The Bible: From “Baseline Data” to a Revelation

“Definition. Baseline data is basic information gathered before a program begins. It is used later to provide a comparison for assessing program impact.” – http://www.sil.org/lingualinks/literacy/referencematerials/glossaryofliteracyterms/whatisbaselinedata.htm

…our sufficiency is of God… Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” – II Corinthians 3

SCIENTIFIC interpretation of the Scriptures properly starts with the beginning of the Old Testament, chiefly because the spiritual import of the Word, in its earliest articulations, often seems so smothered by the immediate context as to require explication; whereas the New Testament narratives are clearer and come nearer the heart.” – Mary Baker Eddy (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures)

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The Bible is really cool in that it’s a collection of writings from people who lived thousands of years ago and took the time to write down their thoughts and feelings about life – and their writing connects us to them – lets us see that people dealt with the same feelings that we deal with today. There’s joy in those pages, and hope, and great love. There’re stories of self-sacrifice and selflessness and courage – and there’re also stories of obsession and greed and jealousy. And it’s interesting, to me, to see how people dealt with all that stuff – as a society, and as individuals.

But there’s a distinction made in the Bible between the “spirit” and the “letter.” It says in II Corinthians 3 that “the letter killeth” – and I think when people interpret the Bible word-for-word literally they are killing the spirit, the essence, of its meaning. The Bible is chock full of symbolism. Interpreted literally, a lot of it just doesn’t make any sense – it’s full of contradictions and things that are just loopy. Interpreted literally, the story of Adam and Eve has any sane person scratching her head, trying to make heads and tails of talking serpents and a rib turned into a woman and a Creator sending his creation to hell for doing what he made it capable of doing. Interpreted literally, the book of Revelation is a complete nightmare.

And sometimes it might seem really tempting to just throw the whole thing in the trash and be done with it – there is a lot of insanity displayed in The Bible – narrow-mindedness, rigidity, misogyny, tribal warfare, chaos and mayhem and rape and murder and hypocrisy – and I can understand why I’ve sometimes heard people say they hate it.

But when I read The Bible what I see as a history major is the evolution and progress of society and mankind – gradually moving away from a god of war – a vengeful, angry, jealous anthropomorphic god – to God as, literally, Love. When I read the first chapter of Genesis I see the beauty of creation – I don’t get hung up on the whole seven days and seven nights thing – Christian Scientists don’t interpret that chapter literally – what I see is a creation made in God’s image and likeness – beautiful and good and perfect. When I read the story of Adam and Eve, it’s obvious to me that I’m reading an allegory. When I read the songs that David wrote I know I’m reading the words of a man who struggled with the same things I’ve struggled with in my life – I see his flaws and I see his mistakes and his victories, and I see him growing and maturing and I take comfort in that. Jesus’ healings are evidence, for me, of the power of our thoughts, the power of love and good overcoming the challenges we all face – and they give me hope. Revelations is totally symbolic – in my mind, at least – showing the ultimate triumph of the things of the Spirit over the illusions of matter.

I think it’s important to keep what we read in the Bible in context with the culture and times in which it was written – and to view the Bible as a work that’s not static, but dynamic – that shows us a progression from beginning to end.  When we read in Leviticus the ruling that adulterous women should be stoned, and “…eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again” – I don’t see this as an edict of how we should behave today – I see Leviticus as offering us the baseline data – as the “basic information gathered before a program begins… used later to show how far we’ve come…”   (http://www.sil.org). When we later see Jesus saving the woman accused of adultery from being stoned, and read his words, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5) – I see the progress mankind has made from the baseline given in Leviticus.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5

“There will be greater mental opposition to the spiritual, scientific meaning of the Scriptures than there has ever been since the Christian era began. The serpent, material sense, will bite the heel of  the woman, – will struggle to destroy the spiritual idea of Love...” – Mary Baker Eddy (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures)

“The Scriptures are very sacred. Our aim must be to have them understood spiritually, for only by this understanding can truth be gained. The true theory of the universe, including man, is not in material history but in spiritual development.” – from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy

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