Reading the Bible Again...
for the First Time

Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally
by Marcus Borg, HarperCollins:
New York, NY. 2001. 

Canon Jim Irvine


the Bible
Again for the
First Time



Coffee and Discussion


Emmaus Paradigm

Scripture and Communion

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Reading Lenses: The Bible and God

Reading Lenses: History and Metaphor

The Hebrew Testament

Reading the
Creation Stories

Reading the Pentateuch

Reading the Prophets

Israel’s Wisdom

The New Testament

Reading the Gospels


Reading the Revelation

Borg Study Index
Home Study Resources

Reading Lenses:
The Bible and God

1. The Difference Our Perspective on the Bible Makes

Exodus 4:1 Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” 2 The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 3 And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail”-- so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand-- 5 “so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

6 Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. 7 Then God said, “Put your hand back into your cloak”-- so he put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored like the rest of his body-- 8 “If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign.

9 If they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” 

10 But Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  11 Then the LORD said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.”

13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” 14 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. 16 He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. 17 Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”

18 Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, “Please let me go back to my kindred in Egypt and see whether they are still living.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19 The LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt; for all those who were seeking your life are dead.”

20 So Moses took his wife and his sons, put them on a donkey and went back to the land of Egypt; and Moses carried the staff of God in his hand.

21 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: Israel is my firstborn son. 23 I said to you, “Let my son go that he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son.’”

24 On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the LORD met him and tried to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then she said, “A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.”     New Revised Standard Version

 If we see the Bible as a “divine product,” we have to ask the question – Why would God want to kill Moses – especially since Moses has been chosen by God and is doing what God has commanded him to do?
If we see the Bible as a “human product,” we realize this as a story by ancient Israel.  The question then becomes, “Why would Israel tell this story?”


1 Timothy 2:9 also that the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God. 11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.                              
New Revised Standard Version

How do we understand this passage as a “divine product”?  As a “human product?”


Marcus Borg writes, “The Lens I am advocating does not see the Bible as a whole divine in origin, or some parts as divine and some as human.  It is all a human product, though generated in response to God.  As such, it contains ancient Israel’s perceptions and misconceptions of what life with God involves, just as it contains the early Christian movement’s perceptions and misconceptions.”                 Reading the Bible Again for the First Time (p. 27)

Reflect on the human response to God, giving illustrations from scriptural accounts.


John 3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?”

5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”      New Revised Standard Version

How do we understand this passage as a “divine product”?  As a “human product?”
Does Jesus impose a divine product or provide a human product for Nicodemus? 
What was required of Nicodemus?
What is required of us?


Rabbi Harold Kushner writes in Who Needs God, “Sometimes I find myself thinking that maybe the psalmists aren’t that different from you and me. They may not have started out with remarkable spiritual gifts. They may simply have gone through experiences that brought to the surface whatever latent talent for religion they had. William James, in his classic work The Varieties of Religious Experience, writes of “once‑born” and “twice‑born” people. The once‑born are people who sail through life without ever experiencing anything that shatters or complicates their faith. They may have financial problems, disappointments with their children, but they never go through a time when they say, “The religion I was raised in is a lie; that’s not how the world works.” Their understanding of God when they are old is not that different from their view of God when they were children, a benign heavenly parent who keeps the world neat and orderly.

James’s twice‑born souls are people who lose their faith and then regain it, but their new faith is very different from the one they lost. Instead of seeing a world flooded with sunshine, as the once‑born always do, they see a world where the sun struggles to come out after the storm but always manages to reappear. Theirs is a less cheerful, less confident, more realistic outlook. God is no longer the parent who keeps them safe and dry; He is the power that enables them to keep going in a stormy and dangerous world. And like the bone that breaks and heals stronger at the broken place, like the string that is stronger where it broke and was knotted, it is a stronger faith than it was before, because it has learned it can survive the loss of faith. (I think of myself as a twice‑born, maybe even a three‑times‑born, person. There are a lot of gods I used to believe in and no longer do, because they proved false.)                                                                 Who Needs God (p. 35f.)

How does the Rabbi’s perspective echo Jesus’ admonition?
In light of Kushner’s observation, what was required of Nicodemus?
What is required of us?


2. Metaphors for Seeing the Bible:
The Bible as…

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.  3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. New Revised Standard Version

What does it mean to call the Bible “the Word of God?”
John’s Prologue demonstrates the inspiration we are accustomed in finding in the scriptures.  Whence is the inspiration?
Borg uses several metaphors for the purpose of giving weight to the scriptures.  He sees the Bible as “the Finger pointing to the moon.”  He sees the Bible as “the Lens through which we see.”  And he sees the Bible as “sacrament”.  How do these images help clarify our understanding of the scriptures?
What is identified?  How do we see?  What is mediated?

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Next - Reading Lenses: History and Metaphor