Peter J. Gomes’s The Good Book is organized into three sections, which the author describes as didactic, polemical, and pastoral. He addresses those who sense that they lack knowledge about the Bible or have been alienated by misunderstandings of its message. In part 1, “Opening the Bible,” Gomes discusses the state of biblical literacy and the practice of Bible study in the United States. He deplores methods that use the Bible as a springboard for personal opinions rather than grapple with its message. He describes the dual nature of the Bible as the human response to God and as God’s way of communicating with humanity, thereby making it a unique body of literature. The Bible is a collection of books, incorporating the Hebrew Bible within its present structure as a Christian text. Because it is a public text, it inevitably affects society. The Bible is also a living text, with a message accessible to each generation. Finally, Gomes establishes a recurring theme: The Bible is intended to be inclusive, so that all peoples can find a message for themselves in its pages.
It is impossible to read the Bible without interpreting it, Gomes says, and he describes three erroneous way of interpreting the Bible: Bibliolatry, literalism, and culturalism. Bibliolatry occurs when a reader makes the Bible, a symbol of the Christian faith, the object of adoration rather than God. Literalism occurs when readers allow a common-sense understanding of Scripture to become an authority in itself. Gomes explains that readers in the Protestant tradition, in which no other authority supersedes Scripture, are particularly prone to this error. Culturalism occurs when readers interpret the Bible to buttress the existing social order, rather than critique it.
Due to the nature of the history of the United States, which began with the Puritans and has had a long tradition of civil religion, there is an intimate relationship...
(The entire section is 792 words.)