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The Bible says 6

This is the sixth in a series attempting to nuance the statement, “The Bible says…” I encourage you to read the story so far:
Textual Criticism
The Septuagint (LXX)
Hebrew vowel pointing
The canon
There’s also been a related post, “the pope says…

Continuity problems

If a person says, “The Bible says David killed Goliath”, they are talking about 1 Samuel 17. If a person says, “The Bible says Elhanan killed Goliath”, they are talking about 2 Samuel 21:19. If a person says, “the Bible says Elhanan killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath”, they are talking about 1 Chronicles 20:5

If a person says, “The Bible says Jesus told the twelve to carry a staff on their mission”, they are talking about Mark 6:8. If a person says, “The Bible says Jesus told the twelve not to carry a staff on their mission”, they are talking about Matthew 10:10 or Luke 9:3.

If a person says, “The Bible says the animals went onto the ark seven pairs of each kind”, they are talking about Genesis 7:2. If a person says, “The Bible says the animals went onto the ark two by two” they are talking about Genesis 7:8

If a person says, “The Bible says Judas hung himself”, they are talking about Matthew 27:5. If a person says, “The Bible says Judas bought a field, fell headlong, burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” they are talking about Acts 1:18.

If a person says the Bible says it is OK to eat shrimp or lobster, the Bible says marriage is between one man and one woman, the Bible says it is all right for men to shave, …


For those who cannot cope with accepting there are continuity problems in the Bible, here are some ways to get around the Elhanan/David continuity problem:

1. The Goliath in 2 Sam 21:19 was not be the same one that David killed (there was more than one Goliath.)
2. Elhanan killed Goliath in the sense that by killing Goliath’s brother, Elhanan was killing the last remaining relative of the famous villain, thus ending Goliath’s lineage.
3. Goliath’s brother was as big and as fearsome as Goliath, thus he was considered to be “the next Goliath”.
4. Elhanan was another name that David was known by (and Jaare-Oregim was another name for his father, Jesse).
5. Elhanan struck Goliath at the exact same moment that David used his sling-shot, so they both get credit for killing Goliath.
6. After being killed by David, Goliath was raised from the dead and later killed again by Elhanan.

You can work on the others yourself…

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18 thoughts on “The Bible says 6”

  1. 7) Obviously God is not concerned with continuity problems (he didn’t resolve them in his Word) so niether should we be overly concerned. There is more to God’s Word than “just the facts.” We are meant not just to ask “what happened?” but also “where is Truth in each of these scriptural accounts?”

  2. I think there are several problems highlighted by the examples you gave, but the biggest one is that we don’t have contextual knowledge that people in earlier times had. For example, if “Goliath” was a title rather than a name, or if it was traditional for someone else to take on the name, in that culture, when their brother died. Today, we can understand there were different Herods (even if that fact might not be clear from what the Bible says), just as we can be sure there were two President Bushes (imagine if that knowledge was lost in Millenia to come… what confusion it might cause), and we can hypothesise whether there several Isaiahs and how many Johns or Pauls there were. I do think there was only one Ringo, though.

    The point seems to me to be that there is a risk inferring things from taking little bits of the Bible and simply stringing them together… it may be valid sometimes, but the priority seems to be to understand the context of each passage, in which case those examples like Genesis 7:2-8 cry out for extra attention because they are obviously meant to be read together.

  3. David |Dah•veed|

    I heard a Church of Christ minister reconcile the accounts of Judas’ death by claiming that Judas bought the field, hung himself in a tree in the field and that after a period of time the rope rotted and broke, he fell headlong and when it struck the ground his rotted corpse burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out.

    It could have happened!

    Of course he could not explain the headlong part without getting really creative.

  4. Does any doctrine stand or fall on any of these “Continuity problems”?

    The example from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke doesn’t even change the ultimate meaning of the text.

    To get from this to the novel readings of Scripture woefully common in modern times and used to advance secular objectives is drawing a long bow indeed.

    1. Different denominations’ doctrines vary, Andrei. And one denomination’s doctrine is another denomination’s heresy. Some, for example, might regard monogamy a doctrine with some continuity problem in the scriptures. As for your regularly finding bows being drawn “to advance secular objectives” at every turn – it may just be possible that you are paranoidly imagining things.

  5. I am not quite sure what your ‘large’ point is, Bosco?! On the one hand you are something of an advocate for reading the Bible, especially corporately, according to the lectionary. On the other hand, in this series of posts, it is as though you take delight in drawing attention to difficulties in reading the Bible. Why should we read the Bible when it is such a difficult book?

    1. I wonder if “something of an advocate for reading the Bible, especially corporately, according to the lectionary” is damning with faint praise, Peter. Compare what I offer with self-professed “evangelical” sites who use the word “Bible” regularly but in actuality go round little more than half a dozen favourite Bible passages. Here I advocate passionately for systematic, extensive Bible reading both corporately and personally. I provide a variety of ways of doing this methodically. I provide online aids second to none to help people access the scriptures. Each week I share some of the best links on the web to deepen reflection on the scriptures. I promote the prayerful use of the scriptures several times daily, and the badges I have designed to advocate for this are visible on nearly 4,000 places on the web beyond my site. I help people pray their way into the scriptures in a variety of ways. Just this week I have been promoting daily a new way to read the whole Bible systematically, and am preparing to promote another blogsite on this and advising on the production of iPad and iPod apps which will encourage such Bible reading well beyond book-readers – a new development I am incredibly excited about. I do all this in my spare time and holidays. I am constantly encouraged by enthusiastic feedback on what I produce, including many Bible study groups writing to me how they are finding this current series of such immense value and urging me to continue the series. They have been sending the series to others they know who are equally as excited by them.

      As to, “Why should we read the Bible when it is such a difficult book?” It is hard to believe this is a question from a diocesan director of theological education with a doctorate in scripture. The implication that we should only read non-difficult books sadly mirrors the dumbing-down and hobyisation of our church. Your surprising creation of a false dichotomy between faith and devotion on the one hand and scholarship on the other unfortunately mirrors the perception of so many in our culture, led by Dawkins and others. It is a position I most fervently challenge.

  6. I like the point (my reading between the lines of it, anyway) that simplistic quoting of snatches of Bible passages don’t compare with systematic in-depth studies where there is scope for debate and refinement of ideas. I also like Bosco’s style in presenting something thought-provoking that requires responses, even if that may lead readers to wonder what the point is (when the aim is the beginning of a discussion). And I think I appreciate the point in the (sort of rhetoric) question: “Why should we read the Bible when it is such a difficult book?”… is it that the Bible is “difficult” or is it that is has traps for people who like rushed conclusions?

    It is a bit like asking whether golf is difficult. In one sense, even a beginner can play it, hitting the ball until it goes down the hole, but it is also difficult – with traps and hazards, and when people are most ambitious and hit the ball the hardest without the required skill they are most likely to miss the mark and end up in a difficult position. The traps for those misquoting the Bible without care are many, and a lot have been mentioned here. To say the traps exist is not an end to the matter, of course, but there are many ways people have got over, around and through the traps (with varying degrees of validity) and the issue is not so much which is best in a particular instance, but to acknowledge people are trying in various ways without being too judgemental or pretending the the hazards do not exist.

  7. David |Dah•veed|

    I think that another aspect of what Bosco is about is pointing out that there are approaches to the Bible as sacred text that do harm to the text, whereas there are some that respect the text and work better than others.

  8. In response to the concept the Bible is a “hard book”.

    I have always been taught and still hold the Bible should be read thru the lens of the Church.

    As Fr Bosco has pointed out several times, the Bible as a single volume book is a recent development. Indeed for the most part the readings are pericopes set in the liturgical place where they will be read. We have Gospel and Epistle books laid out that way rather than the ordering of the Bible.

    In this manner over a lifetime understanding of the Bible grows – you are not expected to get it first time or the second but get it you will if you persevere

    The point is for most of the life of the Church few could read and fewer still could aspire to own a copy of the Scriptures

    And yet many knew it well – I myself have seen a deacon corrected when he mis read a phrase. The old lady who did this had been hearing the Gospel for more than seventy years and knew full well the rhythm and wording of the passage and no doubt had great understanding of it as well.

    When sermons are preached on the Scripture frequent reference is made to the Fathers of the Church opinions on that Scripture – indeed sometimes the homily from one of them is read – they are so good.

    Reading Scripture on our own is worthwhile but just like the Ethiopian we need our guides to understand it.

    And this protects us from those who would selectively use scripture to promote novel doctrines – like being financially blessed if we make large “love offerings” and the like

    1. Thanks, Andrei. One of my great sadnesses is that in English there is an immoral number of translations into English – this means that over a lifetime many English-speaking Christians never get the wonderful “by heart” experience that you speak of. Unfortunately, my own church falls over itself to authorise for public reading nearly every new translation, so that not even our experience of the Bible in liturgy has some consistency.

  9. Hi Bosco,
    I apologise for clumsy expression which leads you to think I might be damning with faint praise: I do not do that to friends! My clumsy expression using the word ‘something’ was trying to say (1) you are a very strong, committed advocate of the lectionary as a systematic reading of Scripture (2) but you are not a legalist about it, as you acknowledge grounds arise from time to time for variation in the appointed readings.

    My query about advocacy for reading Scripture while pointing to difficulties in reading Scripture again, has not been well made, so I shall try again 🙂

    There are difficulties in Scripture. Nearly all readers recognise this in my experience (and so small group Bible studies involve lots of interesting discussions) even though most do not know of particularly difficult difficulties such as multi-Goliaths. But the way you have been pointing out these difficulties in this series of posts goes beyond referencing the difficulties as difficulties; beyond ‘let’s read Scripture systematically while acknowledging it is far from simple or problem free.’ As I have read your posts I have felt the emphasis falls on Scripture as a problem-filled set of writings, so problematic that, in fact, I (as the reader of your posts) wonder why I should bother to read it systematically.

    Perhaps, in the end, my question should have been a different one, and thus I ask it here and now: fair enough a series of posts in which the phrase ‘the Bible says’ is examined and found wanting, but how about a post on why, notwithstanding the many difficulties, the church continues to affirm that Scripture is the Word of God, affirming, e.g., as we do in our prayer book that the words written and read aloud according to the lectionary are either ‘what the Spirit is saying’ or ‘the Gospel of Christ’?

    1. Thanks, Peter, for your clarification.

      I wonder if, even in the way you phrase things, you are seeing negatively what I do not so perceive. My understanding, for example, of the non-historicity of the early chapters of Genesis is not in heartbroken, begrudging response to Scientific advancement (a sort of “Bible of the gaps”) but an enthusiastic (= God in it) honest, open reading of the genre of the texts.

      I do not see the truth, wherever we find it, threatening to faith – be it from Science, Philosophy, or Biblical Scholarship…

      What I have been offering in this series is no different to what would be offered in a good introductory course to the scriptures. I believe the days are behind us when clergy are educated in scholarship, taken for granted since the nineteenth century, but keep this nervously secret from their naively pious congregation.

      I have not been describing this as referencing “difficulties”, I have been describing it as “nuancing”. This is in fact an encouragement to read the whole Bible systematically (the “most” you mention clearly have not been reading the whole Bible). This is a discouragement from using the Bible as a sort of life “Road Code” where a verse, poorly translated, is ripped out of context (and the other nuancing I have been listing) and then used as a stick to beat others (and even ourselves) with. There is the tragedy of those who have been fed the Bible has no difficulties line abandoning faith when they encounter them themselves, or have atheists mocking their faith as if faith cannot survive this, much less grow through and in it.

      It is true that each of us needs to learn to move to a second naivety where we find God speaking to us through the scriptures in the context of our scholarly knowledge. But this is no different to appreciating music for those who are experts in music theory, enjoying art for those who have knowledge of art theory, worshipping when having good liturgical theory… In the end I do not think people regret the scholarly knowledge in whatever discipline.

      All this is done in the context, here on this site, and in our lives, of daily and weekly, disciplined, systematic reading of the scriptures together and alone, with the assurance that if one struggles with some of the scholarship, others have gone here before and it has helped growth in God, not hindered it.

      I repeat a quote that I have used previously in a comment responding to you, that IMO the bishops meeting at the Second Vatican Council said it well:

      The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her children, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and “it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).

  10. Hi Bosco,
    Taking up your sentence, “What I have been offering in this series is no different to what would be offered in a good introductory course to the scriptures:” in such a course I would start with the VC2 statement and work from that through to the nuances (or difficulties) 🙂

    1. I am impressed, Peter, that you would begin an introductory course to the scriptures with my quote. I would be very surprised if any other than Roman Catholic courses would begin thus in NZ. And I would posit possibly a majority of the others would be unaware of it, and many would balk at starting their course in that manner if they were. As I have been at pains to explain, not only have I now quoted this more than once, this particular series is set within the context of a site that is passionately committed to the spirit of that quote – certainly more than I am aware of any other site or extramural option based in this country presenting such a course as you suggest. I would be delighted if you could point me to any NZ version accessible online that does what you suggest better.

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