Planting Seeds in the Kin-dom

Column by Rev. Lauren Van Ham on 18 May 2023 0 Comments

Ahead of Pentecost, the month of May offers International Labor Day, Beltane, and Mother’s Day (United States).  Each one is ripe with spirituality, and combined, they invite us to choose one another, to look out for one another’s wellbeing, and to move continually toward the kin-dom of God.

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What is your view on the value of the Bible for today?


Dear Oscar,

Before deciding on the value of the Bible, we need to understand exactly what it is. First of all, it is not a book. It is, rather, a collection of documents written over a period of at least 2500 years, coming from different places and with differing intent. Scholars date the Hebrew Yahwist source in the Pentateuch from either the 10th or 5th century BCE and various books in the Christian writings as late as 110 CE. Different dates, different places and intent, and also different genres. Some of it sounds like history, some songs and prayers, some straight out mythology, some biography, and some prophetic denunciation of the rich and powerful. Furthermore, what we have today has been edited and re-edited, combined and recombined, transcribed and transcribed again, lost and found. We no longer have original documents, if ever we did, but copies of copies. Having said that, scholars have been able to put the pieces together and come up with reasonably reliable renditions of the various books. The history of the documents does not invalidate their veracity.

Taken together, what we find in the Bible is human reaction to what was believed to be divine action, whether in the Hebrew or Christian writings. For example, the earliest sources in the Hebrew writings present a mythology that attempts to understand why human beings deny their own loving being, thereby turning from the beauty and happiness offered by the Creator. The history of Israel as presented portrays continual rebellion by the people and subsequent forgiveness by their God. The prophets of old denounce the corruption of the king and his court, proclaiming the destruction that will come from the hand of God. 

Over and over, the Christian gospels describe the encounter between Jesus and those who came into contact with him, as well as various theological attempts to understand the power by which this Jesus touched so many lives. One of those lives was Paul, who in turn travelled the empire, founding small congregations of the faithful, and then, in many cases, criticizing the manner in which they were straying from the path. His letters to those churches are the earliest strata of the Christian writings.

So, yes, from all the writings there is much to value. Unfortunately, that value is undermined by those who would take it all literally rather than faithfully. There are scriptural literalists in every religion, Judaism and Christianity are no exception, and what they do is to destroy that very value they seek to promote. No one can claim full title to the word of God, and the more that fundamentalists, aka evangelicals, proclaim their truth as the only truth, the more they cast the Bible into oblivious irrelevance. On the contrary, open-minded investigation into biblical context and meaning at least allows it to be what it is, thereby providing value for future generations.

~ Dr. Carl Krieg




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