Bible Not an Instruction Manual: Prof

By Longhurst, John | Winnipeg Free Press, August 31, 2019 | Go to article overview

Bible Not an Instruction Manual: Prof


Longhurst, John, Winnipeg Free Press


Christians have a long history of disagreeing about the Bible.

In the 19th century, it was about slavery; did the Bible permit it or not? For some churches last century, it was whether women could be ministers. Now it’s LGBTTQ+ issues: are same-sex relationships sinful?

All these fights have taken place because Christians don’t understand how the Bible works, says Pete Enns, a professor of biblical studies at Eastern University, a Christian school near Philadelphia.

In his new book — titled How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How an Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads us to Wisdom Rather Than Answersand Why That’s Great News — Enns says problems about interpretation arise because people see the Bible as an “instructional manual, a rule book... just follow the instructions and you’re good to go.”

But the Bible wasn’t designed that way, according to Enns. Treating it as a once-and-forever book of rules “causes the whole Christian enterprise to go off course,” he says, since Christians often can’t agree on what the instructions say.

Instead, Enns says, the role of the Bible is to provide “an invitation to join an ancient, well-travelled and sacred quest to know God, the world we live in and our place in it.”

Enns provides several reasons for why the Bible can’t serve as a one-size-fits-all book of instructions.

First, it’s an ancient book, the product of a “distant and utterly foreign world” that looks nothing like our world today.

The writers of the Bible “lived long ago and far away,” Enns says, adding they didn’t have us in mind when they were writing.

They were “oblivious to our own questions and concerns,” he says, intent on asking questions and seeking answers in their own political, cultural, and religious times and places.

Second, if the Bible is an instruction manual, it doesn’t do a very good job of telling people “what to think,” he says, noting readers can find in its pages competing or contrasting views on various topics.

The result, he says, is those who claim to follow the “clear teaching” of the Bible on one issue or another are on shaky ground — what’s clear to one person isn’t at all clear to another, and the Bible itself can provide different answers. …

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