Reading the Bible Again for the First Time by Marcus J. Borg

TitleReading the Bible Again for the First Time
(Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally
AuthorMarcus J. Borg
TypeNon-Fiction (Theology, Christianity)
FinishedMarch 28, 2023
My rating★★★★★
(Non Affiliate)

About a year ago we left our (small “c”) church. While that church does a lot of outreach, including Family Promise and a Food Pantry, in the end there were a number of reasons to leave. Primarily it came down to the message given each week from our pastor. Our mission, as I interpreted the teaching, is we must strengthen our relationship with God and others in our congregation in order to achieve heaven after we die. I’ve followed enough of the writings of Marcus J Borg, Bart D. Ehrman, John Domic Crosson and others to see there is much more to understand about God’s calling to us. Borg is one of the founders of the “New Paradigm” of Christianity where study of the bible is done through the lens of the first century Christians.

“Setting biblical passages i their ancient context makes them come alive. It enables us to see meanings in these ancient texts that would otherwise be hidden from our sight.”

Page 51

The subtitle of the book is “Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally”. This approach reveals a rich metaphoric language that unveils God’s vision.  He moves through the sections of both the Old and New testaments looking at words and concepts such as “justice” as they were used over 2,000 years ago. This approach reveals a very different world view than interpreting the bible using today’s definitions. As the earliest example of this metaphorical interpretation, the name “Adam” was not a “real” Jewish name in the beginning.

“Adam is not a proper name in ancient Hebrew; no other person in the Bible is named Adam. rather, Adam is the Hebrew adham which … is a common noun meaning ‘humankind’”.
So also, the name Eve is not a proper name in Hebrew. I means ‘mother of all living’.”

Page 83

Understanding this metaphorical language makes it clear that the earliest readers of the sacred texts knew the difference between factual (small “t”)  truth and (capital “T”) Truth. Reading the texts using the lens of the people for whom they were originally written, we see that the overarching themes of the bible: the primal story of the Exodus, the calls of the prophets, the Gospels, Paul’s letters, Acts of the Apostles, and even the Revelation of John reveals God’s yearning for justice. 

“…in this final book of the Christian Bible [ the very thorny Book of Revelation], we find the same twofold focus that marks so much of the Bible as a whole: radical affirmation of the sovereignty and justice of God, and radical criticism of an oppressive domination system pretending to be the will of God. The combination system that John indicts is a subsequent incarnation of the domination system that existed in Egypt in the time of Moses, and then within Israel itself in the time of the classical prophets. It is the same domination system that Jesus and Paul and the early Christian movement challenged.”

Page 322

Justice means social justice rather than criminal justice or procedural justice.

“More comprehensive than criminal justice and procedural justice, social justice is concerned with the structures of society and their results. Because it is results-oriented, it discerns whether the structures of society – in other words, the social system as whole – are just in their effects.”

Page 160

And that is where I think America’s Christianity fails today. It is impossible to argue that our social system is just in its effects. Our social system has been co-opted by the very domination system (i.e. Capitalism) it should be fighting. On the one had Radical Right Extremists give lip service to Christians while on the other hand using food stamps and other help for the poor as bargaining chips for political purposes such as  raising the debt limit. (What Would Jesus Do?, indeed). These men (and they are overwhelmingly old, white men), while calling themselves Christians, are part of the problem rather than the solution.  They are actually strengthening the domination system that pushes so many people into need.

Until I find a church that is worried more about the congregation supporting themselves and focusing on the need to “get right with God” through confession and singing, rather than actively working for social justice, I’ll keep looking. Finding a church that uses books like this as bible study material, such as First Methodist Church of Riverside (where I got the banner photo), would be a great start.

Back in the 1990s when we attended a different church, if I mentioned Marcus Borg or the New Paradigm I got reactions from other members of the congregation (not the pastors) ranging from side long glances to angry lectures. Interestingly, both Borg and Bart Ehrman (another New Paradigm scholar) entered seminary with the older “classic” interpretation of the Bible; but their advanced studies lead them both to similar conclusions.

I know this post will get much more pushback than most of my others. Nevertheless, it is important to me. Borg lays this out in  much more logical detail that I can in a short report. If you are troubled by the direction of  growing inequality or have problems with modern day Christianity, I urge you to read this book. Or if you want an imperfect summary of this theme in my blog, look at my posts with a category of “Theology and Philosophy”

Or just wait until my next post which will be about cooking or lighter reading.

3 thoughts on “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time by Marcus J. Borg

  1. “Our mission, as I interpreted the teaching, is we must strengthen our relationship with God and others in our congregation in order to achieve heaven after we die”. Um. No. There’s no way to show that is how to get to heaven using the Bible. You were right to leave that church. Having taken classes with Borg at OSU, my conclusion of him is that I like him and he had interesting socks, but he was a crackpot. I suspect he may have thought the same of me minus the socks :-).

    1. It wasn’t our church or pastor specifically that did that. Everywhere I look in the Radical Right today I see this idea. And I sure don’t see Borg as a crackpot; he may not be for everyone, but I find his logic well reasoned and insightful

  2. You mentioned Adam and that it is not a proper Hebrew name and it means humankind or “Man”. Someone showed me the names and meanings continue and tell the gospel.

    Adam means “Man”. Seth: Appointed. Enoch: Mortal. Kenan: Sorrow. Mahalalel: The Blessed God. Jared: Shall come down. Enoch: Teaching. Methuselah: His death shall bring. Lamech: despairing. Noah: Rest, or Comfort.

    Put it together! Man (was) appointed mortal sorrow, (but) The Blessed God shall come down, teaching his death shall bring despairing man rest.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.