In an earlier blog, I suggested that the Old Testament is important for more than just providing background. Why else should people read the OT?
The Old Testament doesn’t provide a single point of view but rather offers different ways of thinking about God, humans, and big issues like death. I wish there had been even more diversity in perspectives included, but I do find the differences important. Ecclesiastes and Deuteronomy disagree about whether people get what they deserve. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 disagree about how the world was created and the purpose of human partnership. Ecclesiastes and Daniel disagree about the afterlife. Samuel and Chronicles disagree about what David was really like. Philip Davies has strongly argued that different biblical writers even defined Israel itself in different ways.
The New Testament offers diversity, too, as between the gospels and between Paul and the author of James, but because there’s a lot more of the OT and because it was composed over a lot longer time period, there’s a lot more contrasting points of view.
Although scholars hotly debate when and how any particular part of the Bible was written, it seems that the material was composed over a long period of time. At the very least, we know it was copied and used over a long period of time. The upside of that long history is that it allows readers to see how religious understandings change over time. Knowing that something is early or late doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse; it’s too simple to assume that ideas always move from primitive to sophisticated or that the good old days were always superior to contemporary thinking. But, it is interesting to watch how societies and assumptions about life change.
I find this diversity valuable because it honors the complexity of human existence. There are many ways to think and many ways to live, and reading about multiple ways allows you to explore each. Moreover, the diversity reminds us that humans don’t have God pinned down. Read this way, the Bible becomes part of a Great Conversation about the divine and the human and invites us to join in.