Editing the Bible

Jesus  removes sin

I always thought it was interesting that Christian publishers employed Bible editors.  Of course, they are not there to edit the Bible text, but to work on the extra-Bible notes and additional material that might end up in a study or devotional Bible.

It got me thinking that there is a lot of stuff in the Bible that is just downright disturbing if you want to maintain a simplistic easy-to-accept view of God.  So, if I set out to edit the Bible text, what material could I personally do without?  Here are some things I would rather not have in the Bible: (There are others, but these just come to mind)

  • Cain killing Abel episode in Genesis 4
  • Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19
  • Numbers 14:26-33 – Moses and Aaron are not allowed to enter the promised land.
  • Isaiah 55:8 – My thoughts are not your thoughts…
  • Matthew 6:12, Matthew 6:14-15 – If you don’t forgive others, then I won’t forgive you.
  • Matthew 7 – Judge not
  • Luke 12: 49-53 – Jesus causes division.
  • Acts 5 – Ananias and Sapphira
  • If you do all things well, but not love, the truth is not in you (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
  • And the toughest passage in the Bible…”I never knew you” in Matthew 7:23

Of course, this is tongue-in-cheek, but I have always felt that one of the facts that validate the authenticity of Scripture is that it contains real life.  Let’s face it, most of Scripture is the story of sinful people doing sinful things and God responding, with the ultimate response (so far) in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

Most books that draw the ire of orthodox Christians or are rejected for publication by Christian publishers in effect, edit the Bible. An author might want to focus only on one aspect of God to make a point, ignoring the totality of a Holy God who is not only holy, but is infinitely holy.

This is one minefield that comes up for self-published Christian books. The potential for theology that amounts to “editing the Bible” is much greater when there are no critical eyes involved in the editorial process. A significant role of the traditional Christian publisher is to hold authors to a theological standard.

So, authors of Christian books have a heavy load to carry.  How do you write a story with Christian content that on one hand should have us quaking in our boots over a holy God who will judge the living and the dead and also portray his boundless, limitless, restoring grace?  And don’t forget, to entertain, inform and give hope!

Writing for children might be a lot simpler. We teach about a God who loves us, forgives us, heals us and feeds us.  He always kills the giant, cures us from disease and acts in a predictable way.

In the world of a mature Christian we learn that God is very complex in the way he deals with things. He answers prayers in different ways than we want (sometimes with a “no”). He will cure someone of cancer to show his power and glory, then allow a Christian to die from cancer so others see His grace in action…giving that person a joy and peace amidst the pain that is completely beyond understanding.  In both cases, God is glorified.

The Bible is sure complicated, but makes for great stories.

What things do you find most difficult to portray in a story?

14 Responses to Editing the Bible

  1. Mark Warner October 1, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    I work in a Christian radio station….same heavy load….once you ooen your miuth and soeak…there is “no edit for you”…(thanks to the soup Nazi)

  2. Ron Estrada October 1, 2013 at 4:31 am #

    It’s difficult for me to confront my own sin in my stories. The struggles I still have are not something I want to lay out for all to see. But I know that I’m not alone, and by revealing my sin I will connect with other Christians, especially Christian men. When I read Every Man’s Battle, I was overjoyed that I was not alone. But I also thought “this guy has guts.” I can’t imagine putting that into a non-fictioin book and telling the world your darkest secrets. At least if fiction I can claim it’s just made up! Though I’m sure my brothers in Christ wouldn’t believe me.

  3. Connie Almony October 1, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    Dan, you spoke my mind when you said its real life quality proved its authenticity to you. If it were written by humans, it would be simple. But God’s desire is that we rely on Him and not our own devices. That takes constant contact with the Big Guy as well as study of His Word.

    Before I believed the Bible was the Word of God, I went to a church that made a point to “study” it. But what they called “study” was to show where it was “edited” and changed. There was a point where the “stories” were said to finally be based on truth, everything before that was fable. They also mentioned that some accounts were accidently entered twice, because, of course, the great ones of faith could not commit the same sin twice :o). Having committed the same sin twice on occasion myself, I wondered about their reasoning of not believing this can happen. THAT was the point I decided the Bibles was not just an interesting story with pieces of history woven through it, but the Word of God and not to be taken lightly.

  4. Donna Clark Goodrich October 1, 2013 at 6:27 am #

    This reminds me of my granddaughter when she was about 6 or 7, and was writing on a tablet. I asked her what she was writing and she said, “I’m writing the Bible.” I said, “But the Bible has already been written,” and she replied, “Not the way I’m writing it.” Using that story in a devotional, I wrote, “Aren’t there some parts of the Bible that we, too, would like to rewrite?”

  5. Jaime Wright October 1, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    Writing for children … my 3 year old daughter’s favorite Bible stories are all the gory ones! Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, Daniel and the Lions Den, even the Good Samaritan. She practically asks to read the “man who got owies” story every night! I think those horrific examples of man’s sinful nature and our need for a redemptive God resonate with us BECAUSE we innately know God’s got this. The good, the bad … and the morbidly ugly.

  6. Jeanne Takenaka October 1, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    Thought provoking post again, Dan. I think at times it’s tricky to convey all the aspects of God’s character in my stories. I don’t want to be “preachy” in the way I portray him through my characters. I don’t want to be two-dimensional since we serve a multi-dimensional God. I’m still figuring out how to do it. :)

  7. Jeanne Takenaka October 1, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    Thought provoking post again, Dan. I think at times it’s tricky to convey all the aspects of God’s character in my stories. I don’t want to be “preachy” in the way I portray Him through my characters. I don’t want to make Him or my characters appear two-dimensional or black and white since we serve a multi-dimensional God. I’m still figuring out how to do it. :)

  8. Jeanne Takenaka October 1, 2013 at 7:21 am #

    Oops! Sorry about the double post. (blushing)

  9. Patricia Zell October 1, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    The Bible is not about theology–it is about life. There are so many theological misconceptions floating around in our world, and they are there because people have tended to read about the Bible, rather than read it for themselves. What has developed through the years has been a long-winded game of spiritual “telephone” (remember the game we used to play as children?).

    I decided way back in 1969 to read the Bible for myself and by the mid-1970′s, I was asking God to explain the Bible to me. I told Him I wanted His understanding and not other people’s. I put my money where my mouth was and spent countless hours in my prayer closet with my Bible, a concordance, a dictionary, and lots of paper. I slugged it out with God to get understanding, and all I can say is that God is faithful.

    Here is one theological misconception that is wrecking havoc within the Church–the doctrine of eternal hell. Eternal hell is not a reality, period. In Revelation 20:13-14, hell is paired up with death (which is the last enemy to be defeated, I Corinthians 15:26), and both hell and death give up their victims and are tossed into the lake of fire. There will be no one in hell when it tossed into the lake of fire. This is the biblical reality–there is no eternal hell. Of course, there is a lot more to the story, but I’m not writing a book here.

    Speaking of books, I am one of the ones who has self-published a book, God’s Absolute Love: Perfect, Complete, and Real. I knew no publisher would even touch my book because it obliterates some of the most beloved church doctrines. That’s too bad because, as I said at the start, the Bible is the book of life, not the book of theology.

  10. Deb Elkink October 1, 2013 at 8:32 am #

    In writing realistic fiction, I find the most difficult aspect to translate is the glory or majesty of God. Maybe this is because fictive stories portraying the doctrines of sin and redemption and so on arouse recognizable human emotions in the bosoms of readers–empathy or sorrow or joy–whereas God’s transcending holy presence, having no human analogy, is harder to illustrate. I think fantasy or magical realism might be more suitable genres; so far, Lewis in Narnia has come closest to eliciting my own awe at God’s amazing personhood, though Dante does a pretty good job in Paradiso. I might have to change my writing style! : )

  11. Jenny Leo October 1, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    I appreciate this post. One of my biggest fears as a writer is misrepresenting Christ in some way, or unintentionally promoting some muddle-headed thinking or heresy.

    I was so happy to see you at ACFW, Dan. I’m sorry we didn’t have more time to catch up.

  12. HG Ferguson October 1, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    What do I find most difficult to portray in a story? In a word, evil. Particularly a realistic, biblically accurate picture of evil that pulls no punches or softens the blow, if you will. I’m not speaking of one-dimensional villains — I’m speaking of evil, the evil in the human heart that corrupts our world, our relationships, ourselves. This is a slippery slope, to be sure, but one every Christian writer must deal with. Evil people do evil things, and they love it. Men love the darkness more than the Light why? Because their deeds are evil (Jn 3:19-20). Which doesn’t mean as authors we should celebrate evil or revel in it in our stories the way the world does (and some “Christian” stories). But it does mean we need to take a hard, cold look at how and why the Bible portrays evil the way it does, and mirror that in our writing with care and prayer. We should not “edit” the Bible in any way — not even in how we portray evil.

  13. Jackie Layton October 2, 2013 at 3:40 am #

    You’ve given me a lot to consider.

    One worry I have is writing a spiritual thread that is relevant to readers. I also want it to come across naturally and not too preachy.

    I think the biggest success would be for a non-believer to read a story and begin to wonder about God. I want to portray God’s love in such a way that a reader will want to learn more and grow closer to God.

    Have a great day!

  14. Nancy B. Kennedy October 2, 2013 at 7:04 am #

    I write nonfiction accounts of people’s life stories and their reflections on faith. My biggest concern is to represent a subject’s true self. While spiritual journeys do have common elements, everyone’s experience differs. I want to check my judgmental spirit at the door and honor those differences. It is difficult to do, because at the same time I understand that Christian publishers have to be careful of the messages their authors convey. It’s a tricky balance, and I’m fortunate to have a publisher who gives me wide latitude in this regard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *