Ep. 55: Dr. Yonder Gillihan — What Is There to Love About the Bible?

My guest this week is Dr. Yonder Gillihan, a professor of Theology with special expertise in the Dead Seas Scrolls. He’s also my older brother, so our discussion included some of our personal history with religion and the Bible. You’ll hear how Yonder’s relationship with the Bible has changed over the past four decades, and how he not only made peace with the Bible but even made friends with it.

Some of the topics we get into include:

  • The place of the Bible in my brother’s and my early family life
  • Why young people often find the Bible to be a tedious and irrelevant book
  • Common frustrations that push people away from the Bible
  • Classical studies as a slippery slope into Biblical studies
  • Different questions we can bring to religious texts
  • Using the Bible to understand its authors
  • The irreconcilable contradictions in the Bible (e.g., the two creation accounts in Genesis)
  • Why the Bible has endured for thousands of years
  • Tradeoffs among some of the popular Bible translations, and the value in reading from multiple translations
  • The Bible as a mosaic of conversations among people who don’t always have the same ideas
  • Understanding the person of Jesus Christ as presented in the four gospels
  • The extent to which the Bible reveals an all-encompassing and unconditional love
  • The many perspectives that the Bible embraces and affirms
  • Conflicting accounts of Jesus’s resurrection in Mark vs. Matthew
  • Biblical inconsistencies as a reminder of the messiness of human life

Here are the translations we discussed (affiliate links):

The John Prine song Yonder mentioned is calledFish and Whistle.”

Here’s more about the scholar Terry Eagleton.

Yonder Gillihan, PhD, completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Ball State University and his doctorate at the University of Chicago.

He has taught at Yale Divinity School and Dartmouth College, and currently is an associate professor in the Theology Department at Boston College. Yonder’s research interests include the Dead Sea Scrolls, Matthew and Paul, apocalypticism, and Christian origins within the context of Jewish sectarianism in the late Second Temple period.

His research methods include the application of modern social-scientific methods to ancient communities, with emphasis on the relationship between voluntary associations, and local and imperial authorities.

Yonder is heavily invested in teaching his students to read and appreciate the Bible, as I’m guessing you’ll gather from our discussion.

Find Yonder online at his faculty page on the Boston College website.

2 thoughts

  • Cousins Gillihan,
    As your cousin whose own mom entered into the “born-again” Christian fundamentalist movement after your mom and dad (my aunt and uncle) introduced her to it, I found this so wonderful to listen to. As you know, I attempt to straddle both Christianity and skepticism as a self declared Zen-Christian-Atheist. Currently I am questioning whether Christianity can have a lasting impact for communal, universal, humanistic bolstering of the human condition. I fear that even progressive Christianity may become little less than a congregation of oninistic, congratulatory backslapping where everyone feels good to be righteous, but do not feel compelled to be rebels that strive to be revolutionary agents of change in a hurting world. I am currently conducting a conscious attempt at intentional community that I hope will spur my Sunday School group to be as rebellious as Jesus against the hurtful world order we currently reside in. It is daunting. I am hopeful, but we will see.

    • Hello, Cousin! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here. I really enjoyed talking with Yonder. I like what you said about being “as rebellious as Jesus.” I hope you and yours are doing great. Lots of love, Spencer.

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