I read with interest the recent article by Dan Fagan, titled, “Why not teach the Bible in public school literature class?” I would like to answer his question with a series of questions of my own.
First, which Bible would be taught? The Jewish Bible of 24 Hebrew “books”? The Catholic Bible with a 46-book Old Testament? The Protestant Bible of 39 books rearranged from the order in which they appear in the Jewish Hebrew Scriptures?
Second, which version (English translation) would be used? The Jerusalem Bible done by Catholic scholars? The King James Version dating to 1611 and done in antiquated dialect no longer used in modern speech and writing? The New American Standard Bible that purports to offer a literal translation? The New International Version done by conservative but not fundamentalist scholars?
Third, who would decide how the questions above would be answered and taught? A Catholic priest? A Jewish rabbi? A fundamentalist pastor with no theological or biblical language competency? A conservative Protestant with a strong College and Seminary education — in one school of theological thought?
Fourth, who would choose the teachers? Would principals select and hire members of their own faith? Would a bishop make the decision? And if so, a Catholic bishop or a Methodist?
Yes, the Bible is the all-time best seller. And yes, it can and should be taught as part of public education. But since Fagan’s idea is to teach “the Bible as literature,” it absolutely should not be taught by persons who lack specific training and the skills to read and understand the original languages of the text. After all, we are talking about Hebrew (or Koine Greek) literature, not English literature. And an English version of a Latin version of a Greek translation of an Aramaic rendition of the Hebrew original is not the appropriate place to start teaching “the” Bible.
It is illegal to practice law or to perform neurosurgery without a license. Given the importance that Fagan attaches to the Bible, would he not agree that teachers of Bible should receive training equal to a law or medical degree? Properly trained instructors of Bible do not teach confessionally, and a teacher whose educational background in the Bible matches the chemistry teacher’s background in science is not a danger. But do schools have on staff instructors with such a background? I suspect that they do not, and I find it troubling that the only motivation Fagan attributes to opponents of teaching the Bible in public school is “fear they (students) may be converted to Christianity.” That, of course, indicates what he assumes might happen with some degree of regularity. But it also raises yet another question: Whose version of Christianity?