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Disagreeing With The Bible 3

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Read Disagreeing With The Bible Part 1
and Disagreeing With The Bible Part 2

This post presents a list of common Christian disagreements with the Bible. You may say that you never disagree with the Bible. That’s fine. What is not so useful is if you find that there is something on the following list where you do agree with the Bible, and then you energetically focus on that – (conveniently) ignoring that there are other parts on the list where you are quite comfortable to disagree with the Bible.

Similarly, remembering we began this series with principles of exegesis (biblical interpretation), it is not so useful if you focus on something on the following list where you disagree with the interpretation given here. Because, if there is any part of the Bible where your beliefs differ from your honest reading of the Bible then you concur with this series and disagree with the Bible.

So here goes:

Slavery. I am not going to enumerate the Biblical teachings assuming slavery and its instructions on how to deal with slaves. I will simply note that it took many Christians 19 centuries to change their mind, highlighting that slavery is a biblical teaching.

Usury. Again, Christians took nearly two millennia to abandon the biblical teaching against usury.

Wives being subject to husbands. There are still plenty of Christians who hold and strongly teach that the Bible is absolutely clear that a wife should be subject to her husband. If you do not think that is how it should be, if you are comfortable with “obey” being absent from the wife’s marriage vows, you are disagreeing with the Bible.

Marriage after divorce. Many (most?) Christians still hold to the Biblical position that marriage is for life. Full stop. Others disagree with the Bible and allow for marriage after divorce.

It appears pretty clear that Jesus and St Paul thought Adam and Eve are historical people. Some of Paul’s soteriology (how we are redeemed) unravels if they are not. If you question the historicity of Adam and Eve, you are joining those who disagree with the Bible.

Women speaking in church.

Teachings around women and menstruation. This came up in discussions around the movie, Disobedience. The Hebrew Bible’s commandments around not having sex for about half the month form part of the laws of niddah. They are adjacent to the laws that some know by heart against homosexual acts. Fascinatingly, many people have never read beyond that verse they quote so well. They have not read the context to find that it condemns what they themselves regularly do. Bringing up the details of that context usually leads to disgust, and protests about the privacy and irrelevancy of what they do in their own bedrooms!

Stoning to death for a number of offences. Requiring a woman to marry her rapist.

That’s enough for a start.

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41 thoughts on “Disagreeing With The Bible 3”

  1. Jesus brought a new light to the world. What did He teach regarding women, children, slaves, equality, love? People who use the Bible for self-serving purposes never quote Jesus’ teaching, and that says alot about their agenda.

  2. I have a question. If you are divorced( as I am)from a marriage that didn’t take place in the church. Would a second marriage be allowed to take place in the Anglican Church as technically it would be a first marriage? Blessing Ruth

    1. Thanks, Ruth. In New Zealand’s Anglican Church, divorced people can be married in church. I hope that helps? Blessings.

  3. Thanks for this Bosco,

    I think there is an enormous amount of background and detail and nuance and tradition and theological development that needs to factored in to come to a fair and reasonable understanding of these very important points.

    Much more than can be dealt with in a blog post or comment boxes.

    Judge John Noonan’s book “A Church that can and cannot change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching” is helpful on slavery, usury, and marriage.

    The current understanding of the Church on these issues is not a disagreement with the bible. It’s a serious, and ongoing, attempt at hermeneutics.

    Many Blessings

    1. Thanks, Chris. My primary point continues to hold: “a serious, and ongoing, attempt at hermeneutics” can end up disagreeing with texts in the Bible. Blessings.

      1. Yes, Chris. That is often the line taken by Bible-alone people who disagree with each other about pretty essential stuff: the Bible is perfect, inspired by God so that everything in it is perfect – it is we human beings who are imperfect in our interpretation. I remain unconvinced. It seems to me this is simply a declaration that the Bible is not fit for purpose.

        If the Bible says that we should stone an offender to death, or that someone who is raped is required to marry her rapist, I think it is more honest to say we now disagree with those commands than to dissemble the progress since those days and say the text never really meant that stuff in the first place.


      2. I would distinguish between “what the bible says” and “what a human author expressed”.

        The bible is the word of God in the words of it’s human authors, it cannot be perfect because the later are imperfect.

        It can, however, still be the word of God, which is always expressed through imperfect media.

        How this helps clarify how I see it.

        Many Blessings

        1. That’s circular gobbly gook. Just in time for halloween!

          Unlike witches with black cats, it doesn’t fly in the least.

  4. Our diocesan in the CofE has recently put his name to a letter along with several other evangelical bishops regarding the upholding of scriptural teaching on marriage. The same bishop supports the ordination of women to the episcopate and ordains women clergy in contravention of the clear teaching in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. I am fully supportive of women being ordained to every level of ministry but am struck by the dissonance of these two positions. I agree entirely that it is not in interpretation but in application that we must look at scripture anew in each generation. The central truth of love and redemption is not diminished because we now think slavery is wrong or that women have an equal place in the world.

    1. Quite, Stewart. And what exactly is the “scriptural teaching on marriage”? Does it include the marry-your-rapist teaching? Polygamy? Concubinage? You must marry your deceased brother’s wife to bear children in his name? Or was it you must not? Blessings.

  5. I do not disagree with the Holy Bible but I do get upset at the way some people quote for their, not God’s purposes.

  6. I think that’s why I always go back to the actual teachings of Jesus, the words stand up to metaphorical interpretations, historical and linguistic translations better.

    I’ll think some more about whether there’s anything in representations in the Bible of Jesus’ words I solidly disagree with…the ones I don’t want to do presumably!

  7. When Jesus countermanded the verses of Scripture (Moses) that prescribed the death penalty for female adulterers, he was denying the necessity of comlying with that horrific and unjust treatment of women – when the men involved did not qualify for the same penalty. This is just one more patriarchal mis-step in the interpretation of what God requires of God’s people. The Law of Moses, in this instance, was actually disobeyed by the Son of God! (see John, chapter 8)

    1. The rabbinic Jewish interpretation of Torah law here is with Jesus, not with the mob who wanted to stone her without any judicial process and in violation of the Jewish legal restrictions which had to be met for stoning, which were deliberately impossibly high to meet.

      What Jesus is teaching here is how to interpret and apply the law, he was not disobeying it.

      It is impossible to understand sacred scripture without a sound background in rabbinic legal tradition.

      Many blessings.

      1. Thanks, Chris.

        Rashi, in fact, says the death penalty (Lev 20:10) is by strangulation.

        What I think is going on in John’s story is that the Roman occupiers had removed the Jewish right to execute (they would bypass this by mob execution by stoning), and so Jesus is being challenged would he accept Roman law or that of Moses.

        All your argument is doing, Chris, is suggesting that the later rabbis had also found a way of disagreeing with the Bible.


      2. Tractate Sanhedrin of the Talmud lays down the strict conditions for the application of the death penalty, which are practically impossible to meet, hence effectively proscribing the death penalty.

        It seems that there was a Jewish legal process for crimes punishable by death, as Jesus was subject to such a process (although proper process was not followed in his case).

        With all due respect Bosco, I think the later rabbis would not have thought of themselves as “disagreeing with the bible” but of developing the proper interpretation of it.

        I don’t know why you say “disagreeing with the bible” when you are not actually suggesting a disagreement with the bible at all, only with certain passages interpreted in a certain way.

        My concern is that this lack of precision is pastorally corrosive. In danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

        The Jewish and the Catholic way of reading sacred scripture is in the light of a considerable apparatus of tradition, exegesis, thought, study, prayer, historical critical analysis, reflection on reality and experience etc.

        Many Blessings

        1. Thanks, Chris.

          The Talmud, of course, as you indicate, is quite some time after the laws to execute adulterers.

          Your first paragraph indicates that the Talmud nullifies those laws to execute adulterers. You can use other words to soften the reality, but you cannot say that my use of “disagree” is refuted by your argument – quite the opposite.

          I am not concerned with what the later rabbis would have said they thought they were doing, simply being honest about the effect of what they did.

          I am saying I disagree with parts of the Bible (rather than tying myself in knots to make the unacceptable appear acceptable) because I do not agree with executing adulterers. Do you think we should execute adulterers as Leviticus 20:10 clearly teaches?

          Far from being pastorally corrosive, being honest about biblical passages that contemporary people find abhorrent and immoral is pastorally beneficial. Part of the rapid decline of Christianity in the educated West is because Christians are not open and honest about the acceptability of disagreeing with parts of these ancient texts.


        2. Thanks Bosco,

          I agree that your pastoral approach has some merit, but it is a two edged sword. The problem with disagreeing with the bible is not only that we undermine sacred scripture but we cast doubt on everything else in it. If I can disagree with one part, why not everything else? Many have arrived at disbelieve by such a path.

          My parishioners would never let me get away with such an approach, and rightly so.

          You seem to confuse the great gift of sacred scripture, the word of God, with how to understand it.

          I do not believe that Lev teaches that we should execute adulterers. Neither does the Jewish or Catholic faiths.

          Many Blessings

          1. Thanks, Chris.

            I think we have arrived at an impasse.

            I think your approach is also a two-edged sword. If I were speaking to your parishioners, I would not be able to bring myself to declare your conclusion, that Lev 20:10 does not teach that adulterers should be executed.

            In my experience, the insistence that everything in the Bible is to be agreed with as presented is a much greater cause of loss of faith than the acknowledgement that there are parts of the Bible that are no longer agreed with, including by “the Jewish or Catholic faiths”.

            My approach takes the Bible seriously; it does not turn it into a nose of wax where, rather than acknowledging issues with challenging texts, we follow a convoluted path to turning them into saying something they clearly do not.

            I said at the start of the series that I “believe that the Bible contains all that is essential for our salvation, and reveals God’s living word in Jesus Christ”. I have no problem declaring that my disagreement with the clear teaching of Lev 20:10 is not undermining my or anyone else’s salvation.

            To think that disagreeing with one part of the Bible leads to disagreeing with everything misunderstands the nature of the Bible. It is not a single document from one single source. It is a library of documents collected together over a millennium, each document with its own complex historical development, and with a variety of genres, including often within a single document. If I find something I disagree with in our local library, I do not say, “If I can disagree with one part, why not everything else?”


          2. There are other approaches to Lev 20:10. My first question would be to ask “what is the literal meaning” (what the human author intended to say).

            Was that causitic law (which is changeable according to the legal structures of a particular society) or apodictic law (God’s law). See, for example, Pope Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth, Ch 4, Compromise and Prophetic Radicalism, pgs 122-127.

            If caustic law, then of course one may disagree with it. But that does not mean one is disagreeing with the bible.

            One might also ask what was the ancient semitic meaning of “shall be put to death”. Does it require those at the time to execute offenders ? Or is it really saying that this crime is such a serious threat to human life that it theoretically/rhetorically could be thought of as in some sense deserving of death. ? See, for example, Matthew Flannagan https://www.equip.org/article/stoning-adulterers/.

            One might also draw on modern differences between the latin (setting principles) and the Northern European understanding of law (literalistic).

            Lev 20 itself also contains laws which are obviously not to be deserving of the death penalty eg Lev 20:9 which the Rabbis bluntly rejected. This implies that the other laws in this group are not to be interpreted as requiring execution either.

            Not to mention the contradiction with the 5th commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (which lists no exceptions).

            Matthew Ramage’s “Dark Passages of the Bible” has some interesting material from a Catholic perspective.

            Perhaps your “I believe that the Bible contains all that is essential for our salvation” is the root of our disagreement ? That is not a Catholic understanding, we insist on the importance of tradition (all the other apparatus I have attempted to mention). If you try to interpret the bible outside of the tradition then I guess you are forced to disagree with what you come up with.

            Thanks for an interesting discussion.

            Many Blessings

          3. Thanks, Chris,

            What would be in the tradition but not in the Bible that you think “is essential for our salvation”? I am a strong advocate for the importance of tradition – but can think of nothing that would fit into that category.

            לא תרצח‬ (lo tirtzach) is not ‘“Thou shalt not kill” (which lists no exceptions)’ – it would be better translated as “no murder”. Executing adulterers is not viewed as murder in Lev 20:10. It is only “the 5th commandment” in some traditions, and certainly not by the rabbis you are quoting.


          4. Bosco, properly speaking, nothing in the bible is essential for our salvation save God’s love for us.

            I recently preached on the “unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit” and said that we should not read this literally as there are no sins which are not forgiven in the sacrament of penance.

            A parishioner picked me up on this after Mass, saying this sounded like I was disagreeing with the bible. I was quick to say I wasn’t, I was just interpreting the passage as the Church reads it.

            The sacrament of confession is probably a good example. I think it is essential to salvation, at least in an eschatological sense, but it is nowhere spelled out in the bible that it forgives every sin.

            This is an example of the importance of Tradition in interpreting scripture.

            Another would be Pope Francis recent change to the Catechism ruling out the death penalty in ALL cases. Hence, Lev 20 CANNOT be interpreted as meaning certain sinners have to be executed. Tradition informs how we read scripture. Essentially.

            Many Blessings

          5. Thanks, Chris.

            I think your example of Pope Francis’ change to RC teaching is helpful in illustrating how you and I are saying things differently: I do not think that Pope Francis changing RC teaching on the death penalty alters the meaning of Leviticus 20:10 in any way. From where I stand, it simply reinforces my point: Pope Francis agrees with me 😉 and we both disagree with, nowadays, applying the clear teaching of Leviticus 20:10.

            As for the fourth paragraph in your comment – you and I disagree with each other there. Much as I advocate for the sacrament of confession, I do not “think it is essential to salvation”. I stand with the Anglican approach to the sacrament of confession: all may, some should, none must.


          6. The literal direction of Lev20 (to whom the human author intended it to be directed towards) seems pretty clear:

            v2: “Tell the Israelites:”

            It therefore applies to Israelities, no-one else (see rabbi Jacob Milgrom in AB Leviticus).

            v22-26 make it clear that this is part of the holiness code, directed to the ancient Israelites to keep them seperate from the surrounding pagan nations:

            22 Be careful to observe all my statutes and all my decrees; otherwise the land where I am bringing you to dwell will vomit you out.t
            Do not conform, therefore, to the customs of the nationsu whom I am driving out of your way, because all these things that they have done have filled me with disgust for them.
            But to you I have said:v You shall take possession of their land. I am giving it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey. I, the LORD, am your God, who have set you apart from other peoples.
            w You, too, must set apart, then, the clean animals from the unclean, and the clean birds from the unclean, so that you do not make yourselves detestable through any beast or bird or any creature which creeps on the ground that I have set apart for you as unclean.
            To me, therefore, you shall be holy; for I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be my own.

            This is a very specific historical context which is no longer in play. Therefore these penalties no longer apply.

            Disagreeing with them does not mean one is disagreeing with the bible.

            Many Blessings

          7. So, have I got this right, Chris – according to you, God once wanted people to execute adulterers, but God only wanted Israelites to do this; there are no longer Israelites, so God’s will for the execution of adulterers no longer applies to anyone? Blessings.

          8. I am satisfied that the correct translation of the 5th commandment is “do not kill”, not “do not murder”.

            Do not kill is the translation used in the Catholic church.

            Many Blessings

          9. If that is the case, Chris, you have presented one of the strongest cases of one part of the Bible disagreeing with another part of the Bible, which fits well with the thesis I have been developing in this series. Blessings.

      3. It is impossible to understand sacred scripture without a sound background in rabbinic legal tradition.

        It’s that kind of arrogant comment that really turns me off to your participation Chris. You state that as if you are the only one here who has and is applying such understanding.

        1. Dear David,

          Rather than trying to psychoanalyse those you disagree with (does that come from your psychiatric background ?), can I respectably suggest that it might shed more light and less heat if you follow Bosco’s good example of just sticking to a discussion of the matters at hand ?

          God Bless You

          1. Sadly, you’re now playing games and insulting me. BTW, there is a big difference between psychiatry & psychology.

            I’m not psychoanylizing anyone and never have here. I stated on the plain reading of your words that I found your statement insulting to the rest of us participating here and arogant on your part. Period. Nothing less transparent.

          2. Chris and David – I suspect that over a drink you two (we three) would have far more in common than difference. I hope we can have here a place where disagreement can be expressed with as little heat as possible. In two other online contexts recently, I was hotly attacked by people who misunderstood what I was saying – they interpreted my sentence to be the opposite of my intention (in both cases I was supporting a position, but I did not fit their stereotype of a person who would do so!). Both experiences reminded me how easy it is for online communication, without tone and gesture, can go awry. Blessings.

        2. David,

          What I said is simply what the Church teaches http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20020212_popolo-ebraico_en.html

          I am not expert in rabbinic interpretation and I h@ve no idea what background in that others here have, although I think some of you here know something about that.

          There is no need for you to misread that as arrogance.

          The encouraging thing is I think that we essentially agree on how to interpret sacred scripture.

          Many blessings

  8. ‘In my experience, the insistence that everything in the Bible is to be agreed with as presented is a much greater cause of loss of faith than the acknowledgement that there are parts of the Bible that are no longer agreed with…’ ( Bosco )

    my family Bible ( one of few possessions which emigrated with me ) is the John Brown Self-Interpreting Bible, a copious tome with margin comparisons between passages of scriptue, translations and other notes, which ignited my lifelong interest in being a follower of the teachings of Jesus.

    Despite periods of disbelief ( usually following profoundly disappointing church experiences ) I always return and retain the ideal that one day we can all ‘gather together’ on some values based upon the teachings of Jesus.

    The Unitarian Universalist Hymnal expresses it thus:

    ‘We gather together in joyful thanksgiving,
    acclaiming creation, whose bounty we share;
    both sorrow and gladness we find now in our living,
    we sing a hymn of praise to the life that we bear.

    We gather together to join in the journey,
    confirming, committing our passage to be
    a true affirmation, in joy and tribulation,
    when bound to human care and hope- then we are free.’

    ( adapted by Dorothy Caiger Senghas )

  9. On Slavery, the 2nd Vatican Council and Pope St John Paul II both defined slavery as intrinsically evil. In the Catholic understanding, slavery was always and everywhere evil, even in the OT days. The regulations imposed in OT law seem to be intended to try to limit some of it’s worst abuses. There was a requirement to free slaves at periodic intervals and a long traditional of congregations raising funds to buy the freedom of slaves.

    The history of the Church’s own engagement with slavery is very murky indeed.

    Some sins are so intwined with social structures that it’s very hard for people to see how sinful they are (Judge John Noonan referred to slavery as an “invisible sin” in this sense).

    We would have to say today that Capitalism is a similar evil and one mostly participated in rather than organised against by the Churches, with some notable and even heroic exceptions.

    Many Blessings

    1. I don’t know, following this approach, what you make of Exodus 21, Chris. Male slaves had a time-limit; female ones can be kept indefinitely (verse 7). Remember this is God’s direct speaking – why not simply say “slavery is wrong”? Lets not go to verse 17 where a child is to be executed for cursing father or mother. Blessings.

    2. I wouldn’t go with “God directly speaking”. Inspired by God yes, written with the human authors own (limited) theological understanding certainly. The word of God in the words of humans.

      V17, as in Lev20 is a helpful reminder not to interpret this as requiring election, as per longstanding rabbinic interpretation.

      It is interesting in Lev20 that at least one law, that of the Jubilee, does not seem to have ever been implemented. That casts doubt on whether the others were ever really expected to result in executions, rather than say an ancient semitic way of saying these are very grave sins against human life which theoretically would deserve the death penalty in some sense (spiritual death?).

      In Ex20, we start first by God saying he is the God who leads people out of slavery (the great theme of this book). He then gives some fundamental laws, which I think we would all agree with pretty much.

      But then in v19 the people “said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die.”

      So Moses than speaks. NOT GOD !! And then comes the great failing of every human society lead out of slavery – the tendency to build themselves a society with the exact same injustices they once suffered under (see, for example, the modern state of Israel vs the Palestinian people).

      And then Ex 21 plays out and they reintroduce slavery, but with some limitations esp the 7 year limitation in v2.

      Many Blessings

      1. You seem not to be want to settle with agreeing to disagree, Chris, or even that we are expressing the same reality using different models, so here we continue:

        After Exodus 20:19, you say, “So Moses then speaks. NOT GOD !! And then comes…” This is not what the text says. In the text, at Exodus 20:22, “The LORD said to Moses: Thus you shall say to the Israelites…”

        Chris, when you say, ‘I wouldn’t go with “God directly speaking”.’ in plain language, you are disagreeing with this text in the Bible. The plain text here has, “The LORD said to Moses… These are the ordinances that you [Moses] shall set before them…”


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