April 20th, 2011
01:00 AM ET
My Take: Learn about the Bible, even if you don't believe it
Editor's Note: Kristin Swenson, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time.
By Kristin Swenson, Special to CNN
"True Grit's" stern little girl Mattie - shoot, the Coen Brothers’ entire movie - dramatizes a single line of biblical text. And the way the film interprets that particular text makes that biblical verse directly related to the governor of Illinois' recent decision to ban the death penalty, a decision which was reportedly informed by the Bible.
The movie’s and the Illinois governor’s conclusions - about capital punishment in this case - are exactly opposite. While Mattie's justice requires death for the man who killed her dad, the governor's has no place for such execution. Yet both have biblical precedent.
So knowing about the Bible not only makes the movies more fun and enables critique of public policy, but it also paradoxically encourages you to think for yourself.
The Bible's long history of development, reflecting many voices, and the fact that it’s usually read in translation invite our engagement with it not merely as passive recipients of a fixed meaning but as unique individuals bringing different points of view to bear.
The trick, of course, is knowing something about the Bible, even if you don’t believe in it. And the more you know, the more intriguing it gets.
If you're not biblically literate, you can get along all right, but you're missing out. It's like a cocktail party with raucous conversation. You're invited, but until you know something about the Bible, you'll be stuck talking about the weather at the punch bowl.
Yes, "True Grit" is entertaining no matter what, and you can take Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn at his word that his death penalty decision has biblical basis, but each invites a deeper understanding. And together, they reflect the Bible's ambivalence - in this case about crime and punishment.
"The wicked flee when none pursueth," a line from Proverbs 28:1, hangs auspiciously on the screen at the beginning of "True Grit."
Knowing that Hebrew (the original language of Proverbs) creates its poetry out a system of parallel lines, might lead you to check out the line after the one quoted in True Grit: "but the righteous are as bold as a lion."
Linking the criminals' running to the boldness of a lion, the biblical verse suggests a world in which courageous good guys chase down the yellow-bellied bad with the same determination, cunning and strength as the king of beasts.
That's our Mattie, at 14 years old a cub, but single-minded in her quest to bring to justice the man who killed her father. Mattie is "the righteous," of course, and the justice she seeks is death.
Because the Bible is sacred scripture, authoritative and instructive for millions of people, many people believe, like Mattie, that certain criminals should be put to death because of what it says.
After all, the Torah, or "law," prescribes execution in several specific cases, including murder.
Yet Illinois Gov. Quinn is said to have consulted the Bible while wrestling with his decision to abolish the death penalty. What gives?
People looking to the Bible for a single, clear, yes-or-no answer about the death penalty will be disappointed, just as they are when seeking a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to abortion or environmental ethics.
For one thing, another translation of torah is "instruction." So maybe those "laws" shouldn't be taken so literally.
Indeed, while the Bible allows for all sorts of killing and would seem to demand criminal execution in certain cases, it also commands "thou shalt not kill/murder," identifies God as the only ultimate judge, and praises forgiveness and mercy.
I don't know Quinn, but I suspect he knows enough about the Bible to know that he also had to think for himself. He wisely considered that our human systems, justice included, are imperfect - and that the wrong person might be pegged for a capital crime.
Knowing about the Bible, no matter what you believe, enables you see not only why Quinn would settle on the ban but also why it was such a difficult decision: sometimes the Bible says different things.
"God said it, I believe it, that settles it," is available for bumper stickers, t-shirts, mugs, and posters. Yet the Bible's multiplicity of voices and complex history invite you to learn more and in the process to add your own voice, thoughts, and deliberations to the conversation.
First, though, you’ve got to learn about it.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kristin Swenson.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
This article is excellent. I agree: everyone should read the Bible. It's not a book of meaningless mythology, or of boring theology, or pointless history, but a journey: the journey of mankind. This book represents reality so well: it's heros are flawed, yet even its greatest villians have a heart. Read the Sermon on the Mount; never has a speech about morality touched so many hearts. Read the Hebrew prophets; never has a message been shown so passionately.
The Bible is not about history: it's our history. We can all relate to it.
There is really no such thing as secular history.
Yes, The Bible is the story of mankind, and the revelation of God to mankind. If the stars are subjected to His power, and laws of the universe are set in place by and kept by His power to function, then He in His sovereignty by His power was able to preserve it and keep it. His Holy spirit testifies to it, and confirms it's message.
And Bibletgruth, you're right... there is really no such thing as "secular history". All time: past, present and future, with all events ever happened thru the course of time, it all belongs to God. He is the Lord of all , the LORD of time, the LORD of ETERNITY! ! !
Totally correct. Not only read the Bible, but study it too. It's the only true foundation that we have to build our faith upon. All that we know about our Lord Jesus Christ and his saving work on our behalf comes from the Bible. Don't let people deceive you by telling you that you have to go to college or acquire some especial knowledge in order to understand it. It was written for the common man by common men. God intended it for you and me, to read it and believe it and apply it. No secret meanings or codes or hidden messages. What it seems to be saying... that's what it's saying. As Paul said it: "We don't write to you things that you cannot understand...."
God may speak in numerous ways, but he never speaks in any way that contradicts his word, the bible. Forget about the get with a comfortable denomination idea...a comfortable club would do just fine then. Ask yourself..do I really love truth?...no matter what....or at least do I want to love truth no matter what? If your answer is yes, start reading the bible. Know that God is Love: keep your eye on Jesus and the cross. Remember, Jesus came to show the Father, to magnify the law, to save you from (not in) your sin, and to destroy the works of the devil . Read the 10 commandments everyday for the next 30 days, try to memorize them, but read the words really carefully (exodus chapter 20). Always ask for the leading of the Ho;y Spirit.
Steve Luke, your posts are a true blessing to me!
These are the Scriptures that come to mind by reading your posts, and then those of the unbelievers...
" Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through their own wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
For Jews request a sign, and Gentiles seek after worldly wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God...."
Those very words we are seeing manifested even on this blog...The people of this world, in their own wisdom CAN NOT know nor understand God.
Another Scriptures comes to mind which is written in Daniel 12:
"Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the End.
Many shall be purified, made white and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise SHALL understand...
I believe we are even at the door of things spoken in those Scriptures. And the reason so many do not understand, it's because of what is in their hearts! God has designed it that way, that only those who TRULY seek Him would understand , because only to those He will reveal the things that no man can understand on his own! All glory, praise and majesty belongs to Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, forever, world without end, AMEN!
God be with you and strengthen you, my brother!
Thank you for the encouragement. It means a great deal. The Scriptures are nice to read as well. I am in no mood to argue, I hope God will move in the hearts of those who diagree with me to give them the hope that you and I have.
A frormer atheist posted a post recently, telling of his comming to the knowledge of God. It made my heart leap withinn me! ..... No atheist dared to respond! ...
But we, who know the Lord, know that His word is living and powerful , and sent fort by His Spirit it can raise those up who are dead. And His Word does not return to Him void: either melts the heart, or exposes what's in it, and hardens it. But in any way, and in all things, God is being glorified, and no man takes from His glory!
If one took out the scant references to evolution in the science textbooks that even mention it, how would that effect the science facts or findings or conclusions in that particular book or what humanity would know concerning the subject matter of those sciences? chemistry? physics? biology? botony? etc.?
QS, which version of the Bible are you getting the sheep part in Psalm 23?
I am pretty sure in Genesis God sorta layed out the Man shall have dominion over animals.
It is a trollish swipe. Its ok, hate does that to folk. Find tolerance, lest you become like Heaven sent and Reality... THE EXTREME TWINS !!! lol
It never ceases to amaze me that the responses on here say so much about that person based on their point of view. The people of faith spend much effort trying to defend their belief and position based on that belief. Those that have an opposing point of view, spend most of their energy denegrating and name calling as if it proves they are somehow more enlightened. Apparently I need to give the Bible another chance
As a Christian I say give the Bible a chance is only half way. Try getting with a domonination that you feel comfortable with, folks you feel comfortable with. I have seen many different types of churchs and there might be one out there for you. Lastly, don't listen to those that say that this donomination is better than the next. Get with God and just go from there. God speaks in more places than just the Bible.
I was raised in church, raised to believe. Then a few years ago I read the Bible, cover to cover. After reading the Bible I'm now an atheist.
What were you looking for when you read it? What did you hope to find?
Even the greatest minds to ever live did beleive in God. Besides, why do you care to state your opinion?? Obviously, if you are an athiest, you have no reason to even live, so why do you even care what anyone else beleives?. I believe that one day I will be rewarded for my good works during my life by God. Part of that reward includes eternal life with my family and close friends. I am blessed every minute of this life on earth. The least I can do is worship God who created me. Thats's common sense. Sorry, try to read it again.
Your life journey is interesting and compelling. It underscores the importance that we must each come to Christ on our own. I sincerely hope your journey will bring you back.
As a Christian, I am raising my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but in the end they must have their own relationship with Christ. A foundation built on my teaching will crumble, a foundation based on the Lord will stand forever.
Clear thought- my hope is not in a reward for good works. The only thing that could make my works "good" is God acting through me. In the end and forever after, I am a debtor to Christ.
Of course steve, because only good can come through God, but God gave me free will...I need to prove througgh His spirit that I am worthy to enter His kingdom.
Nobody is "raised to believe", you didn't become an atheist after reading the Bible, you were one all your life, just didn't know it. In order to belleve you have to be chosen by God Himself. "Nobody comes to me unless he's drawn by my Father", Jesus said. The Bible is the water, but unless you have the seed in your heart– the water alone will produce no fruit. Family, and being raised in the church is meaningless as far as faith is concerned: "I have loved Jacob, and hated Essau"(and they were twins). It's by God's choice, not our own.
Mark – I went to church, Bible study, the whole works. Considered myself a believer – thought that would never change. I read the Bible looking for a better understanding in order to choose a church I most closely aligned with. Things just didn’t add up, so I did further research on other religions and found a lot of the symbols and stories were taken from earlier religions or what I would have referred to as “false gods”. This was no quick conclusion – it was a very long process, but I have put more effort into it than the majority of believers I know.
There is no good reason to read that nonsense. The fact that it held back western civilization for 2000 years in no way legitimizes the fairy tales it contains.
You claim it has held back, that is a judgement call at best. That Faith and religion has done more to stop folks than your side has come up with is not our fault. It has also had millions killed in its name and millions saved in its name. Its arrogance to just focus on one aspect and define the whole.
That reasoning has all whites klan members and all blacks and latinos gang members.
I am really interested in your position......what nonsence and fairy tales are you referring to and how exactly has the Bible held back western civilization for 2000 years??
Even the greatest minds to ever live did beleive in God. Besides, why do you care to state your opinion?? Obviously, if you are an athiest, you have no reason to even live, so why do you even care what anyone else beleives?. I believe that one day I will be rewarded for my good works during my life by God. Part of that reward includes eternal life with my family and close friends. I am blessed every minute of this life on earth. The least I can do is worship God who created me. Thats's common sense.
Wow, is the author an idiot? Read it, but you don't have to believe it. What good would it do me, lady???? If the gospel (and the whole Bible for that matter) is worth anything, it is worth EVERYTHING. The Old Testament points clearly to Jesus, and He is THE way, THE truth and THE life.
Let me get this straight just so I’m crystal clear. God create everything we know. He populated the earth with humans via Adam and Eve a few thousand years ago. He then asked to be worshiped by these same people. It sounds like he needs counseling. If you don’t worship him you will be sentenced to eternity in hell. My ex-wife treated me like this and she has since been diagnosed with severe low self esteem. This is nonsense people. Humans in every region of the world have been creating religions for tens of thousands of years, long before Christianity. If you were born in Afghanistan there is a 99.7% chance you are a Muslim. If you were an Aztec you would cut people’s hearts out to make it rain. The fact that anybody still believes in this nonsense shows power of childhood brainwashing
I stopped and read Genesis 2 through 4 to see where God commanded Adam and Eve to worship him. I couldn't find it.
"Worship" is an English word meaning to proclaim the worth of something. When we worship the Lord our God exclusively, that means we only ascribe to Him the worth he is due for being the creator of all things.
This is profoundly different than the case of your exwife as I understand from your brief post. If she demanded to be worshipped, then the basis for her being worshipped would be the acts of God in making her. So she wouldn't be worthy of what she was requiring out of you.
Shawn you said "If you were born in Afghanistan there is a 99.7% chance you are a Muslim. If you were an Aztec you would cut people’s hearts out to make it rain." Muslims as you call them did not come into the picture until 600AD and the Aztec's did not show up until 1400AD. What religion was practiced for thousands of years before the Bible?
"What religion was practiced for thousands of years before the Bible?"
Quite a few: Ancient Egyptian, Vedic, Confucionism, Taoism, Janism... just to name some of them.
Let’s not mince the meaning of words in the bible. They have been translated from ancient dialect to modern English. My point is religion has been created by humans for thousands of years. Every corner and every pocket of the globe has created their own religion, this is the ultimate proof that man creates religion. It is a human condition to be curious and understand. A creator is an easy out to fill in the blanks. Science is now filling the blanks.. Another generation of the information age will end religion in the west. Face it it’s over. Spend an evening on the net with an open scientific mind, I hope you will see the truth. It’s over.
I have no desire to read the myths, fables, and legends of bronze-age goatherders.
Look, I'm an atheist. But the mentality that you can't learn anything from bronze-age goatherders is simply close-minded. Of course you can - those guys might have something important to say about the human condition. When someone asks me to read Shakespeare, should I respond, "I have no desire to read the plays of 16th Century English aristocrats"? I don't think so.
You can find wisdom in a lot of places, including the myths and legends of people long ago. That's why we read literature.
That's nice, but you confuse me with someone whom you're railing against. Never make that mistake again.
I have been given as a present from a white South African friend a Bible as a present for me to read it is translated in to Arabic named as the Sofi Gospel of John....so how is that to read.
Honestly should admit that I tried once but couldn't since it was using the term of Jesus being the son of God I couldn't carry on, but rather would have done if it had refered to Jesus being the Prophet of God... Sorry about that but couldn't,although we hold all the love and respect to Jesus as to our Prophet Muhammed and all the rest ones...
If h knew you were Muslim and you knew your faith Muneef, you should have handed it back. Keep the friend but your faith is most important. Be you Jew, Muslim or whatever.
I respect your willingness to read the Bible given to you by this person. You have shown a humble spirit and a learning character.
But Jesus is the Son of God. Thats not up for discussion. It's not a myth. He is not a myth. Open your eyes and see that your very ability to sit and type on your computer is a blessing from God. don't take anything you do with a grain of salt, so to speak.
Actually he was a missionary debuted to convert people,he tried with me but I was not empty headed or in need of finance to covert but rather I had tried to get him to convert to Islam... Any way that was a year back the guy has left for a different Arbic country..
Any way I consider it holy having God's name and Prophets therefore wouldn't think at all of burning it such as some burning the Quran that has as well within it the names of God and all his Prophets....
The key to getting something out of the Bible is to take it in context. In particular, the context of: it is not one book, it is an anthology; none of the writers knew how it would be included in said anthology or how it would be used; and the people who chose which writings made it in and which did not had specific preferences and intentions. All of which boils down to this: the Bible and religion are barely about God at all, but very much about PEOPLE. That's the irony of gospel; you get so much more out of it if you don't "take it as Gospel".
I need no shepherd for I think and reason...and I am not a sheep,
I shall want only what serves humanity best;
I lie down in green pastures because I choose to, not because anything makes me.
I swim in still waters, I need not be led beside them;
If a soul exists it is mine and is for me to restore how I see fit.
Paths of righteousness will never fail to lead a person astray…
especially for His name’s sake.
I will walk through many valleys, it’s called life;
the shadow of death follows one and all, no matter where we walk.
I fear evil;
evil is created by man, which is to be feared far more than any of the countless versions of god;
your rod and your staff do not comfort me as they are herding tools...and I am not a sheep.
It is arrogant to think goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, for I am human and we make mistakes.
I shall not dwell in any house that believes me to be nothing more than an animal which must be told where to go and when.
This article certainly has agitated some of the pink monkeys today.
Back to my zookeeping.
Would have been a good prayer or just statement if you did not have to take swipes at those who believe differently.
Really no different that the Taliban saying they are followers of Allah and hate infidels in the same prayer.
To bad folks, both inside and outside of the Faiths feel that they can not just ask for peace without finding the desire to kick at others. Look inside QS, evil often is easy to find.
"...if you did not have to take swipes at those who believe differently."
Expressing the opposite sentiment of what the original prayer says does not by any stretch of the imagination mean I am "taking swipes" at those who believe differently.
Else I could say that the original Psalm 23 was taking swipes at people like me by professing I should conform and become a sheep.
You are angry and scared. I wish you peace and comfort.
You are off a little. Here's a better translation
1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
You claim to not be a troill. Please refrain from re-writing potions of God's word. It is offensive.
Ah, that wonderful bible:
God gives detailed instructions for performing ritualistic animal sacrifices. such bloody rituals must be important to God, judging from the number of times that he repeats their instructions. Indeed the entire first nine chapters of Leviticus can be summarized as follows: Get an animal, kill it, sprinkle the blood around, cut the dead animal into pieces, and burn it for a "sweet savor unto the Lord." Chapters 1 – 9
# "Kill the bullock before the LORD ... bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar." 1:5
# "Flay the burnt offering; cut it into pieces." 1:6
# Lay ... the head, and the fat ... on the fire which is upon the altar: But his inwards and his legs ... burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice ... a sweet savour unto the LORD." 1:8-9
# "Kill ... before the Lord and ... sprinkle blood round about." 1:11
# "Cut it into his pieces, with his head and his fat ... and burn it ... for a sweet savour unto the Lord." 1:12-13
# "If the burnt sacrifice ... be of fowls ... wring off his head, and burn it ... and the blood thereof shall be wrung out." 1:14-15
# "For a sweet savour unto the Lord." 1:17
# "Part it in pieces... it is a meat offering." 2:6
# "It is a thing most holy of the offerings of the LORD made by fire." 2:10
# "He shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering, and kill it ... and .... sprinkle the blood ... round about." 3:2
# "The fat that covereth the inwards ... and the two kidneys ... and the caul above the liver.... It is ... a sweet savour unto the Lord." 3:3-5
# "He shall lay his hand upon the head of his offering, and kill it ... and .... sprinkle the blood ... round about." 3:8
# "The fat ... the whole rump ... the inwards ... the two kidneys ... burn it upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire unto the LORD." 3:9-11
# "If his offering be a goat ... he shall lay his hand upon the head ... and kill it ... and ... sprinkle the blood ... round about." 3:12-13
# "The fat that covereth the inwards ... the two kidneys ... and the caul above the liver ... burn them upon the altar; it is the food of the ooffering made by fire for a sweet savour." 3:14-16
# "All the fat is the Lord's."
When you do your burnt offerings, remember that "all the fat is the Lord's." (And he doesn't like to share!) 3:16
# "Kill the bullock before the Lord and take of the bullock's blood." 4:4
# "The priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle the blood seven times before the Lord." 4:6
# "Put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar ... and ... pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar." 4:7
# "Take ... all the fat of the bullock for the sin offering; the fat that covereth the inwards ... the two kidneys ... and the caul above the liver ... and ... burn them upon the altar of the burnt offering." 4:8-10
Peter, Peter, Your so good at one sided conversations. If you had ears to hear you would understand why the animal sacrifices were there, so that we could understand the ultimate sacrifice and just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's not from God.
No. It means that these primitive Middle Eastern tribal men thought that a "God" got his jollies and was appeased by death.
@know what, just go on beleiving in nothing. It's a good way to go though life. No consequences, no responsibility. Just go out and do whatever you desire, because evidently, you just die and that's it. nothing happens. good luck! your death could be imminent, and you will e out of chances.
Wow. Why all the anger? Obviously very few people have ever taken a comprehensive World Religions course. I had the opportunity to do so– and it was a lot of fun. I read a lot of stuff I didn't personally believe in, and it made me more able to relate to diverse groups of people. Nobody is asking anybody to convert– just to read the text, and try to gain an understanding of what makes people tick.
My take is this:
Don't read the Bible until you learn HOW TO READ IT. Otherwise you can get the Law totally mixed up with the gospel.
The Bible is NOT some sort of Christian magic, wherein if you sleep on a Bible you will wake up a holier person.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Judas stars as 'anti-hero' in gospel By Julia Duin
Near the end of the Judas gospel, Jesus tells Judas he will "exceed" the rest of the disciples "for you will sacrifice the man that clothes me."
Please read the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are 100% legitmate. Most of the writers, like Job, also wrote the Bible and are the same people that were spoke of. They were and are real. The Bible is 100% flawless.
There are 360 degrees in a circle from the center.
There are 365 days in a year.
Do not think exaltation is good, it deforms, unless the Lord God intends.
There is no scholar that thinks the Dead Sea Scrolls were WRITTEN, (get it..."spoke of" is incorrect grammar) by the Essenes who COPIED the texts which are called the Dead Sea Scrolls. The oral traditions, later written as texts of the books compiled into the the canon, later called the "bible" (the Old Testament anyway) were already largely completed before the Essene Community was set up in the desert outside Jerusalem. Stating something, (incorrect), does not make it so.
It's not flawless; it was written by people. It's not the word of God; it's the words of men in search of God.
Tom please tell me the flaws and be specific.
This is a reply to Rincon: If you're going to critique the man's grammar, check yours first and say "scholar who," not "scholar that."
SteveLuke-About morality.What about St.Augustine who famously said "Dear God make chaste-just not now."?
That is an amusing quote. Are you using it to make a point? If so, I'm curious what conclusion you draw from it.
St. Augustine was an unfaithful lad, but later he got transformed to be one of the most godly men through the power of Jesus. Jesus changes people to become a new creation.