The Bible has many undesirable side effects. So what do we do with them?
As we drove to church one week, Cathy read an article to me from an issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. The magazine doesn’t claim biblical orthodoxy by any means—it simply claims to publish issues in historical archaeology. But occasionally it tosses a live grenade at its readers by inserting something unrelated to archaeology—to dig up controversy as well as artifacts.
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 that dropped my jaw. 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."
What grieves me about such a remark is not the desire to comfort or to give a 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. My concern is with the idea that somehow God’s Word stands in contradiction to God’s love.
One of my daughters said this statement reminded her of the Jefferson Bible we had seen in the Smithsonian Institute. I have heard that 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.
I shared the BAR article at a staff meeting at Insight for Living and one of our writers, Derrick, noticed 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).
No doubt, the Bible has MANY undesirable side effects. But they seem undesirable only because we prefer to choose our own standards rather than to submit to those God has revealed. 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.
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?
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.
Rather than seek to change the meaning of the text (which, in effect, makes it meaningless) would not it seem more honest to change ourselves?
Question: What parts of the Bible are most undesirable to you? Why do you think that is? Comment below.