Bible offers a bigger kind of truth

Yme Woensdregt, pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook, on ways to interpret the Bible

  • Jun. 20, 2014 5:00 p.m.

Yme Woensdregt

Two weeks ago, I offered four good reasons not to read the Bible literally. Granted, there are some who think that reading it literally is the only way to take the Bible seriously. Let me provide an alternative way of thinking about it.

Bible scholar John Dominic Crossan puts it very provocatively: “My point is not that ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” He’s not alone in his point of view; many other mainstream scholars agree.

Part of the historical background has to do with a radical shift that took place about 350 years ago in the way we think about “truth” and “facts”. We call this the Enlightenment, which saw the rise of the scientific method. Only those facts which could be verified by human reason and observation would be considered true.

Leading thinkers distinguished between “values” and “facts”. Values were things one may believe but can’t prove, while facts were things one can prove. For these early modernists, both values and facts represented claims about truth, but it was like comparing apples and oranges. They were different categories of truth.

Over time, the scientific method won the day; it wasn’t long until truth was associated almost exclusively with facts which could be proven.

The preference for facts over values created a crisis for many religious traditions. Biblical scholars came to realize that ancient Biblical ways of understanding the world could not withstand scientific scrutiny. For example, the world was not created in six literal days; the sun does not revolve around the earth; heaven is not “up”. The Bible does not provide historical and scientific information as we understand it today.

This crisis led to a great schism in Christianity, each side assuming that truth is equated unequivocally with facts. Liberal scholars concluded that because the Bible was not factually accurate, it was not true. On the other hand, conservatives asserted that since the Bible was obviously true, therefore it must be factually accurate. So they wrote massive tomes trying to defend the factual truth of the Bible.

Both sides miss the point. The Bible is not a science or history book. It is a library of different types of literature whose purpose is not to prove anything, but to persuade people of the truth.

Let me give two examples. At the beginning of Luke’s gospel, the author says that he is not an eye–witness to the events he recounts; he depends on multiple other stories about Jesus. He writes “an orderly account” so that his audience may believe and trust the teaching they have received (Luke 1:1–4). Similarly, John comes clean at the end of his gospel that he has carefully arranged stories of Jesus so as to persuade his readers that Jesus is the messiah (John 20:30–31).

The gospels do not seek to prove; their purpose is to persuade. This is true of the whole of Scripture. The Bible seeks to persuade people of the truth of its witness. It is not filled with scientific or historical facts. It is a collection of poems, letters, songs, stories, gospels which are written as testimony, witness, confession, and even propaganda.

Does it contain some reliable historical information? Of course. There is little doubt of that. But this information is intended not to make a logical argument but rather to persuade people of a larger “truth” that cannot be proved in a laboratory but is finally accepted or not accepted based on its ability to offer a compelling vision about the meaning and purpose of the world—God and humanity, and everything in between.

I think that kind of truth is much bigger, even more important, than facts. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for facts when it comes to doing my taxes, fixing my car, or boiling water, but when it comes to the things that mean the most to me, facts fall a little short.

When it comes to things like the meaning of life, the power of love, the importance of faith, and such things—we simply can’t “prove” any of it. When it comes to the things that really matter to us—those things we call True (with a capital T), facts aren’t enough. Those things are about how the story has an impact on our lives, and we simply cannot dissect that in a laboratory or prove it for someone else.

All we can do is witness to the truth that we experience. And that is the kind of truth that I think the Bible offers us.

Does it help us make sense of our lives? Does it help us know the world a little more deeply? Does it help me discern how God might be involved in the world and in our lives? Those are the questions of faith, and each of us answers them for ourselves.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook

Just Posted

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

Students at Creston Valley Secondary School put together an art installation of a replica residential school room. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston students create art installation of residential school room

The replica was decorated with a small bed, school uniform, and notes written with pleas for help

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

1914
It happened this week in 1914

June 13 - 19: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the archived newspapers… Continue reading

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

Most Read