by Steve Kindle
Many Bible readers reread favorite texts and leave large expanses of the Bible unread. Few have read the Bible all the way through. This leads to the assumption that the Bible is warm and fuzzy without much in the way of bone-chilling or worldview-upsetting content. The few examples I share here should dispel any idea that the Bible is 1) benign, and 2) not bound to ancient ways of thinking. This should also make us keenly aware that readers need to be discerners of time-bound messages and how to make sense of them in our time.
The first example is purportedly a statement from Moses relating what was well-known among the elders of Israel. Deuteronomy 32:8 When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods; the Lord’s own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share. (Jacob being Israel)
This text establishes henotheism, that is, God (Yahweh) is one god among many gods, each having a fixed territory and people assigned to them. This is not polytheism as only the god of a specific territory should be worshiped by the people of that assigned territory. Henotheism is the worship of one god while believing in many other gods. This is why the 1st Commandment states, I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. [Emphasis mine] So, I ask you, should we take henotheism as a reality in our day, as Israel took it in theirs? The one thing we must not do is dismiss this text as irrelevant. It gives us a reality of biblical times and teaches us not to take everything in the Bible as an eternal truth from God.
Our next example is one of many that exemplifies an aspect of God’s nature that we would rather ignore. Genesis 6:5-7
The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.
And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” [Emphasis mine]
God is portrayed in this text and others as not knowing the future. Had God known that humanity would turn out so evil, God would not have created humans. For many, the idea that the future is unknown to God is unbearable. Yet, there it is. (See also Abraham’s test of sacrificing Isaac, and God deciding to destroy all Israel in the desert but for Moses’ intervention.)
Psalm 137 is one of the most beloved in Judaism. It displays the longing of Jews in exile in Babylon for Zion (Jerusalem, the home of the temple). We can certainly relate to this. But the psalm ends on a soul-crushing note as follows.
O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
Could there be a more human emotion expressed in Scripture? Yet, it is one we must agree is sub-Christian. We cannot take it as scriptural support for revenge as many have. It turns “love your enemies” on its head. It is also an excellent example of how the Bible reflects its human side. Determining what is divine from that which is merely human is one of the great challenges of interpretation.
One final example, this from the New Testament. 1Timothy 2:11-15
Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
Where to begin!!
Without appreciating the social context of patriarchalism in the Roman Empire and Jewish households, and the egalitarian nature of the gospel, it is easy to take this text at face value. It continues to be a means to promote male dominance in the church. Women should be kept “barefoot and in the kitchen.” Given that Paul states that in Christ there is no male and female, such texts reflect cultural considerations, not gospel truths. Knowing that Paul did not write the Timothy letters is helpful.
Why is it in the Bible? It was thought that Paul did write it until critical scholarship challenged this. It was a way to honor the apostle who was regarded as authoritative in that day. It also reflects the patriarchal dominance that arose in second and third generation Christians that some in the church wished to maintain in the third and fourth centuries when the Canon was being compiled.
Mostly it is in the Bible because the Bible is a mix of the holy and human. It takes great skill and discernment to know the difference. But the starting place is to recognize that reality. If we don’t, we will continue to confuse biblical suppositions for actual reality and miss the teachings altogether.
Interested in a Progressive Bible study? Meet with us on Zoom
Our first session will look at more of these ASTONISHING texts as we search for answers to what the Bible is and how it makes sense in the 21st century
WHEN: We meet once a month for an hour on the first Monday of each month at 4:00 pm PDT beginning in April 2021
WHERE: In a Zoom meeting (We’ll send you a link)
WHAT: Our focus is on how Progressive, post-modern insights combined with critical scholarship inform the meaning of the Bible
FOR WHOM: It’s for those who are uneasy with conventional Christianity and are looking for something more. We pull no punches.
HOW: If you sign up on the form below, you will receive a link and a preparation guide for each session.
WE WOULD LOVE TO HAVE YOU WITH US