Wednesday, February 27, 2013


 A parishioner called me one day. “I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she said.
I answered, “Not at all. I was just sitting here reading the Bible.”
“Ah,” she said. “The good book,”
“Well, yeah,” I replied. “Parts of it.”

Parts of the Bible are good. Parts are uplifting, inspiring, enlightening. But other parts can be dark and disturbing.
I own a copy of a book titled The Positive Bible, compiled by Kenneth Winston Caine. It has a lengthy subtitle, From Genesis to Revelation: Scripture that Inspires, Nurtures and Heals. It is a collection of Bible verses that, according to Caine, are “empowering, uplifting, helpful, hopeful, inspiring, and faith-building.” And what could be wrong with that?
Nothing, except that it misrepresents the actual Bible in some significant ways. For one, it ignores the negative parts of the Bible.
For another, it treats the Bible as a source of pronouncements that have no context. Let me show you what I mean.  Caine’s book includes Job 8:20–21 (quoted from the “King James Version Modernized”) as one of the Bible’s positive teachings:

God will not cast away a blameless man
neither will he help the evildoers:
He will fill your mouth with laughing
and your lips with rejoicing.   

The problem is that these words, in context, are spoken by Bildad the Shuhite, one of Job’s three comforters, of whom God himself says “You have not spoken of me what is right.”(Job 42:7 NRSV). In fact the very premise of the Book of Job is that God has “cast away a blameless man.”

To be fair to Kenneth Winston Caine, he is not the only one who uses the Bible as a verse mine.. All too often I hear believers assert “The Bible says” and then spout some words of Scripture that have been wrenched from any meaningful context, in order to “prove” a point. 

All Christians, and particularly Protestants, hold that the Bible is, in some way, authoritative. What I’m proposing is that we should, then, read the Bible in its entirety, both its positive and negative parts. And further, we should not treat the Bible as a collection of verses, but should always pay attention to context so as to understand what the Bible’s writers are actually saying.


  1. Hi Brant:

    Sorry I pulled that verse out of context from the story in which it is found. Yet I still find it an inspiring verse that, most of the time, is true in the greater context of life.

    "The Positive Bible" was never meant to replace the Bible, as I emphatically stated on the first pages. It is simply a collection of uplifting verses -- thoughts, exhortations, quotes, prayers, etc. -- from the Bible.

    My best and thank you for your review,
    Ken Winston Caine

  2. P.S. My original title for the book, when I began working on it at the beginning of the '80s, was "Biblical Affirmations for Abundant Living." Think if I had stuck with that that it might have met a warmer reception in parts of the religious community. Do you think so?

    -- kwc

  3. Thanks, Ken, for coming by and taking the time to comment on my blog. I'm actually honored by your visit.

    My particular bugbear, the drum that I continually beat, is that Christians who hold the Bible to be in some way authoritative ought to actually read it in its entirety. We should read it with some concern for the cultural context in which it was produced. We should read it with some attention to what the writers were actually trying to say.

    With all that said, I have no more qualms with your book than I would have with a volume of love poems from Shakespeare's plays. There would doubtless be deep pleasures in reading such a book BUT one could not, upon finishing it, claim to have read Shakespeare. Knowing the poems in their context would alert the reader to techniques such as irony or sarcasm that might otherwise be missed.

    God bless,


  4. I agree with you, Brant.

    If you noticed any other quotes taken grossly out of context and recall which, I'd love to know. Am planning to rework and reissue the book, under a different title, and to produce a version with selections from the Apocrypha as well.

    THINK I made your point in my introduction to the book as published by Avon, and the criticism is well-taken.

  5. I agree with you. And thought I had made that point -- but perhaps not strongly enough -- in the opening pages of the book, as published by Avon.

    Am planning to rework and reissue it with a different title and also to produce a version with selected quotes from the Aprocrypha. If you noticed, and recall, any other verses that were grossly out of context, would greatly appreciate your drawing them to my attention.

    My best,

  6. At this point, Ken, we are just agreeing with each other. :-)

    I don't easily recall anybother examples of verses taken badly out of context. If I find any I will trynto,let you know.

    God bless,