The Bible says that?
The Bible is the best-selling book of all time—selling an average of 20 million copies each year. Even still, a recent survey shows less than half of adult Americans can name the first book of the Bible (Genesis) or the four Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
So in an election year with biblical literacy at an all-time low, politicians’ interpretations of the Good Book’s stance on hot-button campaign issues can leave voters wondering whether those assessments are right, wrong or somewhere in between.
Enter Case Western Reserve University religion scholar Timothy Beal, PhD, who earlier this year debuted his blog, BibliFact, on the news website The Huffington Post. Think of Beal as a referee for the political Bible-quoting set. Taking his inspiration from the Pulitzer Prizewinning PolitiFact—which rates politicians on a Truth-O-Meter—Beal examines the biblical references made by politicians and other public figures. He grades them on a scale that ranges from “Five Bibles” (Yes) to “One Bible” (No) or even “Fire & Brimstone Worthy” for particularly egregious claims.
So far, Beal has assessed biblical claims made on everything from gay marriage and immigration to the environment and taxes.
“People say: ‘The Bible says this and the Bible says that.’ But it’s always more complicated when you go and look at it,” says Beal, the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion and author of 12 books, including Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know.
Complexities arise because the Bible isn’t a book per se, he says, but rather it’s a collection of texts compiled by many different hands over more than a thousand years. “Our cultural ideal of the Bible is that it makes pronouncements about what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s true and what’s not,” Beal says. “But that’s not how biblical tradition works.”