Lia Claire Scholl

Rogue Reverend

13 July, 2009

What the Bible Means to Me

Following my second sermon in a series on Romans yesterday, one of my church members asked me a question. I can’t get the exact wording, but the question was something like this:

Why do you preach from the Bible? Do you really think that we should use it as our baseline for understanding why we do what we do? Can’t we, just as easily, use reality and preach from there?

My answer is probably way too involved for a brief conversation following church. I decided to post it here.

I have an interesting relationship to the Bible. First, I absolutely love it. I want to read it, study it in the original language, preach from it, orientate my life to it. Second, I could know God without it. You get that? It reveals to me how THOSE people related to God. It reveals some about God’s nature. But it’s certainly not all of it. Nor does it explain the context in which I live today. So, while I love it, I am also cognizant of it’s limitations.

As I see it, the Bible is the story of a people (actually, two peoples) trying to understand their relationship with God. In the Hebrew Bible, we start with cosmic beginnings then to the particulars of the patriarchs and matriarchs, wanting to follow God, and all the while, being VERY human. Wow. Isn’t that my story?

Then with the gospels, it’s the teachings. The little phrases that Jesus says, that challenge me every day. “Love your enemies.“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Every day and in every way, the life and teachings of Jesus challenge me to move out of my boundaries.

But I have a different relationship with the Epistles. Especially Paul’s Epistles. Let me see if I can explain this…

Consider Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. It’s a wonderful letter written to a specific group of people during a specific time. MLK writes in the style of Paul, and there are some very moving parts to his letter. There are some things that have relevance to my life.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Definitely a statement that has universal implications. However, some things are not so relevant.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

The specificity of this statement has very little to do with me, with my life in Richmond, 46 years after the letter was written. Imagine, we take Paul’s letter, written nearly 2000 years ago, and try to make each one of his statements universal. I don’t believe that they are universally applicable.

So, what does the Bible mean to me? I like this quote (I think it’s from Marcus Borg), “The Bible isn’t true, but it’s real.” I think I know God (not wholly, really). I know God through people, through nature, through my experience. The Bible helps me, especially in this Judeo-Christian context in which I live, to orient my life to this One who I follow: God shown most fully through Christ.

Church, God 17 Replies to “What the Bible Means to Me”
Lia Scholl


17 thoughts on “What the Bible Means to Me

    I love this post! When I was still taking my first tentative steps into a Christian church after having sworn never to set foot in one again, I remember asking a Biblical scholar why we couldn’t just read poetry and know God through that. I can’t remember what he said, but I do know that I have come to love the Bible, too. I don’t understand everything, and there are parts I just can’t swallow, but as a record of a people’s struggle to know God, it’s beautiful and helpful.

    The comparison of Paul’s writings to MLK’s is very clear and helpful. Thanks. I struggle with the epistles.

    The Bible has always fascinated me mainly because I have always struggled to understand the context in which it was written. It fascinates me as a philospher because of the overlap of its morality with the bedrock religious texts of the other great religions. It also fascinates me as a scientist because my undertanding of the scientific world (eg, evolution) ties so neatly with the creationists’ view in Genesis – very different timelines, but the order is exactly the same – how, asks this scientist, would a book written BC get the order “right”? But most of all, it fascinates me as a historical story – the greatest story.

    RR – I loved your post and feel the same way about the Bible. Like you, I love it and I think it is valuable and I learn a lot from it – but I don’t worship it or think it holds every answer or look at it as an instruction book or believe it is inerrant. I don’t think of it as “true” or “truth” but I do learn a lot of truth from scripture – I don’t really worry so much about if a story is factual or not but I try to see what there is to learn from a story about God, myself, others, the world we live in. I personally believe that trying to take scripture and have it apply to our lives in a way it was never intended has been very harmful throughout history.

    Dr J – Thanks for mentioning that – how Genesis gets the order right…I have never thought of that – it certainly seems amazing.

    So does the “canon” matter, or do you also seek meaning in apocryphal writings, pharisaic expositions, gnostic texts and ancient literature?

    When in Bible college and seminary, profs frequently ridiculed the question “what does the bible mean to me?” because it was a personal question. And personal questions are, evidently, irrelevant when speaking about the source of “absolute truth”. The point they’d always make was that if the bible says it, that ends the conversation. As if “I believe everything the book says” isn’t a personal statement.

    Thanks for all the comments.

    John, I think that the canon might not matter. *Gasp* Much in the same way that history is made by the winner, theology is set by the winners (those with the most money and power). I do believe that there are all kinds of scripture. In fact, I try to bring in other writings to my sermons, often!

    David, isn’t certitude a bitch?

    There are a lot of people whom I admire greatly who—while they love(d) the Bible– have issues. Thomas Jefferson comes to mind. He took what Jesus said about himself and what Paul said about him and came up with two very different personalities. Basically, he chose to believe what Jesus said about himself over what Paul wrote about him 100+ years later. In his time, many considered him blasphemous. He even wrote his own version of the bible, discarding anything Paul wrote that he felt conflicted w/what Jesus himself taught/said.

    I think if we accept anything blindly…without grappling with it and struggling with it first, we haven’t really taken it to heart; its just stuck somewhere in our heads.

    This is actually one of the big issues we’ve had with churches. You’re not to question, especially someone perceived to be in ‘authority’. I feel this is dangerous. For instance, we’re told to love our brother but at the same time turn our backs on homosexuals. (I always find it odd that there are so many sermons on homosexuals and so many ‘anti gay marriage’ groups in churches, yet we see very few that tackle adultery in the same manner. Maybe that’s because its easier to look at the plank in our neighbor’s eye….) We’re told to store our treasures in Heaven, while the church stores its treasures in expensive sound systems and expensive facilities. (While outside its doors people are homeless and hungry). We actually attended a church that charged an admission to come to the kid’s Christmas program! (We saw our daughter perform and never went back. )

    You struck a chord with me…..I guess that means you’re doing your job as a minister, right?

    I don’t think you’re going to Hell, but if the people I’ve seen in churches lately are the people who will populate Heaven, you might want to give it some serious consideration.

    For the record, Missy was one of my bff’s in middle school! We recently reconnected via facebook, and she challenges me in Scrabble at least once a week. And we’re very evenly matched!

    Missy FTW!

    Actually, Lia routinely kicks me in Scrabble…but it keeps me humble so I keep coming back. 🙂

    Thank you, Lia for an incredibly insightful post! YES & AMEN! BRILLIANTLY articulated! i think i will use some of this in an upcoming post i will be working on!


    @RogueRev — Borg in Living the Questions says something like, “The Bible isn’t fact, but it’s true.” The first episode of that study on biblical authority is awesome!

    @Missy — I agree with a lot of your contribution on authority and accountability. In fact, I have quite a few pastoral colleagues in this small town who are convinced I’m going to hell, but all my favorite people will be there…:) I feel a need to point out however, that Paul was not writing 100+ years after Jesus. In fact, the letters authentically attributed to Paul are the earliest Christian texts. The gospels and the inauthentic letters attributed to Paul (but written by his students/followers) were written later.

    Of course context matters in how we read the meaning it provides us as we draw parallels bt our lives and the stories of faith.

    Thanks for the post! peace


    Thanks for your provacative meditation last Sunday. It brought up again major questions that have haunted me for years. I am thoroughly intrigued w/ the Bible. It is significant to me that a single text can still hold my interest after decades. I go round and round about whose word is it, really, about who wrote what and when and why. I consider the worth of considering it’s context, it’s current relevance, its poetry, its relativity, its margin for error. The real stumper, bottom line, is where your meditation lead me. In sum, here are the questions that were formost in my mind at the end of church: Is the Bible ‘Truth’ and if it is, does anyone have the right to “interpret” it? If interpretation is not merely acceptible, but perhaps the point, then whose rendition? And last, why would God make any of this so hard? Please don’t come back with words like ‘mystery’, or concepts like ‘free will’ or even ‘miracle’. There are identifiable miracles every day, free will is manifest action, pretty much with a period behind it, and most of life is profoundly mysterious. What gives that what could be the ultimate reference manual, the supreme go to guide is, well, just plain difficult?? So, this is where your talk on Romans led me!! I didn’t miss or underappreciate the inclusion piece, by the way. As always, you stretch me, make me think, and educate me. Thank you for all your thoughtfulness and big brain. You Rock. Shell.

    wow… I’ve never heard it stated quite like this before: “The Bible isn’t true, but it’s real.” Gotta think about that one!

    Very thoughtfull response Lia! One of my students joked in class the other day that he came across “the Greatest Story ever Told” in a waiting room as a child and was so excited. Imagine my surprise and dissapointment, he said, when I found it was not Homer, but the Bible! Yes, he was funny, but I find that sacred scriptures are endlessly fascinating and timeless, holding the world’s wisdom in their pages. However, I believe that there is not one “truth” to be found but truths that appeals to people given the stories or places they find themselves in. That means that we read these stories and find truth in them based partly on how that story relates to our particular situation. That’s why these stories are timeless, though. Throughout the centuries these stories were saved precisely because people found them so valuable. So I am not as pessimistic about the value of the cannon. It evolved partly becuase these were the texts people were reading.

    (by the way, the paragraph from the letter from Birmingham jail about the ministers not responding as King had hoped is just as relevant today as then!)

    I have an interesting relationship to the Bible. First, I absolutely love it. I want to read it, study it in the original language, preach from it, orientate my life to it. Second, I could know God without it. You get that? It reveals to me how THOSE people related to God. It reveals some about God’s nature. But it’s certainly not all of it. Nor does it explain the context in which I live today. So, while I love it, I am also cognizant of it’s limitations.

    I love this explanation! I have never seen it put exactly like this, but it makes total sense!


    You pretend to love the Bible. It seem too subjective for me. For us to love is more than an subjective feeling who people to divorce. To love for an Oriental is to act too. ” God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.”

    With subjective love, good feelings, we cannot build something for the humanity, for the Church, for our societies.

    To know the Bible, is for us to have a close relation with the One who is beyond human writers. “And Adam knew his wife…”.

    Without this experience, we are teaching our feelings and no the Word of God with its creating power. God creates the New Man with His Words.

    God bless you


    This is an awesome post, and it garnered some cool comments. I’m pretty traditional in my views, but I go to a “new thought” Unity church (that is Unity Church of Christianity, just to make sure no one thinks Unitarian, which is very differnet). A long time ago I had the experience of observing the traditional church I was brought up in teaching some terrible, hypocritical things and I became an atheist. Later, life conspired to bring me back to a desire for a connection with God, and I realized that this terrible stuff I had been taught never happened. My church never taught me to look down on people who were dealing some burden, some behavioral affliction, some “SIN.” But I saw PEOPLE in the church doing that, and in my ignorance, confused the behavior of those mortals with the behavior of “the church,” and I’m sure all the while I was hearing truth but seeing… what? Human-ness? My take on Paul is that he was VERY cognizant of what we do as people, and spent a lot of energy exhorting his peeps to see the difference between that and the Body, and how one relates to the other. I will tell you I have never heard any fundamentalist CHURCH or church leader actually say that Christians who worship differently are going to hell (I have no doubt that HAS been said from the pulpit, but it hasn’t been my experience). I have heard them argue theology (nothing wrong with that, BTW), but what I have heard from the Church has been farily consistent with the Bible. That Heaven is open to those with the faith of a mustard seed. That whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Him.That no sin or sinner is beyond forgiveness. Whether people practice what they preach is another matter, but it’s still something we all have to take responsibility for. We’re all hypocrites on any given Sunday. Peace.

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