Book Review: Cleburne native’s book examines the authors of the Bible

Published: April 21, 2006 06:26 pm

Cleburne native’s book examines Bible’s authors
By Allison Davis/Features Editor

Donald O’Dell takes a different look at the Bible than others. In his book “How the Bible Became the Bible,” O’Dell tells the history of the Bible in a way that may shatter fundamentalist ideals.

“I believe biblical wisdom and truth do help me actually live a fuller day-to-day life, but I also do not read or interpret the Bible literally,” O’Dell wrote in his introduction. “To understand my position, it is important to truly appreciate what’s in the Bible — namely, to see down-to-earth people who came to know, believe and trust in a Supreme Being. I believe real ‘flesh and blood’ people wrote the Bible in response to their very real history. Some of them overreacted, while some of them misinterpreted events.”

His book is packed with historical time tables, theories about authorship of the Bible, themes of the Bible, analysis of various Biblical passages and more. His personal story is mixed into the history of the Bible and helps communicate that personal stories of transformation make up the Scriptures.

O’Dell’s book is divided into two sections. The first section focuses on the Old Testament. He sets dates for events and writings of this part of Christian scriptures. He examines at the development of the scriptures and the seeming clash between the prophets and the priestly writers.

“The priestly class wanted to codify or institutionalize a form of “national” righteous or moral behavior; the prophets kept insisting they were on the wrong track,” O’Dell writes.

The rest of his Old Testament study focuses on the questions of authorship.

The second section focuses on the New Testament. He examines the growth and development of the New Testament scriptures, discusses canonization, and extra-canonical writings. He believes that some of the extra-canonical sources should have been included in the scriptures people have today. He also writes about the Jesus movement of the early church and the movements that grew outside of the church, including Jewish believers in Jesus.

“Jesus of Nazareth repeated (and lived!) the messages of the Old Testament prophets,” the book says. “However, much of his message dissolved as the organizational aspects of the emerging church began making the same kinds of mistakes made by Israel’s priestly class during Old Testament times.”

O’Dell is concerned that many people are in danger of worshiping the Bible. One of his concluding chapters addresses this concern. He says that by taking the Bible at its word, word for word, people are missing the message of the Bible. He believes by living like that, people are in danger of blindly obeying the Bible rather than listening to God themselves.

O’Dell’s family moved to Cleburne from Brownfield after he graduated from high school. His father took the ministerial position at Anglin Street Presbyterian Church for 10 years. O’Dell spent summers in Cleburne working construction and spent one summer working at the Times-Review in the printing press department. He was also a minister at Joshua Community Church while attending the University of North Texas. After graduating from college, he attended Princeton Theological Seminary and earned his Master of Divinity. Through his schooling and his ministry experience, O’Dell has developed beliefs about the Bible.

“The Bible is a set of different voices,” O’Dell said. “There’s not that many of them — six or seven plus the prophets [in the Old Testament], five or six in the New Testament — if you understand that these are different voices speaking from the reality of their transformed lives.”

O’Dell believes that the voices in the Bible speak about what they’ve seen God do in their lives.

“It opens a door for you to look at your transformation,” O’Dell said. “It opens that door for your to look at your transformation. You can speak your voice and listen to the voice of God in others.

“The flip side is that the Bible is it. It’s not about being transformed, but what saves you is believing in the Bible — it’s very, very similar to the problems that the prophets had with the emerging priesthood,” O’Dell said.

O’Dell had his own transformation, and his experience enabled him to write the book.

“I grew up in the church and was an active minister for six years,” he said. “When I was recovering from alcoholism I had some spiritual decisions.”

He said he won his battle against alcoholism 19 years ago. His victory gave him a transformation story to tell.

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Allison Davis can be reached at 817-645-2441, ext. 2338, or features at trcle dot com