Reading the Bible (again) for the first time with Marcus Borg.

Years ago when I began to hear of the writings of biblical scholar Marcus Borg, needless to say I was not impressed. Incredulous and even a bit outraged, I would wonder what gave Borg and the rest of his cronies from some so-called “Jesus Seminar” the authority to decide just which of Jesus’ sayings could be attributed to him and therefore authentic, and which ones are mere fabrications of the early Christian community. “Who died and made you god, Borg?!” I would frequently grumble aloud. Despite being considerably liberal and progressive on most of not all political and social issues, theologically when compared to professor Borg and his colleagues I was surprisingly conservative, preferring to adhere to more traditional interpretations of scripture. As far I was concerned, Borg and his posse of ivory tower intellectuals just wanted to create controversy, sell a bunch of books and get rich in the process.

Funny how things change. As I grew older, the inexorable march of skepticism and cynicism would unmistakably color my view of things, including my once deeply held religious beliefs. Also, as a result of my reading habits I began to encounter the writings of scholars and ministers like Bart Ehrman, John T. Bristow, Peter Gomes, John Shelby Spong, Robin Lane Fox and Jack Miles. Just as my political and social opinions were evolving, so were my religious and theological views, thanks in no small part to the writings of the above mentioned individuals.

About ten years ago after finding one of Borg’s Jesus books at a library-sponsored book sale I decided to give him a shot. After reading it I thought Borg’s book was good, but not great. More recently, courtesy of my public library I read other books by Borg such as The First Paul and The First Christmas, which he co-authored with fellow New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan. While I generally liked both books, Borg had yet to really impress me. But thankfully I no longer saw Borg as some kind of malevolent show-off.

Thanks to either Eva from A Striped Armchair or Lee from The Dubious Disciple I soon learned of another book by Borg. Published back in 2001, Marcus Borg’s Reading the Bible Again For the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally provides a great answer to that perplexing question: in light of all the advances in science and modern scholarship, just how does an intellectually honest person read the Bible?

To answer this question, Borg looks at history. Until about 150 years ago, since people had no knowledge of the discoveries we associate with the modern world, if people were able to read the Bible they did so uncritically and fairly literally. Only recently thanks to discoveries in the world of science and modern biblical scholarship do people now have a choice in how to interpret the Bible. Some, like fundamentalists and evangelicals prefer to believe the Bible is the 100 percent inerrant Word of God. Atheists and some agnostics believe since the Bible does not measure up against rigorous scrutiny it’s obviously a flawed human creation and therefore not worthy of respect let alone adoration.

But Borg takes a third approach. To him the Bible is still very much a human book. While the product of many authors and redactors spanning hundreds of years and containing a great deal of material that could be considered fanciful at best, it’s nevertheless a valuable record of humankind’s encounter with the divine. And even when the Bible describes miraculous events, one can still treat those happenings like parables and appreciate the truth and wisdom from their underlying meanings. It might not be easy, and there might not be many definitive answers, but according to Borg it’s worth it.

Of all the books by Borg’s I’ve read I enjoyed this one the most. His ability to  synthesize the works of modern biblical scholars and present them in a readable and easily comprehensible package for non-academics like myself is top-notch. This is a great book for any person who might be questioning their particular faith or views of the Bible. I recommend it to skeptics and traditionalists alike.

In his 2006 bestselling book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins confidently boasted that upon finishing his book, one would become an atheist. While I enjoyed his book, alas reading it did turn me into an atheist. One the other hand, after reading Borg’s Reading the Bible Again For the First Time, as a result of his compelling arguments I’m now wondering if Borg convinced me to never become an atheist. I guess only time will truly tell.

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5 Comments

Filed under Agnostic/Atheist/Skeptic, Christianity, History

5 responses to “Reading the Bible (again) for the first time with Marcus Borg.

  1. I read Borg’s Heart of Christianity last year and found it very, well, comforting. I think I hadn’t quite realized how much I needed to hear of this third way to approach the Bible, that it didn’t have to be “take it literally or not at all”. I think I’d like to read this one, as I imagine it expands more on this idea. It composed just a section of Heart of Christianity if I remember right.

    • Please give this book a shot. Based on you just wrote, I have a feeling you will find many things to like about Borg’s book. I on the other hand will try to read his Heart of Christianity. I’ve heard good things about it. Therefore, I better read it!

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