The Bible as a Blueprint for Living

Posted on: April 29, 2024 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Uncategorized

The Bible as a Blueprint for Living

Duane McClearn
April 2024

Long ago when I was a senior in high school, I enrolled in an elective course titled “Biblical Literature.” Among other things, we students read large sections of both the Old and New Testaments, and engaged in rousing, free-ranging discussions of the material. (Throughout it all, the teacher made no attempt to proselytize.) I recall one student, in particular, who began the semester with the position that the Bible was inerrant, accurate in every word, not subject to interpretation, obvious to understanding in every regard, and, importatntly, served as a clear blueprint for proper moral behavior. As the semester progressed, her Christian faith remained steadfast, but she relented, at least a bit, at least temporarily, on issues of interpretation and clarity.

Since those halcyon days, I have heard or read many a minister, priest, theologian, and Christian layperson express the same views as that high school student on TV, in print, or in personal conversation. I remember after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center that an employee at my workplace sent an email to all several hundred employees enjoining us all to embrace the Bible and follow it as the “blueprint” for proper moral guidance and correct behavior. (I recall the word “blueprint” specifically.)

So what is an observer to make of this? Countless Christians, lay and clerical, tell us that the Bible is clear enough for anybody to understand, that the lessons of morality are so obviously laid out—like a blueprint. A blueprint, of course, serves as a set of directions that are so precise that anybody with the appropriate skill will know exactly what is going on in the design. In a blueprint for a house, for example, two people looking at the blueprint will know exactly how to place everything, down to each electrical outlet.
So let’s take a look at this book, which is supposed to be so clear, so able to serve as a blueprint for us all, if only we were to read it and take its messages to heart. First, one may ask, which Bible are we talking about? The Bible employed by the Catholic Church contains 46 books of the Old Testament plus 27 books of the New Testament, for a total of 73 books. The Protestant Bible normally contains 66 books: it comprises 39 of the Old Testament in addition to 27 New Testament books. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches use up to 49 Old Testament book plus 27 New Testament books, for a total of 76 books. Thus, the Protestant Bible leaves out seven books that the Catholic Bible retains. And the Eastern Orthodox Bible has even more. If somebody wants to make the claim that the Bible is a blueprint and every word is important, then it would seem that the omission of large chunks of it would present problems of interpretation as one tried to maneuver among the main branches of Christianity.

I would also ask, which edition of Bible are we talking about? Some time ago I was watching an atheist call-in show during which a Christian (a Protestant) called in to discuss some point or other. He was asked which Bible he was using. He replied that it was the King James version—all others (the English Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New International Version) he considered garbage. So here was a professedly devout Christian who adhered to a specific version (King James) of the Protestant Bible as his source for religious truth. The others were “garbage.” Harsh consideration for fellow Christians’ sources of inspiration, I would aver.
Perhaps the most well-known part of the Bible is the Ten Commandments. Probably every Christian claims familiarity with these rules. But which Ten Commandments. I imagine that few Christians are aware that there are actually three sets of Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and that they differ substantially. One set appears in Exodus 20, another in Deuteronomy 5, and yet a third set in Exodus 34.

Most people probably think of the commandments as they appear in Exodus 20. There are differences between the ten that appear there and the ten that appear in Deuteronomy, although most of the differences would seem subtle to the casual reader. Interestingly, Protestants and Catholics use a different numbering system for the commandments. For example, the injunction against murder is Commandment 6 for most Protestants and Commandment 5 for Catholics (and Lutherans). I would venture a guess that most Christians are unaware of Commandment 4 that begins, “You should keep the festival of unleavened bread. For seven days you should ear unleavened bread, as I commanded you…” Or Commandment 10, which states, “You should not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” These last two are from the Ten Commandments listed in Exodus 34. They are every bit as binding as other of God’s rules, it would seem, but somehow they seem to be largely forgotten. Thus, with something so seemingly straightforward as the Ten Commandments, there isn’t agreement on what they actually are or, in any case, which ones are to be used.
If Biblical matters were so clear, if God’s rules were so obvious, then one would expect little discord among Christians. If all devout Christians were reading from the same precise and well-defined blueprint, they should be marching forward in lockstep, their minds in harmony regarding the proper ways of conduct. But they aren’t. Christians are very varied in their interpretations of virtually every aspect of the Bible, from major issues to trivialities. That is why so many Christian groups split off from others—differences of interpretation of scripture.

As it stands, according to the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, there are currently approximately 45,000 different Christian denominations and organizations in the world. All claim distinction on at least one doctrinally significant point of Biblical scripture. This hardly makes the case for a clear, obvious blueprint for behavior.


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