My Series on Abortion and the Bible

Earlier this month I posted info on another blog of mine, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible, and I recently completed a three-part series on that site about Abortion and the Bible. Suppose, I suggested, we assume that the Bible was “written” by God, so that every word in that book reflects a divine will. Then let’s try applying that assumption to a famous passage that is used on both sides of the abortion controversy, Exodus 21:22-23. Continue reading

More on Random Bible Readings

[For the past few weeks this site has included posts from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s the latest entry, slightly modified, plus an additional comment. Because I’m going to be extremely busy this spring, this will be the last entry on the Bible blog for a while. I’ll continue to post on Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground.]

In my previous posting I reported an experiment in which I opened the Old Testament at random five times and glanced through the text of the two facing pages before me. It turned out to be very easy to find verses that did not seem divinely inspired. I could imagine a loving deity shuddering at the thought that these passages are part of a book that people read for divine guidance.

Example: Execute anyone who has the wrong theology, which is commanded in II Chronicles 15:13.

Now let’s try the flip side of this experiment. Read five randomly-selected two-page segments from the Old Testament, looking for statements that do sound divinely inspired, or that at least express keen insights.

Here’s what I found when I tried this, and I realize that “your results your vary.”

The pages I picked at random began with Leviticus 8:31, Judges 20:44, II Chronicles 15:7, Proverbs 8:35, and Jeremiah 39:4. Out of the five two-page segments that began with these verses, I found uplifting material only in Proverbs. Even in that section most statements were common-sense platitudes that essentially told the reader, “Be good, work hard, and treat others well.” No doubt we need to hear such messages repeatedly, but a normal individual of average intelligence should discover these principles without a revelation from on high.

Here are the verses that seemed insightful, beyond mere “let’s-be-good” platitudes:

“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8)

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.” (Proverbs 10:19)

“A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)

I especially appreciate the first of these items. It pushes against the peculiarly-common human inclination to waste time arguing with fools. I still fall into that trap at times, so it’s a good lesson for me personally.

Again, try this yourself. Open the Old Testament to five different places at random, revealing ten pages. Look for passages that sound like genuine divine revelations, statements which give you that spine-tingling feeling that something transcendent has broken into our human world. (In the New Testament, “Love your enemies” is a good example.) See what you learn. [End of post from Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible.]

Note: I used to see the Bible as roughly a 50-50 mix of helpful and unhelpful passages, with lots of uplifting verses along with many erroneous and morally inferior teachings. But now it’s beginning to seem as if the dangerous and morally repugnant passages predominate.

In a few weeks I’ll resume blogging about the Old Testament and then move on to the Gospels and other New Testament material. I’ll cross-post most of these entries on Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground.

Roger Christan Schriner

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God’s Difficult Relationship with Israel

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s another entry.]

I have been emphasizing the first five books of the Bible because they contain so many disturbing passages that claim to express God’s will. But such questionable verses can be found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (which became the Christian Old Testament).

There are troubling passages in the New Testament as well, but perhaps not as many. If that is so, it’s partly because the Hebrew Scriptures focus more on the history of Israel. In most of the historical sections God is either smiting Israel’s foes out of love for his chosen people, or using Israel’s enemies to punish them for disobedience. Here are a couple of examples which are distressing enough that you may just want to skip past them:

Zechariah 14:2: “For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women ravished …” The text goes on to say that God will then turn around and attack those who have invaded Israel.

Hosea 13:16: “Samaria shall bear her guilt because she has rebelled against her God; … their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.”

I apologize for presenting such grisly material, but if we want to know whether every verse of the Bible is literally true, we need to know what’s in that book.

What shall we make of the way God seems to see-saw back and forth between boundless love for the Israelites and blistering rage against them? Does this love-hate relationship really reflect the behavior of a perfect being?

Here’s another interpretation which seems more likely: Sometimes the Israelites won battles and wars, and sometimes they lost. Humans often explain victories and defeats by saying that great forces controlled the outcome – fate, karma, gods, demons. So when they won a war – or today, after a team wins the Superbowl – God was with them. When they got clobbered, God was punishing them for their sins. This sort of thinking reflects human ignorance, not divine inspiration.

Roger Christan Schriner

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And What about Collective Guilt?

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s another entry.]

In my last few entries I’ve been discussing inherited guilt and punishment. A related idea is collective guilt. According to the Bible, if most people in some group do bad things God may punish the whole group. In fact, God may do that even if only a few group-members transgress.

Or even one! In Second Samuel 24, David, ruler of Israel, ordered his assistants to carry out a census. Even though God had actually put this idea into David’s mind, God was very angry that David wanted his people to be counted. “David’s heart smote him after he had numbered the people.” He confessed that he had sinned and asked God for forgiveness. God then proposed three possible punishments, and he and David agreed that the punishment would be a three-day pestilence.

The pestilence was not directed against David, but against his people. Seeing their terrible suffering David protested, “but these sheep, what have they done?” Actually God had already decided to cut the pestilence short, so for David’s sin only 70,000 of his people died. Could have been worse.

The theme of this blog is: “Did God Really Say THAT!?” In this case the answer is, absolutely not. A loving, all-knowing, perfect being would not kill 70,000 people because their leader took a census. That Bible passage cannot be accurate.

Roger Christan Schriner

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Inherited Guilt

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. Here’s a recent entry.]

My previous post dealt with Deuteronomy 23:2, which advocates punishing people because one of their ancestors had a baby out of wedlock — “even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”

It is not uncommon for people to believe in inherited guilt or shame, collective guilt/shame, and guilt/shame by association. But at this point it seems obvious that these are erroneous ideas. We know better than to condemn individual persons because of their ancestry. However the idea of inherited guilt is found in verses that have become theologically crucial, at least within Christianity.

Adam and Eve, it is said, disobeyed God in Eden, and the entire human race became tainted, guilty, and worthy of punishment as a result. Note that this not the same as saying that human beings are sinful by nature. It’s true that the liturgies of some churches still include passages such as: “We are by nature sinful and unclean, and there is no health in us.” I see some problems with this idea, but right now I’m focusing on the doctrine that we are worthy of punishment regardless of whether we manage to become good persons.

Some believe, based on the story of Eden, that we all deserve to go to hell no matter how saintly we may become, simply because humanity’s parents ate that blankety-blank apple. The New England Primer, an extremely important schoolbook in Eighteenth Century America, put it in a little rhyme that children could easily remember: “In Adam’s fall/we sinned all.”

I frankly do not think it is credible that a supremely good Creator would respond to one man’s disobedience by cursing his descendants with hard, labor-filled lives, or would react to one woman’s misbehavior by making every one of her female descendants suffer pain in childbirth. Genesis 3 applies these penalties to Adam and Eve. It does not clearly state that their descendants will get the same treatment. But many theologians have interpreted the story this way, and later Bible passages also suggest we were tainted on that fateful day in Eden. More about this in my next posting.

Roger Christan Schriner

o Theists & Atheists: Communication & Common Ground, click the “Follow” link on the upper left.

Jesus Rejected Biblical Literalism

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. About once a week I will also post an entry that deals specifically with theism and atheism. Here’s my latest entry on the Bible blog.]

According to the New Testament, Jesus rejected the idea that every verse of the Bible was “written” by God. Here’s the evidence:

As I mentioned in earlier postings, the Biblical penalty for doing any work on the Sabbath was execution: “… on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death …” (Exodus 35:2)

That seems a bit harsh, but the rule was sometimes enforced with deadly seriousness. Supposedly God even commanded Moses to have a man slain because he gathered sticks on the Lord’s day. (Numbers 15:32-36) But later Jesus was criticized for working on the Sabbath (picking grain to eat, and healing the sick). In an earlier time he could have been stoned to death for that crime. His response to his critics was, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27. See also Matthew 12:9-14.)

So Jesus himself rejected Biblical literalism! He explicitly contradicted passages from the Hebrew Bible (which has become the Christian Old Testament). Since Jesus clearly rejected a passage which is part of Christian scripture, anyone who takes his statements as truth must conclude that Biblical inerrancy is in error. And of course, few Christians today think God wants us to kill those who work on Sunday.

The Gospel According to Matthew also says Jesus rejected Biblical rules about what should and should not be eaten. “And he called the people to him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.’ Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’” (Matthew 15:10-12)

The Hebrew Torah (and therefore the Christian Old Testament) bans lots of foods. Leviticus 11, for instance, forbids consumption of pigs, shellfish, ostriches, lizards, crocodiles, etc. But if Matthew 15 is correct, the Nazarene was rather relaxed about such matters.

Right now I’m mostly writing about Old Testament passages, but I am taking a detour into the New Testament to show that Jesus disagreed with at least one of the death penalty clauses of the Torah. So there’s a big problem here. If we assume that every word of the Bible is true, we have to believe that “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” But that obviously contradicts the passage mandating the death penalty for anyone who does even a tiny amount of work on that holy day.

Any comments?

Roger Christan Schriner

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Capital Punishment in the Bible: God Was Just Kidding?

[For the next few weeks this site will include items from my new blog, Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible. About once a week I will also post an entry that deals specifically with theism and atheism. Here’s an adapted version of my latest entry on the Bible blog.]

I recently wrote that the harshness of Biblical death penalties suggests that those who wrote the Bible were limited by “personal and cultural biases.” One reader replied that this statement actually shows my cultural bias, because it is unclear “whether the Torah death penalties were ever regularly observed as written. Some scholars suggest that the very extremity of the stated punishment suggests it was never intended as the actual punishment but as a statement about the seriousness with which the matter touched society.” This commentator also referred me to a helpful web page called The Death Penalty in Jewish Tradition:

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/life/Life_Events/Death_and_Mourning/About_Death_and_Mourning/Death_Penalty.shtml.

So was I showing cultural bias? I admit it may have sounded as if I was showing ignorance about Hebrew culture, by assuming that the ancient Hebrews always carried out the letter of their law. I’m sorry to have given that impression, so let me emphasize that I was not trying to focus on what the Hebrews did or did not do. Instead I was commenting on a list of plain and blunt statements in the Bible, and asking whether these reflect a supreme intelligence.

For example: I am not saying that every time a child impulsively smacked one of its parents they called the village together and stoned the little tyke. That seems most unlikely. As Paul H. Jones writes in The Fourth R, Nov./Dec. 2012, “If parents executed their rebellious children according to the directive of Deuteronomy 21:18-21, none of us would be alive!” (Actually I doubt that all of us were as rebellious as the “glutton and drunkard” described in that passage, but I’m sure you get Jones’ point.)

I will, however, stand by my statement that these passages reflect personal and cultural biases – although “opinions” would have been a better word than biases. Those who wrote these verses believed that imposing (or at least threatening) extreme penalties was a good idea, either because that was their personal opinion or because they were reflecting the opinions of their culture.

These passages sound quite human to me, rather than divine. I cannot imagine that a supreme being, knowing exactly how the human mind works, would prescribe death for a wide range of offenses, assuming that fallible men and women would soften these commandments appropriately. That assumption certainly didn’t turn out well for the fellow mentioned in Numbers 15:32-36. God supposedly commanded Moses to have him slain, merely because he gathered sticks on the Sabbath.

Furthermore, an all-knowing deity would have been able to predict the terrible damage that certain verses would cause when people took them literally. Witch-hunters down through the ages have justified their murders by quoting Exodus 22:18: “You shall not permit a sorceress to live.”

Remember, the focus of this blog is on whether every verse of the Bible was “written” by God. And even though the verses I’ve been discussing are from the Jewish Torah (which became part of the Christian Old Testament), Jews have not typically embraced scriptural literalism. Saying that God inspired every word of the Bible is much more common in conservative Christian churches than in Jewish synagogues.

I don’t think it works to say that God commanded these punishments, thinking, “These rules are so harsh that people will know I’m just kidding.” So what are some other ways that a literalist could deal with these Biblical penalties? I welcome further comments.

Roger Christan Schriner

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