The Bible is full of wonderful promises and words of encouragement. Who of us hasn’t been refreshed by its verses and inspired by its truths? At the same time, the Word of God also has parts that seem, well—bad.
(Photo by Photodune)
After reading these unnerving passages, we come away with questions:
- How do we deal with the genocide God commands in Joshua?
- Why doesn’t the Bible specifically condemn polygamy?
- What does Paul mean by speaking of the submission of wives?
The list goes on.
As people of integrity, how do we deal with those uncomfortable “bad” parts of the Bible that seem, well, wrong?
Undesirable Side Effects
Several years ago, I read an article from Biblical Archaeology Review. In spite of its title, the magazine doesn’t claim biblical orthodoxy by any means—it simply purposes to publish articles related to biblical archaeology. But occasionally, the publication tosses its readers a live grenade by inserting something unrelated to archaeology—to dig up controversy.
In a section called “Milestones” (a euphemism for “Obituaries”), BAR noted the death of one scholar who had been a champion for ecumenicism and a voice for women and minorities. The article ended with a quote from this scholar. Read his words carefully:
The Christian Bible includes sayings that have caused much pain, both to Jews and to women. Thus I have felt called to seek forms of interpretation which can counteract such undesirable side effects of the Holy Scriptures.
Does God’s Word Contradict God’s Love?
What grieves me about such a remark is not the desire to comfort or to give voice to those who have been hurt, abused, or mistreated. I applaud that.
My concern is with a mindset that elevates self above Scripture—or really, above God. This idea that somehow God’s Word stands in contradiction to God’s love.
There are at least two reactions to the bad parts of the Bible.
1. One reaction to those bad parts of the Bible is simply to deny or dismiss them.
- A friend of mine pointed out the similarity between this scholar’s quote and another quote, more familiar: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? . . . You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman (Gen. 3:1, 4, emphasis added).
- One of my daughters said this statement reminded her of the Jefferson Bible we had seen in the Smithsonian Institute. Thomas Jefferson read the gospels with a pair of scissors in hand, cutting and keeping only those parts of the life of Christ that seemed authentic to Jefferson.
(Photo: Jefferson Bible removed the word “as.” Smithsonian National Museum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)
No doubt, the Bible has MANY so-called undesirable side effects.
But they only seem undesirable because we prefer to choose our own standards rather than to follow those God has revealed.
2. Another reaction to those bad parts of the Bible is to take them on faith.
God’s Word, by its own admission, purposes to shape us through grace into a holy people. It isn’t there so that we can conform it to be like us.
Several questions come to mind:
- Can’t we comfort those who have been mistreated and abused without apologizing for God?
- And if the Word of God is the offender, shouldn’t we first consider why it offends us rather than redefine its meaning?
- Rather than seek to change the meaning of the Bible (which, in effect, makes it meaning-less) would not it seem more honest to change ourselves?
If I stand before a judge with the line of reasoning that I don’t interpret the law the way he does, it will make no difference to his verdict. Meaning lies with the author or originator of a text—not with the reader.
If the Word of God offends us, shouldn’t we first consider why rather than redefine its meaning? (Tweet that.)
When we come across passages that offend us or confuse us, it is better to assume the limitations of complete understanding lie with us instead of with God.