Cover image for Reading the Bible again for the first time : taking the Bible seriously but not literally
Reading the Bible again for the first time : taking the Bible seriously but not literally
Borg, Marcus J.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
[San Francisco] : HarperSanFrancisco, [2001]

Physical Description:
xii, 321 pages ; 22 cm
Subject Term:

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BS511.3 .B67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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One of the vital challenges facing thoughtful people today is how to read the Bible faithfully without abandoning our sense of truth and history. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time provides a much-needed solution to the problem of how to have a fully authentic yet contemporary understanding of the scriptures. Many mistakenly believe there are no choices other than fundamentalism or simply rejecting the Bible as something that can bring meaning to our lives. Answering this modern dilemma, acclaimed author Marcus Borg reveals how it is possible to reconcile the Bible with both a scientific and critical way of thinking and our deepest spiritual needs, leading to a contemporary yet grounded experience of the sacred texts.

This seminal book shows you how to read the Bible as it should be examined -- in an approach the author calls "historical-metaphorical." Borg explores what the Scriptures meant to the ancient communities that produced and lived by them. He then helps us to discover the meaning of these stories, providing the knowledge and perspective to make the wisdom of the Bible an essential part of our modern lives. The author argues that the conventional way of seeing the Bible's origin, authority, and interpretation has become unpersuasive to millions of people in our time, and that we need a fresh way of encountering the Bible that takes the texts seriously but not literally, even as it takes seriously who we have become.

Borg traces his personal spiritual journey, describing for readers how he moved from an unquestioning childhood belief in the biblical stories to a more powerful and dynamic relationship with the Bible as a sacred text brimming with meaning and guidance. Using his own experience as an example, he reveals how the modern crisis of faith is itself rooted in the misinterpretation of sacred texts as historical record and divine dictation, and opens readers to a truer, more abundant perspective.

This unique book invites everyone -- whatever one's religious background -- to engage the Bible, wrestle with its meaning, explore its mysteries, and understand its relevance. Borg shows us how to encounter the Bible in a fresh way that rejects the limits of simple literalism and opens up rich possibilities for our lives.

Author Notes

Marcus J. Borg was born on March 11, 1942 in Minnesota. He majored in philosophy and political science at Concordia College. He did graduate work at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and at Oxford University. He taught at various Midwest universities before joining the faculty at Oregon State University in 1979. He taught religion there until his retirement in 2007.

During his lifetime, he wrote or co-wrote 21 books including Jesus: A New Vision, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions with N. T. Wright, and Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most. He died after a prolonged illness on January 21, 2015 at the age of 72.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The title of this book comes from the author's experience of "unlearning" his literal reading of the Bible from childhood in favor of a "historical-metaphorical" reading derived from his 35 years of studying the Bible as an academic. Borg, an Episcopalian who teaches at Oregon State University, is a member of the Jesus Seminar, author of The God We Never Knew and the counterpoint to evangelical N.T. Wright in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Views. Borg offers a highly readable and succinct introduction to biblical criticism, outlining the kinds of cultural, theological and historical lenses through which people read the Bible and explaining how those readings affect their relation to God. The historical-metaphorical reading that Borg presents includes both the "historical illumination of a text in its ancient context" and a metaphorical approach that "enables us to see and affirm meanings that go beyond the particularity of what the texts meant in their ancient setting." He applies this approach to the Bible in sections, wending his way from the creation stories to Revelation even as he advocates a journey from "precritical naivete" (the acceptance that the Bible is literally true) through "critical thinking" to "postcritical naivete" (accepting again that the Bible is true even if that truth does not depend upon factuality). The book is copiously footnoted without being in the least stodgy, and is open about Borg's own spiritual journey without being didactic or disrespectful of the tradition he has left. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Borg (religion, Oregon State Univ.) initially understood the Bible as the authoritative word of God and later saw it through the lens of modern critical thinkers. Now he has moved on to see the Bible with a postmodernist perspective. Reading biblical stories, he finds the truth in events to be the truth of metaphors; in this, he has discovered a path free from "spiritual bondage to the lords of convention and culture." Readings become a "sacramental" and "relational" experience of the presence of God, affirming that, as in the sacrament of communion, the Spirit of God addresses us "in, with, and under" the human words of the Bible. The book provides many excellent metaphorical readings of biblical accounts, which unify the Bible's stories. Borg's thinking and judgments are highly subjective, however, and the themes he chooses to promote are freedom and political correctness. In doing so, he completely ignores the Bible's dominant, redemptive theme that culminates in Jesus Christ. Recommended for large public libraries. George Westerlund, formerly with Providence P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Reading the Bible Again For the First Time Chapter One Reading Lenses: Seeing the Bible Again The key word in the title of this book-- Reading the Bible Again for the First Time --is "again." It points to my central claim. Over the past century an older way of reading the Bible has ceased to be persuasive for millions of people, and thus one of the most imperative needs in our time is a way of reading the Bible anew. Reading and seeing go together. On the one hand, what we read can affect how we see. On the other hand, and more important for my immediate purpose, how we see affects how we read. What we bring to our reading of a text or document affects how we read it. All of us, whether we use reading glasses or not, read through lenses. As we enter the twenty-first century, we need a new set of lenses through which to read the Bible. The older set, ground and polished by modernity, no longer works for millions of people. These lenses need to be replaced. The older way of seeing and reading the Bible, which I will soon describe, has made the Bible incredible and irrelevant for vast numbers of people. This is so not only for the millions who have left the church in Europe and North America, but also for many Christians who continue to be active in the life of the church. The need for new lenses thus exists within the church itself. The older lenses enabled Christians of earlier generations to experience the Bible as a lamp unto their feet, a source of illumination for following the Christian path. But for many Christians in our time, the older lenses have become opaque, turning the Bible into a stumbling block in the way. Yet not all Christians agree about the need for new lenses. Many vigorously defend the older way of seeing the Bible. For them, what seems to be at stake is nothing less than the truth of the Bible and Christianity itself. Conflicting Lenses Conflict about how to see and read the Bible is the single greatest issue dividing Christians in North America today. On one side of the divide are fundamentalist and many, conservative-evangelical Christians. On the other side are moderate-to-liberal Christians, mostly in mainline denominations. Separating the two groups are two very different ways of seeing three foundational questions about the Bible: questions about its origin, its authority, and its interpretation. The first group, who sometimes call themselves "Bible-believing Christians," typically see the Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God. This conviction flows out of the way they see the Bible's origin: it comes from God, as no other book does. As a divine product, it is God's truth, and its divine origin is the basis of its authority. As a contemporary bumper sticker boldly puts it, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." The sticker may be unfair to many who hold this position, but it was created by an advocate, not by a critic. For these Christians, the Bible is to be interpreted literally, unless the language of a particular passage is clearly metaphorical. From their point of view, allowing nonliteral interpretation opens the door to evading the Bible's authority and making it say what we want it to say. They typically see themselves as taking the Bible with utmost seriousness and often criticize moderatete-to-liberal Christians for watering it down and avoiding its authority. They also commonly see themselves as affirming "the old-time religion"--that is, Christianity as it was before the modern period. In fact, however, as we shall see, their approach is itself modern, largely the product of a particular form of nineteenth-and twentieth-century Protestant theology. Moreover, rather than allowing the Bible its full voice, their approach actually confines the Bible within a tight theological structure. The second group of Christians, most of whom are found in mainline churches, are less clear about how they do see the Bible than about how they do not. They are strongly convinced that many parts of the Bible cannot be taken literally, either as historically factual or as expressing the will of God. Some people who reach this conclusion leave the church, of course. But many continue within the church and are seeking a way of seeing the Bible that moves beyond biblical literalism and makes persuasive and compelling sense. Their numbers are growing; never before has there been so great an appetite for modern biblical scholarship among mainline Christians. They are responding strongly and positively to a more historical and metaphorical reading of the Bible. At the grass-roots level of mainline churches, a major de-literalization of the Bible is underway. Though these Christians know with certainty that they cannot be biblical literalists, they are less clear about how they do see the origin and authority of the Bible. They are often uncertain what it means to say that the Bible is "the Word of God" or "inspired by God." Though they reject grounding the Bible's authority in its infallibility, they are unsure what "biblical authority" might mean. Thus it is not surprising that even within mainline denominations, there is conflict about how to see and read the Bible. At the national level, most of these denominations have vocal minority movements protesting what they perceive to be the loss of biblical authority. At the local level, some congregations are sharply divided about how to see the Bible. The conflict also divides families. In many conservative Christian families, one or more members have either dropped out of church or become part of a liberal church. The reverse is also true: many liberal Christian families have seen one or more of their members become conservative Christians. Some families have been able to negotiate this conflict with grace. But in many, it has been a source of division, grief, and hand-wringing. Reading the Bible Again For the First Time . Copyright © by Marcus J. Borg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Part 1 Foundations
1 Reading Lenses: Seeing the Bible Againp. 3
2 Reading Lenses: The Bible and Godp. 21
3 Reading Lenses: History and Metaphorp. 37
Part 2 The Hebrew Bible
4 Reading the Creation Stories Againp. 57
5 Reading the Pentateuch Againp. 85
6 Reading the Prophets Againp. 111
7 Reading Israel's Wisdom Againp. 145
Part 3 The New Testament
8 Reading the Gospels Againp. 185
9 Reading Paul Againp. 227
10 Reading Revelation Againp. 265
Epiloguep. 297
Subject Indexp. 303
Modern Author Indexp. 313
Scripture Indexp. 317