In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Pete and Jared celebrate their two-hundredth episode by discussing why the Bible still matters, looking at the Bible as a book of wisdom, and approaching the Bible without being an expert. Together, they explore the following questions:
- Why and how does the Bible still matter?
- If the Bible isn’t inerrant, what value does it hold?
- How can an all or nothing mindset about the Bible be harmful?
- Why bother with a book that doesn’t give you history straight?
- What does it mean to look at faith as a process?
- What does it mean to look at the Bible as a book of wisdom?
- How can we find certainty and a path in life that will not fail?
- If you’ve stepped away from the Bible for a while, how can you begin to reengage it?
- How can I approach the Bible without being a Bible scholar/expert?
- What are some different ways of reading/approaching the Bible?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete & Jared you can share.
- “Faith is a process, not a starting point. Things that are worth pursuing in life aren’t accomplishments, aren’t finish lines, aren’t conclusions—but they are processes.” @jbyas
- “Looking at the Bible as a book of wisdom…that’s not a new idea. The modern study of the Bible ironically has pushed me in that direction. It hasn’t taken the Bible away from me.” @peteenns
- “There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the Bible. When the Bible is something that’s part of your performance it can lose steam really quick. It’s not life-giving. It’s not a means of grace.” @peteenns
- “I want to take that question, ‘how does the Bible still matter,’ not as a threatening question that I need an answer to right now or we’re gonna fall apart, but something that can actually be asked with curiosity.”@peteenns
- “I think the Bible still matters and wisdom is the huge theme in there. Simply by watching how the Bible itself behaves—with its tensions, contradictions, antiquity—that’s exactly what makes it interesting to read.” @peteenns
- “I think the best thing I ever did for my faith was to stop reading the Bible. Every time I picked up the book, I only had one way to read it; so I had to learn new ways. [I had to] give it time to recede to the back of my brain, and then I could have the space to reengage it in a new way.” @jbyas
- “The Bible doesn’t give us history straight in an objective sense, because there’s no such thing as objective history even in the Bible. There are biases, there are lessons to be learned.” @peteenns
- “Deconstruction is when your pastor tries to shame you for asking hard questions and you laugh and laugh because you now realize they’re not the boss of you.” @jbyas
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Website: thebiblefornormalpeople.com
- Class: Seeing Gender Diversity in Scripture
- Podcast: The Making of the Modern Mindset, Part 3
- Book: The Great Partnership
- Book: How the Bible Actually Works
- Blog Post: My Top Three Study Bibles
- Study Bibles: New Oxford Annotated Bible, Harper Collins Study Bible, New Interpreter Study Bible, Jewish Annotated New Testament
- Video: Who killed Goliath?
- Support: patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty intro music]
Pete: Before we begin, folks, we just have- Jared, we have an exciting announcement about a great opportunity for our listeners.
Jared: Yep, we have an upcoming one-night live class with Q&A and it is with Austen Hartke. If you remember, if you’ve been listening since the beginning, as you should be, you will remember that Austen was a guest on the podcast and he is going to be teaching a one night class for us “Seeing Gender Diversity in Scripture.” And that’s Thursday, April 14, put it on your calendar. Of course, if you miss it, you’ll be able to get it later, but if you want to do the Q&A, then join live Thursday, April 14, 8:00-9:30 PM Easter time. And of course, it’s always pay what you can.
Pete: And we can’t stress enough, Eastern Time.
Jared: Eastern time.
Jared: Eastern Time.
Jared: I think I said Easter time, but I think it’s probably close to Easter time too.
Pete: You know what, that’s okay. It’s probably close to Easter, but it’s both. It’s Easter time and it’s Eastern time.
Jared: Right. So, it’s pay-what-you-can, just go to thebiblefornormalpeople.com/diversity. We’ll talk about gender diversity, talk about Bible stories and gender, and how those go together. And all again, led by Austen Hartke, Thursday, April 14th, 8:00-9:30 PM ET, thebiblefornormalpeople.com/diversity.
[Music begins playing in background]
Robotic Voicemail Lady: First unheard message.
Brad: Hi, this is Brad from Tulsa, Oklahoma and I’ve been listening to The Bible for Normal People for almost a year now. I just want to say thank you to Pete and Jared for challenging me in my faith, and at the same time strengthening me in my faith. Congratulations on 200 episodes and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. God bless.
Robotic Voicemail Lady: Next message.
Brian: Hi, I’m Brian McLaren and I am a raving fan of The Bible for Normal People. I’m so grateful to Pete and Jared and every listener who is carrying on this important conversation. We’ve all heard the story of Martin Luther nailing 95 Theses to the church door in Germany. I think every episode of this podcast is like a new thesis nailed to the door of the church and inviting needed to change in this critical moment. Keep up the great work friends.
Robotic Voicemail Lady: Next message
Craig: Hi, my name is Craig. I’m from New South Wales in Australia. I discovered The Bible for Normal People about a year ago and I think I’ve listened to just about every episode now. I’ve learned so much from Pete, Jared, and all the guests and just really appreciate the podcast and everyone involved in producing it faithfully each week. Congratulations on 200 episodes and keep them coming.
Robotic Voicemail Lady: Next message.
Dominic: Hey, this is Dominic from San Marcos, Texas. Wanted to say congrats to The Bible for Normal People for their 200th episode. I knew you guys could do it; you guys work so hard. Bible for Normal People has been great for me in exploring my faith, deconstructing, reconstructing, and everything in between. Keep it up, y’all.
Robotic Voicemail Lady: Next message.
Jeanine: Hi, I’m Jeanine from Fallbrook, California. Congratulations on your 200th episode! I discovered Bible for Normal People by someone mentioning this podcast on a Father Richard Rohr Facebook group discussion page and have since absorbed a tremendous amount of learning and unlearning. My faith discovery has been so much more enriched because of this program. Thank you.
Robotic Voicemail Lady: Next message.
Paige: Hi, I’m Paige from Tumbi Umbi in New South Wales, Australia. I’m so grateful for The Bible for Normal People podcast and the way it makes big theological ideas accessible to people who have not studied theology. It’s been a bit of a lighthouse in my faith journey over the last few years. Congrats on the 200 episodes guys, I can’t wait for the next 200.
Robotic Voicemail Lady: Next message.
Sarah: Hey there, Pete, Jared. This is Sarah Bessey. Congrats on your 200th episode of The Bible for Normal People. Just wanted to say thank you for all of your good work in this world. It is through your interviews and your insights, your conversations, your inimitable snark, you have done what seemed impossible to so many of us. You’ve given us back our Bibles and our love for our Bibles, what a gift. My love to both of you. I’m so grateful for you. Well done, guys.
Robotic Voicemail Lady: Next message.
Thomas: This is Thomas Jay Oord, Director of the Doctoral Program in Open and Relational Theology at Northwind Theological Seminary. I regularly recommend Bible for Normal People episodes to my students. And I love getting acquainted with biblical and theological scholars whose voices and perspectives are new to me. I want to congratulate Pete and Jared on their 200th and express my thanks to everyone who makes The Bible for Normal People podcast and the community something special.
Robotic Voicemail Lady: End of messages.
Pete: Hey everybody and, oh boy, what a day. What an amazing day. An incredible day. You know why, Jared?
Jared: I – no. Don’t know.
[Drumroll followed by a glorious reveal]
Pete: Because this is our 200th episode. Who’d have thunk it? That’s a lot.
Jared: I mean, mathematically, it kind of was a certainty if we continued to go. So, lots of people would’ve thunk it.
Pete: If we continued to go-
Jared: Oh, that’s what’s unbelievable.
Pete: I was expecting to be arrested or something. Or you at least, you know? Then I’d have to do these about myself, which wouldn’t happen. So, yeah, but it’s 200 episodes. So, we’re really happy about that. And, yeah, sort of amazed. It goes quickly.
Jared: So, you know, we really put a lot of thought into this episode. So, we did a survey, and by which I meant we just sat around and thought of things that people have been talking about to us for the last handful of months.
Pete: Very unofficial, unscientific survey.
Jared: A very unofficial survey of just making stuff up.
Pete: More of an intuitive survey…
Jared: Intuitive, yes.
Pete: Of the kinds of questions we still we get. I shouldn’t say we still get. Kinds of questions that are very common, you know, when we’re talking with people, either, maybe on social media, or, you know, some of our Patreon meetings and, you know, the Slack group and things like that. A lot of things seem to come up, there are themes. And so, we just thought we’d chat about those and revisit those and think about them openly, sort of, with all of you, sort of riffing and see where we go.
Jared: You know, it’s interesting, I didn’t think about this before. But this is the two hundredth episode and just thinking of how these questions in some ways have shifted? Like, these are questions I don’t think… We’ve done similar episodes in the past and the kinds of questions we were getting weren’t these kinds of questions.
Jared: These are actually a little different, I think. And it just shows, I think, where people are going, and that’s one of the questions we’re going to talk about later, is kind of where is Christian faith going?
Pete: Where’s all this going? Yeah.
Jared: But I think the number one question we wanted to talk about was, you know, does the Bible still matter? Why does it still matter? How does it still matter?
Pete: And why does a question like that even come up for people? And, yeah, because, again, when you’re talking about the Bible and sort of dissecting it and reframing things in ways that are new. You know, that’s what reframing is, you’re doing a new thing with it. And it’s easy to see how the Bible fits in older ways of thinking for people, but then we have a new way of thinking, you still want that anchor, you still want that thing, but it’s a whole different Bible. So, why should I even bother with it? Does it even matter? What’s it good for? And I guess the question there is, well, what do you mean by “does it matter”? Like, matter for what is really the question, right?
Jared: Yeah. And, again, not to get into the too much of the background for this. But I often think, that the tradition I grew up in was a major, it was a disservice. It did me a disservice in how I think about the Bible because it presented the Bible as this either/or. So, if it’s not this one thing, which in my tradition was the absolute access to reality as it is, in history-
Pete: To the mind of God.
Jared: To the mind of God and reality, because that is the mind of God. Like history and science and very practical things, if it’s not the absolute inerrant truth about all those things, then it’s nothing. It’s actually, it’s not of value at all.
Jared: And so, this perfectionist mindset, I think the goal was to scare you away from Option B, so that you would be in Option A, but the problem is when you grew up that, if it’s not Option A, you think it’s there’s only option B, and a lot of people are recognizing that maybe it’s not Option A. And now, it’s like, that’s where I think this question comes from is, does the Bible matter? Because I was taught, if it’s not A, if it’s not this an inerrant-
Pete: That’s the only way that it can matter.
Jared: That’s the only way it can matter. And so that just the entire framing of the question, I think, assumes a certain framework.
Pete: Right. And that’s the thing to engage that question with people, you have to get behind the question as to what they’re really asking. And, you know, we throw terms around here, like certainty and things like that, but part of it is the need for comfort and certainty, which we all have. All human beings have that. The question is whether the Bible can actually deliver that. And again, you know, I, as many of you know, I teach Bible for a living. I have for many years, and I love engaging the Bible. I love teaching it. I love thinking about it. I need a break every now and then, but still, it’s not a book that I dread or loathe or look down upon, but I still don’t see it in Option A, you know? And I see it differently and you see it differently, and that’s part of what we’re trying to do here is to give a different context for even asking a question like that.
Pete: And to model that by other people talking, you know, our guests, who also have a very different way of thinking about the Bible, then, I’m riffing off of the last podcast, the last solo podcast you did, a modernist assumption about certainty, certitude, and the Bible gives you that. You can’t get it anyplace else, but by golly, you can get it from the Bible. And then you start reading it and you start having questions. Right? And that’s common. That is a common thing. And that’s why you need a really hefty apologetics industry to keep Option A intact, maybe with some modifications, maybe different iterations of Option A, but it’s still Option A.
Pete: And when you take that away, I think for many people, the question is, does the Bible still matter?
Jared: Right, exactly. Exactly. And well, let’s jump into it. Because I think there’s a few angles that we get this question asked through, or maybe a lens. And one of those is, for instance, whether we are talking about the book of Jonah or maybe Genesis, and we start saying, oh, there’s a talking snake, maybe this isn’t meant to be a literal story. Maybe this is metaphorical. And we were talking about this before we got on to record, that word “just” comes up a lot. What if it’s just metaphorical? What, why does it- How does it matter? If it’s only metaphorical there’s already some assumptions about that just in the language that we’re using. But I do think that’s something a lot of people, that factors into this question of, again, the assumption is the real important stuff gives us facts about history, science, and it’s really of little or no value if it’s not those things. And so, if we put the Bible not in Camp A of history and science, exactly as it happened, and it’s Camp B, why even bother with it?
Pete: Yeah. Why bother with a book that doesn’t give you history straight?
Pete: Which includes science, because science is history in that sense.
Pete: Well, how did the world begin? How do people come about? So yeah, there’s an assumption there that is a very modern assumption and that’s really the key. Which, again, you explained in your podcast, that is something that American western fundamentalism has very much in common with the most secular godless people in the world. You know, you want a sense of certainty and it depends on where you get it from. And so, the Bible is then elevated to a place it really never held before, which is the only way of knowing truth.
You know, I’m, I just got done reading a book by Rabbi Sacks called, I think, The Great Partnership, which is on science and faith, a wonderful book, and a couple other books on the topic, too. But he looks at how Judaism has looked, for example, at science, and you have Maimonides of the, you know, 12th century philosopher saying, “You need to know physics. You need to know math. You need to know logic. You can’t just read the Bible to talk about how the world began.” You know? Augustine famously said, you know, the 4th century, again paraphrasing, “You need to have a screw loose, if you think that you’re going to contribute anything to origins, by simply quoting the Bible. You’re going to make Christians look foolish if you do that.” That’s a very, very old view. But that is that sense of the Bible giving certainty has made a comeback in the modern period.
You know, and Christians have been very much influenced by that modern period, especially when you start getting threatened by things like Darwin or archeology or German higher criticism that says, “Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch.” You’re gonna hunker down and sort of circle the wagons, that’s understandable on one level, but the Bible has to matter in other ways, it just has to. And maybe, see maybe, the historical problems of the Bible are actually going to be helpful to finding another way, not just A or B. Well, it’s clearly not A, so what is it? How can it matter differently? Not either/or, but see, I think that’s really looking at the Bible with the eyes of faith. Not faith that it’s all going to work out, but just faith that there’s something there of value spiritually when you read it. And what does that look like? And that is itself, you know, we talked about this with Tripp Fuller, a few weeks back, right? That is itself, doing theology, it’s not getting the Bible straight and then now you can go off and think about God. It’s how you think about the Bible as part of that. That is actually- you’re already doing theology at that point and a very honorable task. That’s not liberalism, that’s not unbelief, that’s not a weak-kneed, blah, blah, blah. It’s actually the journey of faith that we’re on.
Jared: Well, it’s thinking of faith as a process, not a starting point.
Jared: And the faith is the process itself. And that can be unsettling. That’s the thing that’s hard is to recognize that maybe the things that are worth pursuing in life aren’t accomplishments, aren’t finish lines, aren’t conclusions, but they are processes. Like relationships, you don’t ever arrive at a relationship.
Pete: You don’t?
Jared: It’s ever evolving. I mean, maybe you do.
Pete: I try.
Jared: Yeah, then me that’s a problem.
Pete: I don’t have any friends now that you mention it.
Jared: Yeah. Exactly. Think about that.
Pete: It’s not working very well. Yeah, it’s not working.
Jared: But thinking about those things, we all say relationships are so important, and yet those are uncertain and those are a process and those are ever evolving and ever changing. And yet we expect, in the Bible world, the only things that matter are the things that are conclusive and ends.
Pete: And it’s like giving your spouse, with whom you’re in a relationship that’s ambiguous- say I’m gonna write you book, okay? Just read this, you’ll know everything you ever need to know about me. And that’s fine, right? I don’t think that would be very nice, you know?
Pete: And the thing is that if God is, if God is love, right? And if we’re in relationship with God, I don’t really like that word, but that itself is a metaphor, right? In relationship with God, then there has to be a little bit of growth and uncertainty and movement and getting to know the other and things like that. But then that raises the question, how does the Bible matter? Well, one way and you know, there’s so many angles on this question we could go into, but the way Jared, you and I have posed this is the wisdom angle. So, what does that mean to you when you look at the Bible as basically a book of wisdom?
Jared: Well, I think there’s two angles to it, because I think there’s the repository of people thinking through their relationship with God that we can glean from. So, there is that repository notion of it, but where it gets more personal for me is in seeing it as a conversation partner, in not only my spiritual life, but also just my life as a human being. And being able to have that conversation of, I learned things about the particular moment in my life I’m in through reading my life through the lens of Jonah. And so, when I’m reading through Jonah and I’m thinking through the topics that are brought up and thinking through, how does the writer of Jonah wrestle with this idea of justice and mercy? And then I started thinking, well that is a perennial problem, that’s still a problem today. How will we wrestle with questions of justice? And what have we learned since the author of Jonah that we can now bring to the conversation? Jonah doesn’t end the conversation, Jonah brings up the conversation.
Pete: So, the answer is not there?
Jared: The answers not there. The questions are there.
Pete: The questions are there and something, maybe, a process or something?
Jared: And an example of how some people have wrestled with that topic.
Pete: At least we don’t feel alone, then.
Jared: Right. And then we can move forward in saying, “What can we add to?” And I think that’s what was missing in my tradition was to “add to” was automatically lesser than and you can’t do it. But instead, what if it’s expected that we add to? We enter the conversation. We enter our own voice, and we make it relevant for now, and again, I keep coming back to this, it’s always a terrible example. But I love Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, because he brings the Bible into everything and he does it in the most absurd ways. But there’s something really right about that, that I’ve always gravitated to. Like, it’s his way of making the Bible mean something. It matters to him in a way that is a little cringy sometimes, but that’s better than just leaving it crystallized in the past.
Pete: Yeah, I can see people who agree with you still saying, “I don’t know, you can’t fix this. But that’s still a pretty wimpy Bible compared to what I had.”
Jared: Yeah, and it is.
Pete: It is really, really wimpy. It’s just [in whiny, condescending voice], “Ohhhhhh, explore wisdom.”
[Back to his regular condescending voice 😉 ]
Well, yeah, but the thing is that, that is also a filter. You see? That’s- it’s like when I’ve heard this, you know, many times, like a pastor will quietly come to me and say, okay Pete, I get what you’re saying. The Bible is not this certainty thing and it’s meant to be explored and with curiosity, and I get it, but so what then? I need something else, I need another certainty hook, I need something else to take its place. And how can I still retain the Bible in the old way while still accepting what you say? And I understand that, but that’s how I think people in a panic, and that sounds condescending, I don’t mean it that way. But it’s how people who have their narrative is being rewritten before their eyes. They will react that way and this whole thing is about taking a step back and looking at that whole process a little bit more clinically and objectively and say,
“What am I afraid of? What’s going on here? And I know I can’t go back to that. So where do I go next? How is the Bible going to matter differently?”
And I think wisdom, that’s not a new idea. You know? That’s a very good one, a very old one. And for me, it’s the modern study of the Bible that ironically has pushed me in that direction. It hasn’t taken the Bible away from me. It’s made me realize I can’t expect of it things like historical accuracy or even in some cases history at all. And I can’t expect from it scientific truth. I can’t expect from it flawless moral truth because there are all sorts of weird things that happened. So how do I use it? Well, I use it as a- I mean the language I’ve used as a means of grace, it’s sort of like communion or Eucharist. It’s not the things themselves. We don’t have perfect wafers and perfect wine in the Episcopal Church. But they work, they do a job to help a communion towards something higher, right? And how does that work? I can’t bottle that. I can hear the ten steps to getting that, it’s just, you live with it. And you just read it a lot. And you don’t be afraid to interrogate it. You explore it, you know? Which is sort of getting us into another question, isn’t it? Like when people want to go back to reading the Bible. Or do you want to, do you want to throw around this “does the Bible matter” a little bit more, because this is a big topic.
Jared: Well, I think if we’re gonna talk about why the Bible matters, what you’re saying- the only way I would, I would maybe just rephrase it, and then we can move on is, I think, in my tradition, I was sold a bill of goods that the Bible couldn’t deliver on. And that’s the grieving process is that it set my expectation up, that there was something out there that was going to give me a certainty and a path in life that would not fail. And I think the hard fact that- and grieving is a good word, that I’ve had to grieve, as someone who likes certainty and who loves control is that that’s make believe. That thing doesn’t exist. Bible or no Bible, it doesn’t exist. And so, the problem though, is it created that desire for me and so then now I have this desire that was gonna go unfulfilled forever because there’s just nothing that can fit that.
Pete: You know, it’s sort of like, I’m speaking of myself here, when you learn dysfunctional coping skills as a child and you retain them into- oh I don’t know, hypothetically, into your 50s and 60s. But then you learn about that and you say, there has to be another way to process reality. And, you know, the overlap between psychology and religion is very clear. People talk about that a lot. And I think there’s an analogy here with the bill of goods, let’s say a dysfunctional way of looking at the Bible, it actually- see the thing is that it can actually perform a positive function, it can keep you alive. It can keep you safe in a home that is maybe not very safe, but at some point, you have to say—thank you. This part of my past was important…
Jared: And it no longer serves me.
Pete: But it no longer serves me. And there’s actually something bigger, right? So, I want to take that question. How does the Bible still matter, not as a threatening question that I need an answer to right now or we’re gonna fall apart, but something that can actually be asked with curiosity and a sense of expectation that- join the club. There is something else out there for how you look at the Bible. It’s hard to package- you’ve written about, you know, my book, How the Bible Actually Works, was my attempt to sort of lay out how I think the Bible still matters. And wisdom is, you know, the huge theme in there. And simply by watching how the Bible itself behaves, with its tensions, contradictions, its antiquity, and things like that. And that’s exactly what makes it interesting to read.
Pete: You know?
Jared: Yeah. But I think again, for you, this is that process of, it took you a while to figure that out.
Jared: To figure out, you know, How the Bible Actually Works wasn’t one day I had this view and the next day, I had this idea for a book on this whole new way of seeing the Bible. That was-
Pete: It came to me in a dream.
Jared: Ten years, right? It was ten years of-
Pete: Yeah, well actually more than that. It was it was years of keeping it buried too.
Pete: But it was probably more like 25-30 years. So yeah, and not everybody has that, but that’s why we’re here, folks. The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. No, but there’s a community-
Pete: Within which you can actually process out loud without judgment, how you’re thinking through questions like—Does the Bible matter? What is God like? What about Christianity? What about science? What about Judaism?—all these things. And that’s a beautiful thing, you know? That’s why we that’s why we started this. That’s why we do this.
Jared: And I think the one thing that’s been really helpful is when you can shift your view of God to God is love and that allows for this free range of question, then you can, I just, again, people that we talked to sometimes I get the feeling that they’re like looking over their shoulder-
Jared: Wondering if this is now going to be the question that pushes them over the edge and God’s going to punish them or smite them or whatever they think God’s going to do. And I always love to see people stop looking over their shoulder and maybe embracing a view of God where that’s not ever going to come, no matter the question, kind of no matter what you need to explore for yourself. And I just think that community idea is really important, because I think we reflect that kind of love when we can be that for other people.
Pete: Yeah, there are theologians like Jürgen Moltmann and Karl Rahner, who were all about God basically lives in the future. God is always drawing us forward and not looking over our shoulders, looking backward and even just the present is all there is, there’s actually hope. And sometimes that involves, for a lot of us, rethinking the Bible to make it more of a hopeful process than a looking over your shoulder process.
Jared: Yeah. Well, I think that is a good segue to talk about this other question of, how do we re-read the Bible? Like, there’s so many people were like, “I just put it down for a long time. I’m reading people you have on the podcast. I’m trying to figure out the model for the Bible, but now I’m ready to maybe reengage. How do I do that?” What do you tell those people?
Pete: Well, I mean, I’d say first of all, it’s good that you did all those other things. And sometimes you just need to break from the Bible. I think you need a break sometimes from church, and I think some people need a break from God because the idea of God is just toxic. So, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from the Bible.
Jared: I did it as a pastor.
Jared: So, it can be done. I was still, I was still preaching every week. But I was just I was going off of- I was running off of steam.
Pete: Right. Right. Because there’s something about you know, when the Bible is something that’s part of your performance-
Pete: It can lose steam really quick. It’s not life-giving. It’s not a means of grace. At that point.
Jared: Literally it’s your job.
Pete: It’s your job.
Jared: Your paycheck depends on it.
Jared: But all that to say, I would just second that. I think the best thing I ever did for my faith was to stop reading the Bible, because I couldn’t- once you have such a deeply ingrained habit, I had to stop the habit. Every time I picked up the book, I only had one way to read it.
Jared: So, I had to learn new ways. First give it time to recede to the back of my brain and then I could have the space to reengage it in a new way.
Pete: Right, right. And, yeah, so I think, how do you reengage it, then? I think that’s specific to people and where they are. And, you know, my advice for what it’s worth is maybe to ask yourself, okay, there’s something about you right now that wants to get back into the Bible and think about what that is and why and does anything come up? Like, I just, I’ve never read this particular book before. And just start with that, you know, there’s no plan, there’s no- okay, now that you’re ready, let’s read through the Bible in three months. Okay, no, I’m gonna just, you know, off myself if I have to do that. People do that, by the way, they read through the Bible in three months. And I think it comes out to something like-
Jared: It’s wild.
Pete: It’s like, I don’t know how many chapters a day, but it’s too much.
Jared: Yeah. I mean even the Bible in a year-
Pete: There’s something like 1400 chapters in the Bible or something. So, in ninety days, do the math.
Jared: I can’t imagine doing it in ninety days.
Pete: Yeah, that’s like 20 chapters. I don’t know, I can’t do the math. But anyway, so you know, there’s no plan because that, again, that’s the performance mentality of like, I’m doing this to make God happy. The more I read, the more happy God’s going to be with me. And that is a reality in a lot of conservative-minded churches, like it’s it is something. It’s a task you do-
Pete: Where’s grace in this? There’s a task that you do, that God will be pleased with you because you’re doing this. And so, you do it, even though you hate it-
Jared: The more you hate it, the more blessed you’ll be. That’s usually what it is-
Pete: And still do it.
Jared: Suffering is like the way to please God.
Pete: Really, is that how this all works? I just can’t imagine that. But you know, God is love and all that kind of stuff. So, finding what you want to read, don’t worry about what it is, you don’t have to tell anybody. It’s just what you want to do. And I really recommend, if you don’t have it already getting a “good study Bible”, to elucidate things and notes or maybe have little essays here and there. And, you know, I just think those things can help too, because, especially again, this is a lot of our listeners, not all of our listeners, but if you’re coming from a decidedly conservative context and you’re looking now for reading the Bible in a different context, getting a study Bible that doesn’t take you back to that first context is really important. So, in other words, I’m trying to say gently, you might not be the best people to have an evangelical-based study Bible because very often, and I know this is the sounds really unfair and harsh, but I’m going to say with it because I’ve been around this a long time.
But there is an apologetic dimension sometimes where things you’re reading saying, “What the heck’s going on here?” And then the footnotes either ignore it or sort of paper over it, because the people who buy those Bibles tend to not ask those kinds of questions.
Jared: Well, I mean, just because we recently put a video out about this, but the example of, you know, discrepancies with the David and Goliath story-
Jared: And how certain Bibles, they’ll tell you they’ll have notes. But the notes are geared toward reinforcing a certain view of the Bible.
Pete: Right, exactly. That’s what I mean.
Jared: It’s explaining away the difficulties, rather than just pointing- sometimes it’s ignoring the difficulties. And when they can’t be ignored, it’s explaining them away. Rather than maybe say some Jewish study Bibles and other study Bibles, they’ll actually bring it out and expose it and say, “Hey, did you notice this?”
Jared: These things are different.
Pete: Right. So, you know, that’s my recommendation is to do something like that, that really helps. And, you know, I might suggest a couple here off the top-
Jared: Yeah, go for it. I think that’d be helpful.
Pete: I mean, I do have a blog post I wrote a few years ago, you can get more information there. But I think, for me, the New Revised Standard Version is the translation that I prefer, for a number of reasons, we don’t have to get into that. But you have the New Oxford Annotated Bible, which is New Revised Standard Version and you also have the Harper Collins Study Bible, you have the New Interpreter Study Bible, and what’s nice about them is they have all the maps in the back. They have essays in the back, which are helpful. They have footnotes that are you know, really good, in some cases very, very good. You also have the Jewish Study Bible–
Jared: Is that the JPS translation?
Pete: The JPS translation, which is its own translation, by you know, Jewish scholars, and some of the translations are odd for people used to hearing certain kinds of language, but it’s really great to look at. But they have their footnotes and their introductory essays to their- the books that they translate. And it’s really refreshing, the first time I read this maybe 10 years ago, I guess, about the time it came out, about how honest they were about problems in the text in the footnotes. But they weren’t problems, right? Not for this- well, this what Moses says here contradicts what Moses says over there in this other book. Okay, well, and that’s just the way it is.
Jared: It doesn’t have this air of like, “but don’t worry, don’t worry, don’t worry!”
Pete: Don’t worry, exactly. But thing is no, you don’t worry. You don’t worry, anyway.
Pete: There’s nothing to worry about because the view of the Bible is not the same-
Pete: As you know, more conservative Protestants, for example, might have. And then also, Jared, we’ve talked a lot about the Jewish Annotated New Testament, which is sort of like the sister volume to the JPS.
Jared: And that’s primarily edited by AJ Levine and Mark Brettler, who were both on the podcast.
Pete: Exactly right, yeah. And the footnotes are all written by Jewish scholars. And some of them are very, very enlightening, and gives a lot of citations to like rabbinic literature and things like that. But there are a lot of essays in the back to that really put the New Testament in its Jewish context. So, you learn a lot by doing that.
Jared: Yeah, I recommend that one just for those essays in the back, because there’s a lot of them. And the nice thing is, it’s like attached to your Bible, it’s connected. So, you can kind of see the connections, I like that one.
Pete: My students read, and depending on the courses I’m teaching, but they- like I have a course on Jesus and Judaism where they read probably twenty or twenty-five essays out of that, you know? Which is a lot because they’re tiny print and like double column things, you know? But anyway, the thing is that those are ways of getting back into it with maybe sort of a fresh expectation or something. You don’t have to read Bible commentaries. You don’t have to, you can if you want to, but you don’t have to do that. You can just avail yourself of what you have time for, you know? If there’s a topic that interests you, you can maybe if you want to read a book on that, like, you know, violence in the Bible or, you know, what’s the sacrificial system or, you know, what’s the Book of Revelation about? If there’s something that just interests you go ahead and do it, but there’s no to-do list.
Pete: There’s no to-do list. There’s no rush. There’s no judgment. You’re just trying to fill yourself up with the Bible differently than you’d been filled up before, which was more soul-depriving than the nurturing.
Jared: Mm hmm. Good. Well, let’s move on because we have a few more questions, I think. I mean, this is actually tied to it because I think whenever people hear episodes like this one, they can hear us talk and we namedrop, and we talk about study Bibles, and it can feel like a lot. And so, when people want to reengage the Bible, sometimes they can be paralyzed by do I- it’s like, almost feels irresponsible for me to read the Bible if I’m not a Bible scholar, because there’s just so much going on is- how can I approach this without being an expert?
Jared: And is it okay for me to approach the Bible without being an expert?
Pete: Well, you can’t and no, you shouldn’t. You should just listen to us, and that’s all there is to it.
Jared: Oh no, I was asking for me, personally. I was-
Pete: We will be your high priests of-
Pete: No. That’s a great question because there’s something about, you know, studying the Bible, which is really helpful, you know, and reading what smart people have said about the Bible is really, really helpful. But people don’t have time for that sort of thing. That’s where study Bibles come in, because you can learn an awful lot from just- I’m not going to read three chapters of John, today, I’m going to read one chapter of John and I’m just going to pay attention to the notes. And you can learn things that way. But I think, probably, from my point of view, at least Jared, what I what I think is that there are different ways of reading the Bible legitimately. And if you’re reading it more to commune with God directly, which is how the church has typically read the Bible for 2000 years anyway, I think that’s fantastic. I know plenty of wonderful people who, that’s their relationship with the Bible. You know? They just- that’s how they read it. And, you know, as long as you allow yourself to have the questions that come up and not feel the pressure to answer them quickly, because many of them can’t be answered. So, I think that’s one thing.
But see, here’s the tricky part. The Western, conservative Protestant movement, which we call evangelicalism and fundamentalism, the whole idea of the Bible is tied very much to history and defending history and science and things like that. If that’s your interest to find out about the Bible in history and how it relates to science, you are, whether you like it or not, and I hope you do like it, you’re on a path of study that’s deeper than other people. Right?
And the thing is, that’s where a lot of this, I think that’s why we have this question, because what people feel is being taken away from them is a Bible that gives them, again, that sense of surety and certainty that when the Bible says something happened, even if there are two different accounts that contradict each other, if the Bible says that happened, it happened. And we’re saying, “It’s not that simple.” The Bible doesn’t give us history, you know, straight in an objective sense, because there’s no such thing as objective history, even in the Bible, there are biases, there are lessons to be learned. And that’s what I think the Bible sort of gives us a gift of multiple versions of the same events that, whether it’s four gospels or Chronicles, Samuel, and Kings in the in the Hebrew Bible, that sort of tells us that there’s more going on here than simply telling you what happened. There’s something behind that. There’s a bigger story being told.
But if you’re used to the Bible is historically accurate, it’s the Word of God, there are no errors in this and blah, blah, blah, when you read it, I think you’re going to start having questions. And again, that’s why there’s such a big apologetics industry because the questions come up, you know? The famous book by Gleason Archer, who, by the way, he was an amazing linguist; he was not a dumb person. He was a Harvard-trained linguist, knew lot of languages. I think he graduated college early; he was a smart guy. But, you know, he had a
Jared: Book of Bible Difficulties.
Pete: Yeah, I don’t know how many volumes it was, but Book of Bible Difficulties, I’ve known people who’ve read this is that said I didn’t even know these were difficulties, he’s making it worse. But you know, that mentality when you have that, you know, Type A Bible that you mentioned before, there has to be a way of maneuvering out of that. And I think, ironically, the Bible itself will cure you of that pretty quickly if you’re paying attention and good study Bibles could help with that.
Jared: So, I want to draw us back to- because the question on the table is, do you have to be an expert to read the Bible? And I want to draw back to the first point we made about being able to not have a perfectionist mindset about the Bible, but to be in process. No one would say, “Well, I’m not going to really read the Iliad or the Odyssey, because I don’t really understand all the culture and I don’t understand the history and the background.” You kind of pick it up as you go. And then if you’re interested, then you learn-
Jared: That history and you learn the background, you learn the context, because you enjoy it and you want to know more about it. And so, whatever level of interest you have in the Bible, to understand those background, the context of history, like you’re saying, do that. But to just read the Bible to enjoy it, to commune with God, to have it as a mirror to how you might live your life, and to question and struggle with it, it’s a process. It doesn’t have to be either/or and you don’t have to wait to engage the Bible and tell. You can do it as you go. And, again, I just think that’s that mindset of that either/or that to be a Bible reader, I have to be a Bible expert.
Pete: Again, the process is really important like you just said. Rather than thinking of the Bible as the foundation of your faith that if that’s not rock solid, everything else crumbles-
Pete: That’s sort of like a pyramid model. That’s the foundation. Everything else is built on top of that. But if the Bible is more a part of that-
Pete: Again, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral or the Episcopal Three-Legged Stool, if you don’t know what that is, that’s okay. But you know, it’s not just the Bible, but it’s how you how you reason, the tradition, it’s sort of your experiences in life. All that stuff comes together, there are actually already in place very nice ways of thinking about all this, that isn’t that Type A Bible.
Pete: I mean, they’re there and they’re older than evangelicalism and fundamentalism. They’re there, and we can just make ourselves, you know, avail ourselves of those.
Pete: All right, well, Jared, we’re coming to the end of our time here. Don’t you always say that when we have guests on?
Jared: Ouch. Ouch.
Pete: We are, but we are, we really are. So, one question, and let me ask you, just briefly, where do you think this is going, let’s say, in the North American context? Because the global south is different, you know, the Asian context is different- Africa. This is just weird people like us, like, where do you think this is going?
Jared: Well, I don’t know. But I think one thing I’ve seen more and more that actually is hopeful to me, is people being able to feel more free to integrate how they are naturally built, their tendencies, their personalities, their experiences into their faith, and not be told that they have to separate those. And so, I appreciate what we said today on this podcast, where it’s basically the things we were taught not to do when we were younger, trust yourself, follow what you enjoy about the Bible, and get out of it what you want to get out of it. Like, I mean, I just think that those are such basic things that it’s freeing and it’s hopeful. And the irony is, I think, for some people, that is going to ruin the faith, but in my mind, that’s the only way to extend it. Because it’s an unsustainable relationship to say, “I have to deny myself and hate myself and I can’t do what I want. And if it’s painful, it’s good.” Like those are so not just toxic, but just unsustainable, too.
Pete: And you see that happening?
Jared: Yeah. And I see that decoupling more and more of people saying, forget that. And then realizing like, what we’ve been saying, there’s this entire- it seems that people think that what we’re talking about is new. But it’s just that they don’t know that there’s a whole history of the church-
Pete: There’s nothing new about it.
Jared: That is not at odds with what we’re talking about here. And so, I’m hopeful that I think- it’s too strong to say we’re getting back to something because I don’t think we ever get back to anything. But I think we can draw upon those past histories and traditions and meld them with what we are going through now in our advancements in psychology and in emotional maturity and relationships and science and history and bring all that into something new. And I think that’s happening. So, I’m hopeful of that. And yeah, so that’s where I see it going. Of course, I’m biased by the context that we find ourselves in a lot of times, we have a limited pool of people that I’m interacting with.
Jared: That’s right. Yeah.
Jared: But I am hopeful of that. What about you?
Pete: Well, I agree with that. I’m hopeful in that respect, too. But my German pessimism comes in too because I think along the way, there’s going to be more and more polarization. I think that’s sort of just the way life is right now-
Jared: I would agree with that.
Pete: But see, the thing is, people just remember that they don’t have any power over you. The only power they have is what you give them and you can decide not to live under the scrutiny of people who, frankly, don’t have your best interests at heart. That’s a harsh statement, but I mean it and I’m not describing every evangelical or every fundamentalist, but you know who you are. You know the churches you’re in where you’re being shamed because your path is diverging from the status quo, and they don’t- they only control you if you let them.
Jared: It reminds me of a tweet I just sent out not too long ago, it was a thought I had. I’m going to read it. I would not normally do that, but this is the 200th episode.
Pete: Quoting yourself?
Jared: Yeah, it says, “Deconstruction is when your pastor tries to shame you for asking hard questions and you laugh and laugh because you now realize they’re not the boss of you.”
Pete: Well, that’s pretty much it. Right? And on that note-
Jared: On that note, thanks so much everyone for joining us for the 200th episode. We want to end this by just a sincere, sincere thank you to all of our guests who graciously come on here to give away their knowledge and their expertise. And almost every single one of them just has a heart to be helpful.
Jared: And that’s been just such a gift. So, thank you to all of our guests. Thank you so much to our team. And thank you to all of our listeners. Obviously, we couldn’t do this without you. But also, beyond that, just the ways that you’ve helped us grow and the thoughtful questions, the thoughtful responses to all the things that we put out, it really has been a gift. Pete, anything else you want to say?
Pete: We’re doing this together, right? The guests, the listeners, the team, and it’s fun. We’re enjoying the ride. So, here’s for 2000 more episodes. How many years will that be?
Jared: I don’t know. Five years is 200.
Jared: So, twenty-five years.
Pete: We need to have more episodes.
Jared: Will you be alive in twenty-five years?
Pete: I’m planning on it. I can’t guarantee it at this point. All right.
Jared: All right. On that note, see you later.
Pete: See you.
Stephanie: You’ve just made it through the 200th episode of the Bible for Normal People.
[Audio of people cheering]
Well done to you. I join Pete and Jared in sincerely thanking our team, all of our podcast guests, and each of you who listen to and support our show. Before you go, we want to give a huge shoutout to our producers group who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep brining podcast and other content to you.
If you would like to help support the podcast, you can leave us a review or just tell others about our show. You can also head over to patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3 a month, you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.
Dave: Our show was produced by Stephanie Speight; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marking Director, Savannah Locke; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. For Pete, Jared and the entire Bible for Normal People team—thanks for listening.
Jared: Thanks so much. One of the ways we want to end- not one of the ways. Dave? Change that. Let me do this again.
Jared: And all again led by Haus- Ugh. Dang it. So close.
Pete: You get to say it all again.
Jared: Pete. Ugh, let me start there again.
Pete: [Coughs up a lung]
Pete: Dave, you’re going to cut that out, right?
Jared: That’s gross.
Pete: [Coughs up his other lung]
Dave: Our show is produced. [Clears throat]
Dave: Our show? [Clears throat again]
Dave if he were a muppet: Hey, everybody, our show-
Dave: Our show was produced [Clears throat AGAIN]
[End of recorded material]