We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Bible and Evolution

Aleppo Codex of Deuteronomy
Source: Wikipedia
In his book, How to Read the Bible (Free Press, 2007), James L. Kugel describes the evolution of the Bible and the evolution of the reading of the Bible through several stages.  The contents of the Bible were originally stories, law codes, oral traditions, and written pieces, which were cobbled together, added to,  re-cobbled, added to again, and then re-edited until they were all put into what we see as their "final form" in the Bible.  The process took many centuries.  From ancient times, moreover, the Bible has been read in different ways and the contents of its stories and writings have had different meanings.  Kugel also points out that the Bible as inspired scripture is not just a text.  It is also the idea that a text can be inspired, that this text is inspired, and that as inspired text it should be read in certain ways.

All of this troubles Kugel because modern biblical scholarship has torn the veil away from God's word and revealed that it is actually just a jumble of human words.  The Bible was assembled by us, not by God.  Where, he wonders, is the inspiration?

It is a fair question.  In fact, it seems to echo some of the similar questions that are often raised by the concept of evolution itself.   If the universe evolves naturally, then where is God in the process?  Isn't God just a human invention to explain things we can't explain in other ways?  Modern biblical scholarship does the same thing to the Bible that the other sciences do in their respective fields: subject observable reality to scientific scrutiny and thereby raise important (fascinating) theological questions.

If, however, we begin with the premise that God's creative will envelopes evolution in all of its expressions, Kugel helps us to see that the Bible itself is a piece with evolution.  It too has evolved and, in fact, continues to evolve.  Our understanding of it continues to evolve.  Just as the Spirit is Present with us in evolution so the Spirit is Present with us in scriptures. Now, obviously, there are any number of thorny issues we have to work through regarding the evolutionary nature of the Bible, most esp. why this book and not another?  What is the nature of inspiration?  How do we discern God's Word (Christ) in the words?  The truth is, however, these are not really new questions.  As Kugel makes clear, generations of biblical scholars from ancient times have wrestled with them.  Science only serves to sharpen the questions.  In the end, we can only do what we have always done, which is to live in faith.  Meanwhile, it only makes sense that the Bible has evolved.  How else would God speak to us as we ride the tides of evolution if not through the very processes that makes us what we are?