The Bible: Tool of Oppression

A comment online: “I have a hard time basing my life on a book that was written thousands of years ago by the leaders of the time. In my opinion the Bible was and still is a tool to oppress people.” Let’s rethink this.

In 1946 one of the most dramatic archaeological discoveries in history was made in Israel, the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls contain the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament, dating from as early as 100 BC. Before this discovery, the oldest manuscript available was from 1000 AD. In one fell swoop the world had a Bible 1100 years older than any previous copy. Scholars discovered almost no changes. The Dead Sea Scrolls are essentially identical to the Bible we have always had. The New Testament is even better attested. There are over 5000 manuscripts dating from the 2nd century AD, under a hundred years from when the originals were written 46 to 90 AD. The evidence is overwhelming there have been no major alterations through time. All can be confident that what we read is what was written.

The miracle of the Bible is its consistent and unified witness despite the fact being written by over 40 different authors in the course of 1600 years. We would expect there to be differences in viewpoints and differing accounts the same events. Most of these differences are minor and serve to enhance the truthfulness of the message. For example the 4 different accounts of the resurrection serve to rule out out any collusion among the witnesses. As an analogy, the survivors of the Titanic were unable to give a consistent account of the sinking. They all viewed the event from different perspectives. But all agreed on the main point: the ship sank. The wonder is that the Bible speaks such a unified story about creation, sin and deliverance despite its many voices.

Oppression doesn’t come from a book. It comes from the corruptions of the human heart. The Bible is the literature of the oppressed. It was written for oppressed people and by oppressed people. The centerpiece of the Old Testament is the story of the only successful slave rebellion in history: the Exodus. The centerpiece of the New Testament is the story of an oppressed peasant who befriended sinners and social outcasts. He crossed racial barriers. He taught women and empowered them. He critiqued rulers. He is the source of modern notions of equality: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) These words were written by a tiny, oppressed minority. All the authors of the New Testament lived in poverty and were imprisoned or executed for their faith. They were not perpetrators of oppression, they were recipients of oppression. People have misused the Bible for tragic purposes over the centuries, but this doesn’t change the facts on the ground. The Bible is the literature of the oppressed.

The Bible is not the point. The point is who the Bible points to: Jesus. John wrote, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) If I’m driving down to Comerica Park, I pay careful attention to the signs. It’s not because I like signs but it’s because of the destination they lead me to. The point of the Bible is to lead beyond its pages to the destination: a personal encounter with the living God of the universe, Jesus Christ. The question is not what to do with the Bible but what to do with the point of the Bible, Jesus. Life and death hang in the balance. No question could be more urgent.

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