There’s a lot of … ummmm… awkward stuff in the Bible (I’m using “awkward” to be polite). Recently, for example, I wrote about Numbers 5:11-31 where a man (and in the Bible it’s always the man isn’t it!) gets a suspicion that his wife has been unfaithful and, having no evidence, the Bible has a bizarre ritual, which includes the woman standing in a dishevelled state with the priest proclaiming curses and the woman drinking a bowl of water, ink, and dust – you know the drill; and if you don’t – look it up.
What do you do with stuff like this? “Inspired” stuff?! Well, you can do what the video does – eisegete it (ie. read stuff that isn’t there at all into the text instead). Or you have the following options:
1) You say you take ALL of the Bible seriously. Every word in the Bible comes from God – as is; can’t mix fabrics in your clothes, eat shrimp, eat a cheese and hamburger, work on Saturday. And when you are suspicious about your wife’s faithfulness…
Then there’s a slight variation. I will call it
1a) You SAY you take all the Bible seriously. Actually just read, talk about, and follow the nice bits in the Bible. Ignore the stuff I’ve mentioned. Pretend it isn’t there. Pick and choose all the nice bits – there’s plenty there.
The alternative is
2) Don’t take ANY of the Bible seriously. It’s all Bronze Age and Iron Age nonsense; it has no relevance to today; toss out the whole Bible – good and bad. Some atheists/anti-theists state explicitly that the best way to become an atheist is to read the Bible.
Well good luck. Having tossed out the whole Bible, you start from nothing. Clean slate. No basic agreed values. No shared stories. No agreed wisdom. Nothing.
Some attempt to make a Bible for atheists. The Good Book: A Humanist Bible is one example – described as beer without the alcohol (maybe they were taking the proverbial!)
Then there is a third way – (a via media?)
3) This is treasuring the Bible; accepting some of it is Bronze Age stuff, some of it is Iron Age stuff that may be outdated. But there’s some wisdom there.
In the Bronze Age where the suspicions-about-your-wife rules come from – most probably a real Bronze Age man would have woken up and if he thought his wife was unfaithful, probably he would have beaten a confession out of her. The Bible, very wisely for its time, comes up with this ridiculous ritual – which would have been distressing for the woman – but at the end of it everyone had a chance to calm down and she had a bad taste in her mouth … and no bruises or worse. The Bible was challenging people to live a bit better than most actually were.
So the Bible sets a direction.
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth in the Old Testament was an improvement from two eyes for an eye and all your teeth for one tooth that was the norm of the time. And then the Bible continues the direction to Jesus saying don’t even take an eye for an eye…
So this third approach values the Bible, doesn’t take each detail as being directly applicable to our present context, doesn’t pretend stuff isn’t in the Bible (but takes the actual text seriously), but focuses on a trajectory, a direction – as Jesus does. It is the direction that the Bible challenges us to follow. And continue.
This means that after the careful exegesis of the text where we establish the precise meaning of a Biblical text, we would have another step left that is not there for those who follow position (1). After we establish what the text actually means – we still have to decide whether this is what God wants of us now…
What do you think?
This is the eighth in a series attempting to nuance the statement, “The Bible says…” I encourage you to read the story so far:
The Septuagint (LXX)
Hebrew vowel pointing
Social Cultural Historical Geographic context
There’s also been a related post, “the pope says…”
- Sabbath Torah reading 24 Tammuz 5772
- The Bible says 3
- The Bible at the 9/11 Ground Zero
- Parashat Naso
- Read the Bible in three years