There Is No Bible - A Guest Post by the Rev. Steve Kindle


Editor’s Note:

I offer up this essay by my good friend Steve Kindle. He sent it to me as a conversation starter. I invite you to respond. I will admit upfront that while I affirm what he writes here concerning the diversity of authorship, time, place, and even message, I would differ with him as to whether there is a “Bible.” In making that statement, what I am affirming is the sacredness of the text, a sacredness affirmed in both Jewish and Christian communities. In other words, we receive as sacred what has been passed down to us through time by a larger community of believers. I believe that a canonical reading allows us to see an overarching message in what we call the Bible. Disciples Biblical scholar Eugene Boring suggested one possible way of tying this rather diverse set of literature together. He did so in terms of Five Cs: Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, Consummation. I wonder if you find this to be a compelling way of tying things together. Or, do you find Steve’s understanding of the nature of this thing we call the Bible more compelling?  Either way, why do you hold this to be true?


 In a very real sense, there is no such thing as the Bible. Especially in such statements as, "The Bible says...." Oh, sure, some books have "Holy Bible" imprinted on them. The Bible is an anthology, really; composed of 66 compositions written over 1000 years by many known and unknown authors and includes items from much earlier times. The various pieces were brought together over the centuries until its final form in the 4th century C.E. Even then the canon (approved books) was not uniformly accepted. It is the bestselling volume of all time, even as it's the most neglected. Copyists and translators gave their lives to produce it, and it is considered the greatest influence on the Western world.

Yet, the Bible does not exist. It does not exist in what most Christians (and others) think of as the Bible, a univocal, time transcendent bearer of unequivocal truths from the very mouth of God, albeit transferred by the hands of men. Rather, the Bible is very much a time-bound book that argues with itself, represents outlooks from various traditions often in opposition, which often displays the frailties of humanity as characteristics of God, and shows a God who evolved through time. It is a shape-shifting, amorphous compendium of some 31,102+/- verses that have been contorted into any position a person wishes to take. The Bible doesn't exist. 

What we have is a Bible made up of anyone's choice in anyone's mind. If you doubt me, how do you explain the diversity of the Bibles trotted out beginning with "The Bible says." What always is meant, yet seldom understood, is "the Bible I have in my mind says...." These are the only Bibles that exist.

 And we love these Bibles, as they are of our own creation.  Much like our own children, they carry our DNA. They are created in our own image. As Anais Nin so perceptively observed, "We do not look at the world as it is. We look at the world as we are." 

 The foregoing is not a condemnation; it is a reality check. If we are going to make any progress at all we must know what we are dealing with. The place to begin, it seems to me, is to recognize that since the Bible is what we make it, we must understand this and know how this happens. In many ways, this is a freeing exercise.  

 Knowing that we pick and choose as we make our way through the text, we are also aware that the same is true for others. Therefore, we learn to hold our points of view more humbly and tentatively. It also frees us up to actually learn from others who have come to different conclusions (a different "Bible", if you will). And it helps us see how the various themes of the Bible came together—in much the same way that we put our personal Bibles together.  

 One of the easiest ways to see this at work is by comparing Deuteronomy with Ecclesiastes, which is just what "the Preacher" did. The author of Ecclesiastes looked around his world and found many reasons to see the flaws in the theology of Deuteronomy. And his observations, arguments really, which opposed Moses himself, were included in the canon! Utterly amazing. This certainly is a precedent for critical thinking applied to the Bible rather than trying to harmonize the often disparate material. We often overlook the fact (or choose to turn our eyes away) that Jesus took it upon himself to upgrade the Torah in the "Sermon on the Mount" with his "You have heard that it was said...but I say to you...."  

Once we admit that the "Bibles" we carry around with us in our minds are of our own construction, we are ready to deal with the actual Bible which will always elude us in its totality. Yet, as we learn to live humbly with one another, the highest calling of our sacred texts which promotes love over all else will finally win the day. That's a Bible we can all use with profit. 


 The Rev. Steve Kindle is an ordained Disciples of Christ minister and producer of the Progressive Christian podcast  Faith on the Edge." whom I've known for some twenty years. We don't agree on everything, as you see here. Nevertheless, I think you will find his message here provocative and worth considering, even if, like me, you might disagree with some of what Steve is arguing!


Steve Kindle said…
I want to thank you, Bob, for allowing my post to be featured in your very helpful blog. I have learned much from it over the years and know many others have, as well.

You make a statement in your intro to my post that I think proves my point that we all have a Bible that we have created in our heads. The problem, of course, is that we confuse this self-manufactured Bible with The Holy Bible. This creates any number of controversies that spring from "My Bible is better than your Bible!" Your statement is this: "I believe that a canonical reading allows us to see an overarching message in what we call the Bible." It is the reduction of the Bible to "an overarching message" that is of our creation and becomes the standard by which we approach the rest of the Bible and evaluate other approaches that differ. That is the Bible that resides in your mind. It may be close to the one in my mind, but neither is the Bible, just approximations. If we can agree with this, we are on the way to reducing the friction that comes from thinking we work from The Holy Bible, not the Bible we created in our minds.

I am looking forward to seeing how your readers react to this.
Steve Silver said…
Excellent article Rev. Kindle. Thank you for reposting, Bob. My initial thought is that there may be truth in both of your positions. I find Rev. Kindle's analysis very compelling. My own research on the history of the translation of the Bible into English has led me to very similar views. At the same time, we have 'something' we collectively call "The Bible" precisely because believing communities have found some thread of commonality and usefulness worth passing down through the ages as somehow "sacred." I strongly suspect those "overarching themes" are largely human created and not intrinsic to this collection of texts we call the Bible. Yet there seems to be "something" there. My off-the-cuff thoughts, fwiw.
Robert Cornwall said…
In response to both Steves -- both of whom are friends -- I appreciate the responses. I would say this -- all readings of scripture are interpretive. We read the text as individuals, but also as community. Thus, the sacredness of the text and the theological themes that guide our interpretation emerge from the traditions of the church. I think I would offer a both/and response. Steve Kindle is correct in terms of how it is collected, but theologically we may discern a word from God that transcends the formation of the texts.

But, I do appreciate the conversation!!
David Cobb said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Cobb said…
Steve (Kindle), I have learned much from you over the years, including the usefulness of a well-worded provocation. That’s what i I see you doing here. You offer your statement that there is no Bible as an invitation to conversation, not so much to defend a thesis. So, here’s where I go with it.

Yes, of course there is a Bible. But, of course, it’s also not an eternal rule book. It’s not a definitive historical record. And it’s not just an “in the eye of the beholder” thing. What makes the Bible “the Bible” is that it embodies and enacts the very diversity you describe. The very thing that makes it canonical is that it’s more complex and interesting than the popular imagination would suggest. If it were simply an old rule book or a historical record, it wouldn’t be worth all the attention it gets. It would be a curiosity, an artifact of a bygone age. Just because some “people of faith” try to contain it in too small a box doesn’t mean it actually fits. It might, however, mean their faith is not as robust as they believe.

I’m not sure Boring would disagree in any way with you where you wrote, “the Bible is very much a time-bound book that argues with itself, represents outlooks from various traditions often in opposition, which often displays the frailties of humanity as characteristics of God, and shows a God who evolved through time.” What’s more, I think that’s precisely where this loose collection of texts and conversations becomes “the” Bible.

What I would add is that the Bible is not just time-bound. Its time-bound parts persist as an open invitation to engage in meaningful conversation in each generation. Each reader can be provoked into a conversation about what is right, true, just, and good in their own time. That it’s not the same throughout, nor interpreted the same over time, is its strength. The diversity it contains, preserving opposing and evolving views, ultimately resists any attempt (and there are always attempts) to totalize and contain it. The human frailties that are idolized in it challenge the idolization of our frailties.

It isn’t that there is no Bible, or that it’s simply reducible to what people want it to say, or that we each have put own, but that reducing it to a single “thing” makes it something smaller, and ironically less authoritative, because such narrow reading inevitably justifies injustices of every kind.

Isn’t the question at the heart of “what the Bible is” about whether identity is rooted in sameness or diversity, in totality or infinity, in ontology or mutual responsibility? In its very conversational and dialogic vibrancy, I see an expansive and challenging invitation to reject sameness as idolatry and instead embrace the holiness and sacredness of ongoing human responsiveness to a world that is still becoming.

I’m not fundamentally opposed to a canonical approach to reading the Bible. There are times the conversation must become prophetic, declarative, imperative, saying a clear yes or no. But once canon becomes a totalizing construct and starts that way, it bifurcates and fossilizes and ceases to invite.
Steve Kindle said…
David (Cobb), Thanks for responding with your reasoned reply. I want to highlight one of your statements.

"It isn’t that there is no Bible,...but that reducing it to a single “thing” makes it something smaller, and ironically less authoritative, because such narrow reading inevitably justifies injustices of every kind."

I couldn't agree more. My point is that 1) it's impossible to work with the entire Bible in mind, and 2) therefore, we all work from a truncated Bible. It is this truncated "Bible" that is in our minds, the full Bible being elusive. So when anyone says, "The Bible says..." they are working from that which is the Bible in their minds, not the Bible in its totality. Therefore, "there is no Bible," just the one in our minds.

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