The Bible for Grown-Ups

by Simon Loveday, Icon, £12.99

Simon Loveday assures readers that this study of the Bible will be even-handed. His book claims to be “theologically neutral. It neither requires, nor rejects, belief.” By the end, however, we are being told that “the Bible has been made into an instrument of divine tyranny”, and that believers are expected to “shut out any questioning of their own rightness”.

Along the way, we’re informed that the Old Testament is an utterly unreliable “guide to action”, while a fairly dismissive adjudication of the New Testament is also provided. We encounter, Loveday explains, “a stern, judgmental, selective Jesus” and a “mild, forgiving, inclusive Jesus”. “Which,” Loveday wonders, “is the real Jesus? Indeed, which is the real God? Who knows – but what we do know is that the New Testament offers us both, and they can’t both be true.” This doesn’t strike me as any more “theologically neutral” than concluding a book with a pronouncement that “we have created the gods to which we bow down”.

Loveday also writes that “the intention of this book is not to break new ground”. On that score, at least, it is highly successful. Loveday sticks to well-trodden paths. We hear a great deal, for example, about how frequently the biblical narrative fails to correspond with the historical and archaeological record. A few pages in, Loveday worries that “at this point, the reader may be thinking that it is no great achievement to punch holes in the ‘mythical’ early part of the Bible”. Well, quite, but it’s more that we’ve heard it all before, and this also goes for his analyses of later sections of the Old and then the New Testament.

Contradictions and inconsistencies within the Bible’s moral codes also come under scrutiny. The Old Testament is adjudged “a very mixed bag” and “if you look hard enough, you will find justification for any viewpoint or action”. The trick, apparently, is to “tune your radio to the wavelength you want to listen to”. Finally, it’s decided that the “sheer textual inaccuracy” of the Bible makes it “difficult … to maintain” that it’s the word of God.

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