Alice C. Linsley
In a course I’ve been teaching on Women of the Bible students were asked to list the purposes of the Bible. Here is a compilation of the list:
• To communicate God’s message
• To understand the Ten Commandments
• To better understand our lives
• To better understand the mystery of God
• To give us faith in Jesus Christ
• To help us to live a good life
• To prepare us to enter Heaven
• To prepare us for death
• To understand the world
• To get a handle on Reality
• To comfort us in times of sorrow
• To provide guidance
• To aid evangelism
• To inspire
• To help us repent of our sins
• To explain where humans and life on Earth came from/started
• To tell us about our ancestors
• To tell us about Jesus’ ancestors
Many of the answers can be grouped under the heading moral guidance, but if the Bible’s purpose is moral guidance we would expect this aspect to be as obvious and precise as the great ethical teachings of the Vedas, or Buddhist teaching or Confucius’ writings.
Other answers reflect the belief that the Bible is an evangelistic tool to be used to save souls by calling people to repentance. This is a good use of the Bible, but such answers identify one use of the Bible as the Bible’s purpose. Was the Bible written for Christian evangelism? I think not. In fact, evangelistic use the Bible without a clear sense of its purpose confuses people.
It was interesting that some of the answers pose the Bible as an epistemological resource. I agree that the Bible helps us to understand the world, and I believe that the Bible presents a true view of reality, but I do not regard this as the Bible’s purpose, per se.
Some of these answers reflect what the students recognize as their teacher’s anthropological interest in origins and the ancestors of Jesus Christ. These are good answers, but not what I consider the purpose of the Bible. This surprised my students! They were sure that they were giving me the answers I wanted to hear.
Based on extensive study, I believe that the purpose of the Bible is to record what those who wrote the Bible considered important. This purpose never makes the list because Americans don’t value what people of the ancient world considered important. We are despisers of tradition and most consider ancient wisdom irrelevant. We believe that we are the most knowledgeable people, living in the most enlightened age, when in fact we are babblers who chase after entertainment rather than enlightenment.
If I am correct about this, we are in big trouble! For as Cicero said: To know nothing of what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child. The Apostle Paul says the same, urging believers to grow up through apprehension of the Holy Tradition concerning the Son of God. It matters that Abraham’s people lived in expectation of the appearing of the Son of God and that they knew God's purpose in His coming. It means that we have not invented Christianity. It means that, when our dogmatic quarrels take us off course, we can find the way by attending to this Holy Tradition.
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