I am writing a curriculum for a Bible Study I will be leading in the very near future, and in doing so I've been forced to cogitate a bit about this holy book. My thoughts here are not new, even to me, but putting them down in a semi-organized fashion is helpful to me. I have to think this stuff out because as a pastor people ask me questions about it. So here are some thoughts about the Bible, laid out as propositions.
#1 - There really is no such thing as 'The Bible'. The book we refer to by that name comes in a variety of different editions and translations. Some versions contain entire sections and books that others do not. There is no official canon that everyone can agree on. Instead there are a variety of 'official' canons. Furthermore, there are blatant "canons within the canon" as demonstrated by the inevitably selective use of scripture in different churches. No one has a pure holistic approach to reading scripture which gives equal priority to every text and only uses texts which all can agree are canonical while also excluding no texts that some believe ought to be canonical.
#2 - The Bible is a creation of tradition. Even though there is no indisputable physical artifact we might conclusively call 'the Bible', there is for the purposes of tradition, such a thing as the Bible. The church creates the Bible, both in concrete historical actions such as the council of Nicaea, and in our continuous social reference to it. The interaction is reciprocal. Christians have from a very early time regarded themselves as people of the book, and it is by continuously referring to that "book" that we have slowly created our identities.
#3 - There is no inherent unity to the Bible. What we call the Bible is actually a collection of ancient texts written over a wide span of time by many different authors with divergent purposes. Even within a single book composite authorship is often evident. Furthermore, these voices regularly seem to be working in opposition to one another. The texts themselves are not of one mind on anything.
#4 - The Bible is tightly woven. Despite the chaotic fractured nature of the texts of the Bible, it is frequently self-referential in the extreme. One text dovetails into another, and relies for understanding on the knowledge of five or six others on a nearly constant basis. The complex interaction of texts in scripture means that no part of the Bible is really comprehensible in isolation.
#5 - The Bible is an inanimate object. It has no will and takes no action. The Bible does not 'say' anything. In every interaction with the Bible it is always the interpreter who bears sole responsibility for the result. Neither good nor bad behavior may be justified by recourse to the Bible.
#6 - God has reliably spoken to the faithful through the Bible. We should approach scripture with confidence that the Holy Spirit can and will speak to us through this medium, because of the testimony of countless faithful saints before us. Whatever scripture's historical limitations and contradictions we come to the Bible in order to be addressed. It remains our responsibility as listeners to test what we are hearing according to what we know of God and never to mistake the book for the speaker.