Like most internet experts, I’ve finally, after a year or so of casual study, managed to come to an almost complete understanding of the Bible: the big book that forms the center of the Christian faith. If you begin with these ideas as starting points, you too, in a matter of merely weeks, will be using the Bible like a pro.
1. Remember that numbers always have an alternative meaning that greatly overshadows their natural meaning. We know that God is perfect because he’s a member of the Trinity and the number three symbolizes perfection. It’s a good thing we have the doctrine of the Trinity because otherwise we would have to find some real theological ideas about God.
In the same way, we know that Jesus suffered in the wilderness because he was there for 40 days, and 40 symbolizes a time of suffering—not because he was tempted or fasting or anything like that.
2. Remember to distinguish metaphors. Metaphors are a powerful way of making sure the Bible stays reasonable. Did Jesus say something difficult? It was probably hyperbole. Is it really hard to believe that the earth was flooded? Metaphor!
If at anytime you find the Bible difficult to approach, ask yourself if there’s any way to allegorize it so that it syncs up with what you know to be true. After all, if there was an all-powerful deity, wouldn’t he/she conform to what we would expect?
3. Also remember to take things Literally. Did the prophets or Jesus say something harsh? Are you an Atheist with the critical skills necessary to see through the shibboleths of religion? God’s threats of judgment in the Old Testament are sure indicators of his true vindictive nature. Remember that the complexities of human/divine interaction are needless distractions. The only thing that matters is how it appears to us on the surface of things thousands of years later. Abraham was a superstitions, filicidal man who was only saved from a heinous act by a clumsy sheep.
4. Remember the highest moral value is the longevity of individual human lives. One of the most important things to do with divine texts is to approach them with a system of morality already in place. After centuries of philosophical, ethical, and religious thinking, we know now that human life is the most precious thing in the universe, defined by how long it lasts. This is important because it lets us put things like the glory of God into perspective. We know what God could have “legally” done.
5. Lastly, most importantly, remember that most of the work has been done already through the Bible’s natural division into verses. Thankfully, God divided the Bible into digestible nuggets of Truth. Think of it as a collection of sayings that, thanks to recent technology, can be easily searched, indexed, and cross-referenced according to their own individual merit. This takes most of the work out of reading because we are free to skip around from place to place, searching for that one bit of justification that we need.
Postscript: If the Bible were actually what it seems to be—the history of God’s interaction with humanity and humanity’s interaction with God over a period of thousands of years, through the mouthpieces of dozens of individuals—well that would just be too complicated wouldn’t it? We would have to understand the message instead of merely extracting morals. We would have to wrestle with deity that was capable of definitive action, instead of a benign force behind silly superstitions. We would have to dig carefully instead of digesting or dismissing at a glance.