This blog post put me in mind of the series I did for Joe Kovacs’ book called “Shocked by the Bible.” John Blake is reporting on the fact that many people have no flipping clue what’s in that book but will quote it and misquote it and even attribute other later writings to that book without caring if they’re accurate or not. They think they are, and that’s all that matters.
It might not be simply a case of being bible-illiterate, though. Some of it comes down to sheer laziness and assumptions of truth without putting in the effort at fact checking:
the causes are varied and go back centuries.
Some of the guilty parties are anonymous, lost to history. They are artists and storytellers who over the years embellished biblical stories and passages with their own twists.
If, say, you were an anonymous artist painting the Garden of Eden during the Renaissance, why not portray the serpent as the devil to give some punch to your creation? And if you’re a preacher telling a story about Jonah, doesn’t it just sound better to say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, not a “great fish”?
The article quotes Douglas Jacobsen, a professor of church history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, who suggests that the sheer number of translations available for the bible these days makes it trickier to prove someone’s quoting it wrong. Gone are the days when only the King James version was around. Others just go ahead and pin the blame on Martin Luther for suggesting everyone should be allowed to read and interpret the book to their heart’s desire.
“It is a great Protestant tradition for anyone – milkmaid, cobbler, or innkeeper – to be able to pick up the Bible and read for herself. No need for a highly trained scholar or cleric to walk a lay person through the text,” says Craig Hazen, director of the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University in Southern California.
But often the milkmaid, the cobbler – and the NFL coach – start creating biblical passages without the guidance of biblical experts, he says.
“You can see this manifest today in living room Bible studies across North America where lovely Christian people, with no training whatsoever, drink decaf, eat brownies and ask each other, ‘What does this text mean to you?’’’ Hazen says.
“Not only do they get the interpretation wrong, but very often end up quoting verses that really aren’t there.”
But when they sound like they should be, are pithy and proverbial enough, they’ll get a pass, even if it turns out they’re blowing a quote from some other well-known source.
But people rarely challenge them because biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better, says Steve Bouma-Prediger, a religion professor at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.
“In my college religion classes, I sometimes quote 2 Hesitations 4:3 (‘There are no internal combustion engines in heaven’),” Bouma-Prediger says. “I wait to see if anyone realizes that there is no such book in the Bible and therefore no such verse.
“Only a few catch on.”