Bible in the public schools: What text?

September 4th, 2014

So my 16-year-old stepdaughter signed up for a Bible class in high school as an elective thinking I’m sure, easy A with both her mom and stepdad being preachers. As most of you probably know the Supreme Court has allowed the teaching of the Bible as literature in the public schools for some time. If you were teaching the class what text would you use? What version of Scripture would you ask the students to read? Remember this is a public school, albeit in south central Tennessee.

The teacher is a male who attended a Southern Baptist seminary (I’m told) and for the text of the class he chose, "From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible" by Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix (Moody, 2012). Dr. Norman L. Geisler is a prolific author and President of Southern Evangelical Seminary which he helped start. The seminary is not accredited by Association of Theological Schools (ATS) the “normal accrediting agency of theological institutions.”

In the first chapter of this book Geisler and Nix fail to tell the readers that the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Bibles are slightly different. They just assume the 1500’s Protestant argument about accepting what has become the Hebrew Scripture. No mention that the Christian church held an earlier version of scripture before the Jews decided what was to be “the Hebrew Scriptures."

They also make the argument that inspired means inerrancy. Indeed they have a little section entitled exactly that—inspiration means inerrancy. Then they go on to say that despite not having the original document (Bible) there are no doctrinal issues raised by the various differing manuscripts. So I must assume snake handlers (Mark 16:18) and Purgatory (I and II Maccabees) for example are disavowed in the author’s understanding of Christian doctrine.

Good teaching can overcome a bad text but I worry about the “teaching” my daughter will receive at this public school. And what about the growing Catholic population attending this public school; how would they feel about the Protestant version of the Bible being considered the norm? I thought that was part of the reason Catholics started their own school system in the 1800’s.

In any case what text would you use?

I prefer Jaroslav Pelikan’s "Whose Bible Is It: A Short History of the Scriptures" (Penguin Books, 2006) but I’m sure it is a little advanced for high school students. Or maybe "In Discordance with the Scriptures" by Peter J. Thuessen (Oxford University Press, 1999) but perhaps, "How We Got the Bible" by Neil R. Lightfoot (Baker Books, 2010) would suffice.

Would a “mainline” publisher publish a book that would serve as an introduction to the Bible for a public high school setting or would they say there is no market for such a book? Should I worry about what this teacher is going to say about my daughter’s mom in ministry given the text he chose?

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