Updated: Feb 21, 2022
I recently wrote a book review that I would like to share.
Jennifer Grace Bird
Nashville: Westminster John Know Press, 2015.
Paperback. $14.78. ISBN 9780664260408
Have you ever felt like you can't seek answers to the many questions you have about the Bible?" I have, but when I ask these questions at church or home, I always get the same answers. "Read the Bible, everything you need to know is right there." I first realized that I could ask these burning questions and seek new insight as I took a Religious Studies class for my undergraduate degree. Since the first day of Introduction to the New Testament, I have asked what had previously been taboo questions and found some answers. At the same time, I feel unsure, can I ask these questions out loud? Jennifer Bird, a professor, writer, speaker, and mother, with a Ph.D. in biblical studies from Vanderbilt University, gives women and even men approval to ask these hard questions and more, in her book "Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands."
As a reader, I approach Bird's book from the perspective of someone with a general layperson's knowledge of the Bible and a beginning scholarly interest. I find Bird's argument that everyone should have permission to ask questions concerning their faith and understanding of context, validity, and perspective of the Bible very refreshing (pg. 11).
Reading the first few chapters, I thought, I have asked these same questions for most of my life, but I have was told, "Read your Bible; it has all of the answers." Many times, I have thought and even asked numerous of the questions Bird discusses in her book. As I read Bird's commentary, I am challenged by the idea someone has the same thoughts and questions I have had over the years. As I continue reading, Bird provides a fresh new outlook on my views of the Bible. From Genesis to Revelations, her chronological order of thoughts helps the reader paint a more accurate picture based on linear Biblical writing.
In Chapter 1, Bird elaborates on the terms inerrant and infallible and how each pertains to the Bible. The biblical text of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament have problems with the order and juxtaposing of scripture. Bird argues that the Bible is written from a male perspective. The Bible is a collection of writings with various motivations, genres, and voices. Each is creating another layer in the overall meaning behind the books of the Bible.
In Chapter 2, Bird distinguishes between myth, lie, and story. She further expands on the Bible as a collection by discussing different translations and various viewpoints from a man, woman, and child. Bird asks how each may be different, even going as far as to discuss different cultures and other creation stories. She states that stories make more sense when read with the definition or idea of myth in mind, the author's intended meaning can shine through.
Chapter 3 discusses the story of Adam and Eve, including the fact that there are two creation stories in Genesis. Bird argues that the widely accepted version of Eve being the first human to sin has been so widely advertised that many Christians justify it as a cultural practice. Advertising has used Adam and Eve to sell sex, movies, and everything in between. But Bird asked the reader to read Genesis 3 with fresh eyes and without trying to jump to conclusions (pg. 26). Bird provides first a mythical, then a literal perspective, back to a mythical view. She closes the chapter with a little history of the early Church Fathers who influenced the sinful connotations that are still alive today.
Chapter 4 discusses different types of sex, including marriage, divorce, adultery, homosexuality, and rape. Are women just property, to be sold, bought, and used? If a woman has been raped, is that acceptable in the biblical context? What about in today's society? Is plural marriage something to be frowned upon, or was it proper? If a man's married brother dies, is it the brother's responsibility to marry or have sex with his sister-in-law as is the custom in Levirate marriages of the Hebrew Bible? Bird provides an alternative perspective on all of these questions, including going as far as to argue that the Bible was written by men for men. Different advantages and disadvantages are provided, laying claim to what a man's perspective and gain could be, and providing an argument from a woman's perspective. She not only discusses sex between man and woman but sex between two people of the same sex. Bird recounts the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, of David's daughter, Tamar, and of an unnamed woman, all of whom were viscously raped and assaulted that were swept under the carpet (pg. 54). Once again, Bird gives the reader permission to ask the hard questions.
Chapter 5 further expands on issues concerning sex, violence, and procreation. Bird emphasizes the fact that just because violence is depicted in the Bible, it does not mean it is something God approves of (pg. 55). The majority of people today have been exposed to visions of war, blood, hatred, and killing right from the comfort of our own homes. Bird provides a list of battle imagery, violence, and abuse. The Bible even contains child sacrifice, murder, and executions not often taken into account altogether. She closes the chapter with the notion that many people who read the Bible are unaware of just how much violence is within the sacred text they read regularly.
Chapter 6 provides insight and food for thought about how the Bible has changed over time, the exaggeration, and cover-ups. She compares stories to understand what the author was trying to accomplish. King David is a well-known man, he is the young boy who Goliath. Or is he? Bird provides a chart containing three different versions, from three other books of the Bible (pg. 79). She follows Goliath, with David and Bathsheba, then David and Tamar. Bird examines the text from a female perspective. Where the women were raped? Bird examines the text from a female perspective, questioning whether or not these women were raped or not. Mary Magdalene is often confused with another Mary of the New Testament. Bird provides a chart to compare three different passages from three other books discussing women with whom Mary Magdalene is confused. Bird closes this chapter with the statement, "Seeing the Bible differently doesn't change who God is (pg. 93)."
Chapter 7 provides a broader perspective of women during biblical times. Bird offers a growing foundation of evidence that portrays women as unimportant in the Biblical rendition of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. She takes the reader through a few of the Bible's Matriarchs, providing examples of the abuse they suffered, often in submissive silence. However, Bird argues that women were essential to Jesus and his ministry. He included them in his travels how there were many around him as he spread the good news. She discusses how the genuine Pauline letters affirm that women were very much in leadership, while the disputed letters once again urge women to be silent. Bird challenges women to read the biblical text, ask questions about it, and understand all the harm to women over time.
In Chapter 8, Bird discusses the most well-known woman in the entire New Testament, Jesus' mother, the Virgin Mary. Bird gives an overview of when, where, and how the miraculous birth of Jesus came about. Bird further develops the idea of virgin birth with comparison, historical significance, the reason for the virgin birth, and the effects of the belief. The chapter closes with the virgin birth is complicated.
Chapter 9 delves into the idea of more than one version of Jesus in the Bible, and more than one understanding of salvation (pg. 131). Bird discusses biographies of then (more stories) and now (more details). Bird provides a list of need-to-know details, including background context relating to the timeline of different books and events. Bird provides parallels geologies of Jesus and Moses. She includes several charts contrasting and comparing the four gospels of Jesus to each other. After Bird walks the reader through all four gospels, she challenges the reader to take a closer look at their thoughts and beliefs surrounding Jesus.
Although Bird discusses Paul's epistles and preaching in chapter 7, chapter 10 further expands on Paul's larger picture as Bird juggles the idea of Paul being the creator of Christianity, the first Christian, or possibly not Christian at all. Bird starts with Paul's conversion moment; she provides different biblical texts from Luke and Paul himself. Bird provides another charter cover Models of Salvation (pg.163), as she discusses Paul's Gospel and the Good News of Jesus.
Chapter 11 discusses Judgement Day and beliefs of the Apocalypse, depicted in both the book of Daniel and the book of Revelations. Bird gives a brief overview of apocalyptic literature and its characteristics, including who the author is and the book's reasoning. Apocalyptic symbols captivate many people as they seek to unravel a great mystery, but Bird argues that Revelation's story is not something that will happen. She discusses the 144,000, the woman and the dragon, the beast, including the number of the beast, the Lamb and 144,00, the whore of Babylon, even Heaven on earth in Revelations 21-22. Finally, providing the reader with a profound thought, why do we need to wait on God to right the world's wrongs, when we can work together to create peace (pg. 185).
The final chapter in Permission Granted asked the big question of "Now What?" Should the reader continue reading the Bible as a literal text, a myth, a story? What about asking questions? Bird intends that the reader will approach the Bible from a critical thought perspective and not just take someone else's word for it. Ask questions, seek understanding; there are unlimited perspectives, and yours is one of those.
As a whole argument, Bird lays the foundation for women's rights and permission for anyone to question the morals, reality, and consequences of not asking the tough questions. I agree that God's original intentions were to bring together the many different, unique people and spread them throughout the world, no matter their sexual identity, color, ethnicity, or even sins. Bird brings up thoughts and questions that are relevant to the twenty-first century. I much appreciated the many tables and parallels to various biblical verses the Bird provided the reader; I was able to look at several verses at one to understand what she was trying to point out.
Not only does Bird provide visuals, but she offered a sense of knowing how the reader feels, which offers reassurance. Bird's use of everyday language and an open mind provided me a sense of security as I read chapters three through eight, especially those discussed more openly about sex, rape, and violence. As a young child, I was taught that sex is a taboo subject; it was just not discussed and especially not in public. As an adult in my late forties, I have been more open to discussing sex more openly; my children, who are both millennials, have no issue discussing sex in public. Bird has provided mothers, fathers, and other influential people with the power to discuss this with younger people, talk about the hard stuff, and answer questions our children and grandchildren have. We are permitted to look at the Bible from all perspectives.
What do you think?