Quaker Universalist Voice

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What Do We Know About Bible Values?

A Book Review of John J. Collins, What are Biblical Values? What the Bible Says on Key Ethical Issues (2019)

Adults are puzzled.  Students are skeptical.  Parents are fearful. What can the Bible say that is helpful for ethical discernment and how do we trust the Bible on these subjects?  The Bible appears to many as sexist, violent, homophobic, and boring.  J. Collins, What are Biblical Values? What the Bible Says on Key Ethical Issues (2019) provides a trustable analysis of values in the Bible.

We are all reluctant Bible interpreters. All people in faith traditions and people outside religious traditions have the personal authority to make decisions.  The sources for discernment include our theological traditions (including scriptures), teaching of religious leaders, life experiences, cultural values, scientific knowledge, and the intuitions of the still small voice.  Tradition, experience and reason is the short formula for all humans. We all must be responsible for keeping and discarding elements from the Bible experience and for what to prioritize and emphasize in that Bible experience for ethical guidance for today.  The Bible is not a single voice document.  It is a repository of a running debate addressing ethical issues.  We are now an extension of that debate in our discernment.

The key ethical issues that the author chose to be addressed include abortion, gender, marriage, family, environment, slavery, violence, justice, and human poverty.

The Bible is ethically complex. For the author, the Bible does address condoning violence, God’s revenge, apocalyptic thinking, justice, concern for the vulnerable members of society, love of enemies, and sustainability of the land.  For the author, the Bible does NOT address human dignity, gender, slavery, homosexuality, cultural diversity, environment, marriage, family, and technology in thorough and consistent ways.  Many issues are left in conflict of contrasting views in the text of the Bible as well as its many interpretations.  For example, consider the scope and justification for violence.

The book includes an index of ancient sources including both testaments and many surrounding texts of the same cultural period.  The cover art is handsome. The index is helpful, showing clearly the author’s emphasis on the first testament.  The bibliography is extensive.  The end notes provide interesting asides and quotations.  The table of contents provides clear guidance to the book’s argument. The introduction addresses the selection of ethical values which the author has chosen.

 The book is readable and straightforward.  It treats the substance of the selected ethical issues.  For a book on the processes for talking with children about ethical issues, see B. McCleneghan and K. Jackson, When Kids Ask Hard Questions: Faith-filled Responses for Tough Topics (2019)

Quakers:  The book contains no specific reference to Quakers.


·      How do Quakers integrate the Bible into their ethical decision making?

·      Where is the clear and conclusive authority in the Bible for ethical decision making?


What are Biblical Values? What the Bible Says on Key Ethical Issues, John J. Collins  (2019)

When Kids Ask Hard Questions: Faith-filled Responses for Tough Topics, Bromleigh McCleneghan and Kate Ware Jackson (Chalice Press, 2019)



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