Thursday, September 23, 2010

BORG: Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Chapter 2

When we reach Chapter 2, Borg introduces us to what the bible really is, that is, its nature, which enables us to correctly read it.  The bible, Borg tells us, is hardly a divine product, whether indirectly or directly, as the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture states.  Rather, the alternative that it is a human product is how Borg sees the bible.  It is the product of two ancient communities: one of ancient Israel and the other of the early Christian movement.  Of course, this doesn’t deny that there is a God as God is real and can be experienced.  Indeed the bible, like sacred literature generally, originates in experiences of God, experiences of “the holy”, “the sacred”.  The bible is a human response to God.  It is the perception of two ancient communities of God’s character and will and of the human condition and the paths of deliverance.

But before one objects (or screams) “Why can’t it be both human and divine?” Borg demurs, “It leaves us with the dilemma of treating all of scripture as divine revelation.”  Though not explicit, the problem for Borg seems to be that people who affirm both have a hard time following this through in doctrine and practice.  More typically, in his experience, affirming both leads to separating out which parts are divine and which are human.  And naturally the divine parts are seen as having more authority and we normally come to think of the divine parts as those which confer on what matters to us.  But, of course, the bible doesn’t come to us with footnotes as which parts are divine or not, declares Borg.  This is an extremely subjective argument, but we’ll get to that later.

But there are three other important things we have to understand about the bible, Borg tells us.
1) It has a sacred status.  The bible became sacred through a process of “canonization” which took quite a gradual process and happened in stages.  This happened for the OT Law, Prophets, and Writings by about 400 BCE, 200 BCE and 100 CE respectively, and for the NT in 367 – about 260 years after it was complete.  (For the year 367, he’s almost certainly referring to the Epistle of Athanasius that lists the canonical books.)  An awareness of these facts enables us to see that “any document is sacred only because it is sacred for a particular community.”  The bible then serves as the ground of the world in which Christians live rather than being an authority standing above us.  It shapes the Christian’s vision and identity.
2) It is also a sacrament of the sacred.  Broadly defined, a sacrament is “a mediator of the sacred, a vehicle by which God becomes present and through which the Spirit is experienced.  The bible functions this way for Christians.
3) The bible is “the Word of God”.  Given that Borg doesn’t see the bible as coming from God, “Word” is best seen in a metaphorical and nonliteral sense.  That is, a word is a means of communication and disclosure.  “Christians find the disclosure of God – not because the Bible is the words of God but because the bible contains the primary stories and traditions that disclose the character and will of God.”


  1. ...and with that last, third point my fears are realised. not only is it seemingly irrelevant to Borg that the Word actually be from God, but he seems to be designating it as a book of virtues and little more. what good is knowing God's character and will if we can't know Him or are not receiving His literal words?

  2. Borg believes that the Gospels contain the literal words of Jesus, so I don't see why he can't think that the Bible cannot also contain the literal word of God. Perhaps he doesn't believe in God as more than a force or feeling or as an entity who can be interacted with?

    In Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, he does speak of his own liminal experiences of the Divine. They were real enough to him to make him want to devote his life to the study of the Bible and to Jesus Christ. It just seems weird to me that he would discredit the experiences of a group of people who purport to have seen, walked and talked with God. Are their experiences too traditional, too "impossible" to be taken seriously?

    This is fascinating to me. I can't thank you enough for posting.


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