In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.
Scripture is inspired
The Rev. Betty Hanna-Witherspoon, pastor of Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, Kansas City, Mo.: African Methodists believe all Scripture (including both testaments) is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16) Scriptures tell the story of the divine relationship between God and humanity that comes to fulfillment in Jesus the Christ. In practice this means that we teach all Scripture is inspired by God in order to grow a relationship between God and believers. African Methodists are asked to study the Bible as God's word and in all things to strive to make God's word the rule of their lives. We do not believe that the categories fiction and nonfiction apply to the stories of the Bible.
Every story is designed to convey a divine truth, sometimes about God's character and other times about human character, but always about the developing relationship between God and human beings. We African Methodists search Bible stories not for scientific facts but for insights into the relationship between the Creator and created humanity. Our reading of Bible stories is to ask "What does this story tell us about the character of God and how are we to behave as a people who believe in this God?"
Bible stories are therefore not fiction or nonfiction but inspired Scripture designed to convey God's character and our capacity to evolve into God's people.
Bible not a history book
Rabbi Mark Levin of Congregation Beth Torah, Overland Park, Kan.: The Bible's purpose is to describe the relationship between God and humanity. It's not a history book. Some biblical events are historical. Other sections may be more mythological, poetic or fictional like a short story today.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis were never intended to be considered historical. Chapter 1 describes the hierarchy of creation, with an emphasis on the sustainability of the food supply provided by God and for which humanity is responsible. The Garden of Eden describes the paradise that was God's intended creation, while the remainder of the Bible often describes the re-creation of paradise in some future time, as in Isaiah 2 or Zechariah 14. The entirety of Job, treating why the righteous suffer, or theodicy, is fiction, as is the Book of Esther, describing the persecution Jews often suffer outside of their own land, and God's redemption. Wisdom literature like Proverbs or Job was pedagogical, while Jonah describes God's love for all creatures, regardless of nation, and God's desire that they repent and thrive. Many genres of literature exist side by side in the Bible.
I personally believe, from the archeological evidence, that most of Israel's history after the entrance of the tribes into the land of Israel is historical. I do not, however, believe in supernatural events, like Joshua stopping the sun in the Valley of Ayalon.