Without the bible, the Judea-Christian system of belief would not exist as we know it. In fact, there would be a completely alternate story for our modern civilization. No single collection of books have had an impact on so much of society in so many places over so long a period of time. It is not too far a stretch to say that without the bible, we would be living in a very different world.
The one thing Christians absolutely cannot get beyond and still be Christians is the bible. Many Christians who are practitioners of science have tried to go beyond magic and mystery to enter the world of empirical evidence. In the end, though, such Christians must always defer to scripture as the final court of arbitration for what is true about the world.
Even neuroscientists and biologists have tried to square their scientific profession with faith, but ultimately, must frame their findings in the light of scripture. Though such Christians tend to be considered quite liberal by the mainstream, they still are considered Christians as long as they hold on the some type of sacred interpretation of scripture.
To be clear, you can let go of a lot of things and still be a Christian by the reckoning of many. You can let go of your dogmatic convictions in denominational distinctives. You can doubt some literal interpretations such as the six-day creation and the virgin birth. You can question the efficacy of the sacraments and the primacy of the priesthood and still be considered a Christian, just barely, by many of the faithful who are eager to call you brother or sister. But make no mistake about it. Once you let go of the treatment of the bible as a sacred book, you have severed all ties to the religion of Christianity, and entered the world of the non-theist. That is the point of no return.
The bible is both religiously and culturally significant. Its religious significance is rooted in the idea that the bible was somehow, magically passed down from the mind of god to fallen humanity, in its current form. In some mysterious way, the bible is the uncorrupted words of god to humanity. To a religious person, nothing could be more important than obtaining, studying, and understanding the message from god that he personally delivered.
The bible is culturally significant because, for a long time, the only book the average person had complete access to was some translation of the bible. For many, it became more than a collection of religious doctrines. It became a sort of textbook. It was everything the common man knew about science, history, and nature. It became the basis of how children and adults learned to read and write. Faith-based interpretations of life became the basis of how we learned to reason. It is the foundation of the political and legal system of many countries. Even people who are not religious and have no reverence for scripture are affected by its influence.
Before we can begin to understand why the bible has had such an impact on secular society, we must first understand why it has such a religious impact. Our investigation must begin with the Jewish tradition. None of the Old Testament stories are Christian stories. The Creation, the Garden of Eden, the Fall, Noah and the ark, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Egyptian captivity and the Ten Commandments (both sets), Saul, David, and Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple, and the rest, are not a part of the Christian tradition. They are all, 100% Jewish in origin.
This is a rather extraordinary fact since most of the world isn’t Jewish. Digest that fact for a moment. The vast majority of the people who hold these stories sacred in some way neither bear the mark of circumcision as a sign, nor could they recite the Shabbat. Adding to the mysterious allure of these tales is the fact that they are primarily regional, even tribal in nature. In other words, they are not only Jewish stories, but exclusively Jewish stories.
The Semitic story never travels far from the center of creation. God’s promises and blessings were offered to the Jewish people. His protections were intended for the Jewish people. His commands were for the Jewish people. His everlasting covenant was with the Jewish people. Ultimate salvation would come through the Jewish people. The eternal law, both spoken and written would come to, and be filtered through the Jewish people. According to the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, non-Jewish Christians owe the Jews a debt of gratitude. Even the ministry and passion of Jesus plays out an overtly Jewish drama. How did this exclusive, provincial story ever catch on and become the basis of a world-wide religion?
Naturally a meaningful essay on scripture cannot be completed in one shot, so I have decided to break this up into small segments. So far, we have acknowledged the tremendous impact the bible has had over both religious and non-religious culture. We have discovered that the bible, at least started out as a book of culturally narrow perspective. Next I will lay out my reasons for why it is vital we stop taking the bible seriously. In addition to providing a few reasons, I will also provide a few tools to help make that a reality.