What Kind of Book Is The Bible?

Did you ever wonder why HuffPost articles on the Bible elicit such strong reactions? Almost any piece about the Bible typically receives a couple of hundred comments and some garner far more. Why? I have a hunch it's because our attitudes about the Bible reveal our attitudes about religion more generally. The Bible is, after all, a primary religious authority and so how you react to it discloses how you feel about the religion it mediates.

So what kind of book do you think the Bible is? While there are any number of possible ways to answer this question, I've outlined four that seem most typical of the responses I've read to my recent posts and conversations I've had over the years about the Bible. Read them over to see if one reflects your beliefs about the "good book," and then take the survey below to register your opinion and see what others are saying.

Two quick caveats: 1) Because I'm most familiar with the Christian Bible, that's the one I have in mind, though I suspect the categories below will transfer to the scriptures of other faiths. 2) The categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive -- one might, for instance, believe the Bible is supernatural and a book of moral guidance, or that it is no different than other sacred texts but also provides good guidance for living. If you decide to take the poll, select the choice that gets closest to capturing your core belief about the Bible. Okay, with these two notes in mind, here are four options.

1. Supernatural Revelation of God's Eternal Will

This view of Scripture believes that the Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant in terms of doctrine, morals and history. It is in this sense quite literally supernatural in that it is not of the natural order but instead was written by God (working through human agents) to reveal God's eternal and infallible will for all people. Therefore, if the Bible says the world was created in seven days, then the world was in fact created in seven days. Similarly, the laws the Bible contains -- unless superseded by newer ones (as when Jesus says some ritual laws no longer apply) -- are valid for all people in all times and places.

2. Inspiring Moral Guide

Although adherents of this view may not believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, they nevertheless find much inspiration and moral guidance within its pages. The Psalms bring comfort, for instance, and the Proverbs give good advice. The Ten Commandments and teachings of Jesus offer excellent moral counsel that would contribute to a better world if more people followed them. At the same time, there are some pretty strange rules and regulations that clearly no longer apply. One therefore needs to bring some common sense to the reading of Scripture and sift through some of the outdated material to find timeless wisdom and inspiration.

3. Sacred Literature Like All Other Sacred Literature

From this point of view, the Bible represents the sacred literature of a particular religion and is no different than the sacred literature of any other religion. One therefore may profit by studying the Bible in order to understand the religion it represents. Similarly, one may be interested in the historical and cultural influence the Bible has exercised or in reading it as great literature. But all notions of its divine or supernatural status are at the very least misplaced and may in fact be dangerous as they can invite blind obedience to one religious faith and lead to intolerance toward others.

4. Faithful Confessions and Family Album

What holds all the various parts of the Bible together, from this point of view, is that they all represent faithful attempts of persons to witness to their experience of God. Taken together, all these different confessions of faith provide something of a record, or album, of the history of one people and their beliefs about God. Not unlike a family scrapbook that's been passed down through the generations, the various bits and pieces combine to tell a story about this particular family of faith and the God they worship. In this way, the Bible invites readers to enter into the narrative truth it provides and make this story their own.

Given the diverse ways to think about the Bible, it's no wonder that articles about Scripture elicit such strong opinions and engender so much conversation. What we say about the Bible inevitably says something about us -- about what we believe or don't believe, and about the place faith holds or doesn't hold in our lives. So now it's your turn. What kind of book do you think the Bible is? Can you find a view that represents what you believe? Take the survey below and let us know.