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Understanding the Bible

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General Assembly 2003 Event 3054

Speaker: Rev. John A. Buehrens

A standing-room-only crowd of 1,000 people attested to the UU interest in Understanding the Bible,” which is the title of John Buehrens latest book, published by Beacon Press.

“If you don’t claim the right to interpret the Bible, others will do it for you” John Buehrens told us. We have allowed the central icons of our culture to fall into the hands of others. It is important we reclaim both the right and the responsibility to interpret the Bible.

There are many books about the Bible. What is special about this one? As its subtitle says, it is designed for skeptics, and would serve as a suitable guide for seekers from other religious traditions. Buehrens applies critical judgment both about the textual history and the contemporary application. “You don’t have to believe in the Bible to understand its stories” he explained. Furthermore, you don’t need to believe the Bible is consistent, for neither are we; and if, at times, God seems arbitrary this is appropriate for so are we. In these ways, the myths of the Bible illuminate our own history.

Myth is metaphor in narrative form. We ask: did that really happen, or how do I feel about the protagonist? If we conclude we don’t like it and it does not matter, we have not gone far enough. You don’t have to go to Jalaluddin Rumi or Zen to find paradoxical wisdom that speaks to the soul, because metaphors are the essence of the Biblical tradition.

John Buehrens used the words of Laurel Hallman in her Berry-Street address to refer to “misplaced concreteness” in religious writing that should be replaced by interpretations full of rich metaphor. For example, the book of Genesis is a hymn to creation in seven stanzas, and the Exodus story is at the core of our social justice movements.

Buehrens is an educator and has designed a book that can be used for a 15-week course, with each chapter taking a different approach to help us over the barriers to understanding the Bible. We have let the side down for too long; it is time to take up the challenge of interpreting the Bible for ourselves.

Reported by Mike McNaughton.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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