were written to instruct the Israelites about how to live (or more often than not, how not to live), the Gospels were mostly written so that Christians could know the whole story or so those who wanted to investigate the life of Jesus had a source document to refer to, and the letters of Paul were clearly written to Christian churches.  Even Revelation was primarily written to Christians as an encouragement to hold fast in the face of persecution.  And the Old Testament prophetic books catalogued judgments God would bring on his people as well as the foreign nations — even the judgments against foreign nations were addresses to Israel, because their main point was to show God will still deliver and fight on behalf of his people.  All that to say, for the most part the Bible, in both Testaments, is meant for those who would follow him.

What does this have to do with the situation presented at the beginning of this post?  Simply this: that those who do not consider themselves followers of Jesus, and who are not interested in becoming followers, are not the target audience of the Bible.  Therefore, to use the Bible as a weapon to speak against such people is missing the mark.  Followers of Jesus actually have no business in using the Bible to correct the morality of those who do not believe in it.  Therefore, any type of legislation that is based on some version of biblical morality contradicts the spirit of the Bible.  Yes, the Old Testament records lists of laws that were to rule the nation of Israel, but that was a nation of believers from the very beginning, whereas the New Testament goes beyond the borders of nations to call people into the Church, and the borderless Church is the recipient of these new laws, no longer nations.  There actually is no such thing as a Christian nation, nor could there be.

But the Bible does make a certain claim on all people: there are numerous places where the Bible explicitly teaches the worldwide Lordship of Jesus and God.  Faith cannot be a private matter because God is Lord of the entire earth and of all its people.  Whether people like it or not, or accept it or not, God is King, and this is something that we can (and should) communicate to all people.

So where does that leave us?  I suppose the best formulation of this is to say the power of the Christian faith is in proclamation of the Good News and demonstration of it (i.e. living in accordance with that which is proclaimed), not in legislation.  Yes, we have an obligation and privilege as those who know and love God to verbally tell others about his love and compassion for them, and to get people to ask questions and witness the power of Jesus because of the unique ways in which we live.  But if people refuse to put themselves under the Lordship of Jesus, while we can claim that those actions which are at odds with the Bible are objectively immoral, we have no business holding these people to the moral standards communicated in a book primarily for those who are his followers; which means Christian legislation is against the spirit of the Bible and its Author, and, I would argue, abusive toward non-believers.


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