© Copyright 1997, Luke Wadel,
In the midst of human fascination with novelty, the survival of what is "boring" either annoys us, tickles our curiosity, or amazes us further when we think about it. Amazingly in intellectual history, not only has the Bible itself not lost its vitality, but in the face of the novel methods of coping with this fact, the less spectacular method of investigative, eclectic and common-sensical interpretation has continued to thrive and be perfected.
There are two extremes of novelty, each with its own atheistic and religious "fanatics." The first is fundamentalism, which copes with the reality of Sacred Scripture by claiming to interpret it absolutely literally. Unfortunately, no one knows what they mean when they say that they "take everything literally." What, every word? One thinks, surely, the fundamentalist claim is not meant to be taken "literally." In practice, the Fundamentalists themselves do not go so far. The main advocates of this system are the atheists and professionally secular historians. But at least they realize that the boring Bible is, as such, rather worthy of serious attention. The opposite extreme is deconstructionism, which, a self-contradiction in its very title, amazes us by expecting us to be impressed with its boast of taking imaginative self-contradiction and its ignoring of the text seriously as a method of reading.
Accordingly, this document is intended for more boring folk, who will take the time to put the time into what is truly timeless. We are on a quest for the boringness of the Bible, to see how little it lends itself to deconstructionism and to fundamentalism, and to see how far it can be said to contradict the professionally secular historians so excited about its "self-contradictions" and "contradictions of history."
I will defend the Bible as a religious book, but not as a textbook of cosmology or a perfect chronology of the Jewish people. It has been well said, "The Jews were not American reporters." Its genres simply do not correspond exactly to our historic or scientific genres. And I certainly will not defend many translations as being flawless. I believe that Scripture is inerrant in its religious message, and I hope to help bring the truth of this to light for your greater happiness and knowledge as a free service.
Please forgive me if my answers to some charges seem unsympathetic. Readers, I hold you in only the highest esteem for taking the Bible seriously enough to seek to understand it with me. Further, bringing to light difficult passages is a service to truth, which must be served, whether we are Christians, Jews, or atheists. But there are some who go further, who delight in ridiculing Sacred Scripture for the simple pleasure of the impiety of it or for establishing their intellectual superiority. My patience falls a little short with these people, but I will not ignore them. On the one hand, we must not pretend that there are no difficult passages - we must examine them and learn from them. Our faith is not jeopardized by reason, but strengthened. On the other hand, we must not look for every possible excuse to find fault.
Mr. Donald Morgan has compiled large list of passages of Scripture which on the surface seem to contradict one another, history, sound ethics, and/or common sense. I compliment Mr. Morgan for combatting very dangerous and awful theologies which seem to be supported by the Bible, but hope (as time permits) to reply to most or all of his charges. Click here to access his list, but do come back to see the other side of the argument!
(All quotations from Sacred Scripture here are taken from The Revised Standard Version: The Common Bible, An Ecumenical Edition.)
Some common types of objections will not be answered over and over again. So if the verses to which you object or which you wish to understand are not specifically dealt with here, see if one of the following topics are related to your problem. If one is, click on it, and it will bring you to a passage of similar type and its treatment. Or if I have been of no help to you, please email me and I will fix that. (To be notified by email of changes to this work, please click here.)
Race in the Old Testament
Slavery and other sins of the Jews
One or Many Gods?
Unedifying Stories in the Bible
Justification in the New Testament
Difficulties/Mistranslations from Hebrew
Prophesies of the Messiah: Genesis"
Prophesies of the Messiah: Isaiah"
Prophesies of the Messiah: Psalms"
Many More Topics
not addressed elsewhere. This lengthly document by Scripture scholar William Most
is well worth your time; if I have not answered your question, this probably does.
Agnostic Biases and the Like Among Certain Scripture Scholars.
(More will be added as I find time to work on this project.)
You can also search for a particular verse. First, click on the
general area of the Bible which presents you with a difficult passage:
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy,
Any other book of the Old Testament;
Any book from the New Testament books.
If you cannot stay on the internet long and have much to search for, why not download a program which explains a number of passages of the Bible which people find difficult? Click here. This program contains fewer difficult passages than my web resource, but the answers are less condensed and therefore nicer to read. My compliments to its author, Philip Kapusta.
Gen 1: 2. "The earth was without form and void..."
Charge: The definition of the earth does not allow it to be or to have been formless or a void.
Reply: The text plainly means that the earth had not yet come into existence.
Gen 1: 2. "...and the Spirit of God was moving over the face
of the waters."
Charge: How can the incorporeal Spirit of God be over the waters? Is he some kind of bird? And what were the waters doing there, when God had not yet spoken words of creation?
Reply. The ancient Hebrews, at least, were not fundamentalists. Nor did they have the deconstructionists' respect for self-contradiction. Therefore "water" is a metaphor for something else, as is the Holy Spirit's relation to it. Various interpretations are possible.
Gen 1:1 - 2:3 vs. Gen 2:4 - 2:24
Charges: (1) It seems that there are two accounts of creation; we gather this from linguistic differences, repetitions and disagreements in the text (to be mentioned shortly). These make it doubtful that Moses wrote Genesis. (2) In the first creation account there were night and day, and plants before there was a sun. Besides being absurd, it is, with the passage of the next charge, contrary to the second account's Gen. 2: 4,7 (below). (3) In Gen 1:26ff, we learn that God actually created man on the sixth "day." And the earth and the heavens were created on the second and third days, two other days.(cf. Gen 1:6-9). But at the start of the second account we read, "In the day that the Lord made the earth and the heavens... the Lord God formed man of dust of the ground..." (Gen 2: 4,7)
Replies: These objections are well thought out and demonstrate a keen and admirable care to detail.
(1) Sure, there are two creation accounts. The supposed contradictions will be taken up shortly. As for Mosaic authorship, so what if he was not the author? Scripture says that Moses wrote books of laws, but it does not say that he wrote Genesis or the rest of the next four books of the Bible for that matter. Moses did not write Isaiah either. Does this mean that it is not Scripture? Certainly not! This being said, as a historical curiosity, I mention that it is quite likely that the books that Moses wrote were at least a primary basis for Genesis and the rest of the Penteteuch. More on the Documentary Theory of authorship is to be found here.
In reply to charges (2) and (3), there are several points. First, the first creation account consists of descriptions of consecutive "days" which read in the Hebrew to be undefined lengths of time (the Hebrew "yom" is quite ambiguous) or something analogous to periods of time. Further, the ordering of the days tells us nothing of chronological arrangement of events, since there is an obvious and typically Hebrew literary parallel between days one and four, two and five, and four and six. The Hebrews were no slouches when it came to the complexity of expression of sublime events. We may as well get used to it and learn to live with it, because we not going to stop seeing this until we reach the end of the Bible, the Book of Revelation.
Nor does the second account indicate exact chronological order, no matter how the "Good News Bible" "translation" reads. Rather, the description of creation now proceeds in a causal order. So the actual text now indicates that man was created, for which reason the animals were created. To insist that this indicates chronological order is to act in desperation.
Yet even if the first account were to be taken literally, and even if the Hebrew word yom, had only the meaning "day," (it has more) still the meaning for "day" in Hebrew has a range of meanings correponding closely to "day" in English, as the B-D-B-G Hebrew Lexicon indicates. Just as we speak of "the day of the Reformation," the Hebrew spoke of "the day when God created" as a period, which itself could be further divided into smaller periods, as any period can be, obviously. So one period can contain another; it can also overlap with one or more previous or following periods. To take an example, the neo-Platonic period in philosophy overlapped with the Stoic period, the Epicurean period, the Peripatetic period and the Skeptical period. Though again, the literary parallelism between the first three days and the second three strongly suggests a non-literal intention of the author anyway.
Gen 2: 18-20
-Adam named the animals-
"[Charge: Noted atheist Colonel] Ingersoll paints the pretty picture! God made all the animals that he might name them. And the animals came like a menagerie into town, and as Adam looked at all the crawlers and jumpers and creepers, this God stood by to see what he would call them!
[Reply:] The appeal to the gallery in the mention of a menagerie and town, and then the omission of all names except crawlers, jumpers and creepers, is evident. 'This God stood by,' is another little lapse. Ingersoll falls down on the simplest Hebraism. The whole passage means that God gave Adam a knowledge suitable to man's estate, and that Adam gave names in human language to the animals of which God gave him intellectual vision. Ingersoll was out of his depth, and had not the intelligence to know it." (Frs. Rumble and Carty, Radio Replies I, 122.)
Gen 3: 1-24. -
Story of the Fall of Adam and Eve-
Charge: There are several problems with this passage. How were Adam and Eve able to hear the sound of your incorporeal God walking in the Garden and hide from his sight? How could the snake talk? Why did God make an evil snake? What is wrong with eating fruit from a tree? Since God made the evil tree, he was responsible for Adam's and Eve's sins. If God knows everything, why did he ask Adam questions? Most of all, what is wrong with knowledge of good and evil? Finally, what male chauvinist wrote this? Eve is given all the blame because she is a woman!
Reply: To most of these questions, I ask: Are we incapable of imagining that truths can be told with some use of metaphor and analogy? I suppose we are used to reading nothing more sophisticated than newspapers, which are written to be understood by young teenagers. The use of "fruit," "trees" and "God walking in the garden" needs no further defense. The snake is a metaphor for the devil.
As for blaming God for the devishness of the fallen angel or for Adam's and Eve's sins, the objector thinks a little too much like the devil here, assuming that responsibility for evil action is not an individual's fault, but God's. Intellectually, however, we know that the individual is responsible. The "evil tree" is not itself evil; it seems to be a metaphor for a potentiality of free-will. God's questions to Adam might be explained by the genre, and may also be understood to be the kind of parental questioning which aims not at gaining knowledge but causing the disobedient child to face his conscience.
As for the forbidden knowledge of good and evil, it depends upon what is meant by "knowledge." Intellectual knowledge of good and evil is surely not to be forbidden, and was already possessed by Adam and Eve, for Eve intelligently recounted God's "thou shalt not..." to the devil. The Hebrew and Greek versions of this passage, which I have studied, in their vocabulary unquestionably allow that the type of knowledge obtained by the "tree" was not intellectual knowledge but knowledge from experience. That is to say, it was a knowledge gained by experiencing (practicing) evil as well as good. Logically, since it is clear that Adam and Eve had intellectual knowledge of good and evil, the only possible interpretation of this story is that Adam and Eve were forbidden experiential knowledge of good with evil.
As for Eve, no one puts all the blame on her. The blame for this original sin has always been on Adam, not Eve. St. Paul, in the Jewish and Christian tradition, teaches, "sin came into the world through one man..." (Rom 5: 12) And the blame for Adam's temptation has always been primarily the devil, and secondarily Eve. If we read the text of this passage, in fact we see that everyone is blamed by God, and everyone is punished for their sins. Eve gets no special treatment. (For more on original sin, click here.)
Gen 4 - 11. - Histories of the peoples before Abraham -
Charge: There are many historical problems with Genesis here.
Reply: The charges I do not answer here should be answered here.
Gen 4: 17. "Cain 'knew' his wife..."
Charge: Who was Cain's wife? There was no candidate mentioned - there was only Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Seth! And don't tell me it was his unmentioned sister, because that is a convenient way out! The notion of marrying one's sister is appalling. Therefore, I will not believe the creation account, but rather evolution.
Reply: Yes, it is a more convenient way out than opponents like to admit, but he also may have married a niece. Marrying a sister or niece was the only option, since undoubtedly even Cain would have found the notion of marrying (the equivalent of) an ape indescribably baser, which is the alternative solution. Reader, would you marry an ape in any circumstances? I do not mind certain theories of evolution, but this is devolution.
Gen 5: 1-32 -
Genealogies from Adam to Noah-
Charge: Well, it would seem that humanity is no more than 6000 years old, or less if we are realistic about the age of our ancestors. Archeology strongly disagrees.
Reply: What is at issue here is the Hebrew way of tracing genealogical lines. Two aspects need to be commented upon. First, the Hebrew "yalad" recurring in this passage is not as properly translated "beget" as "bring forth" according to the B-D-B-G Hebrew Lexicon. The bringing forth of children can be quite indirectly done; even midwives are said to "yalad" those children which were not their own. Frequently the relationship is not one of begetting, but of being great, great, great grandfather (or greater) the one "begotten." Accordingly, this charge applies only to translations of Scripture, insofar as they mistranslate these verses. The same goes for cases of the Hebrew "ben" being translated "son." It means "descendant," as is evident again from the lexicon. Second, it is a historical fact that the Jews in their geneologies often skipped generations for brevity.
Gen 5:32; 6:3; 11:22-23. "After Noah was five hundred years old, Noah
became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth...Then the Lord said, 'his [man's]
days shall be a hundred and twenty years [maximum].'...When [later] Serug
had lived thirty years, he became the father of Nahor; and Serug lived
after the birth of Nahor two hundred years, and had other sons and
Charge: First, it is ridiculous to think that anyone might live 500 years, much more that he would still bear children! Further, the Bible contradicts itself most blatantly here; was everyone prevented from living past 120 years or not?
Reply: This is a good and understandable charge. There is no possibility of exaggeration or metaphor here, but this does fail to understand the basic issues of translation from ancient Hebrew. The Hebrew scholars and translators have a dilemma here. First, they have to produce a translation from the Hebrew text into coherent English. Since the Hebrew of the Old Testament was a dead language and understood only by a few even before Christ was born, several words can only be partially understood now (unless you know all about it). The critical word in this passage, "saneh," is only partially known. In later Hebrew, it unquestionably meant "year," but its precise meaning 500-1000 years earlier had long since been lost.
Meanwhile, the translator must give us the best he has, in coherent English. Accordingly, the translation you read which speaks like this about the "years" of people's lives, is deficient, in the sense that the original language is only partially unknown. "Year" is the only sense the translators knew for "saneh," so it was used. In conclusion, the translation of the Bible which you read is self-contradictory if it reads as above without a footnote describing the inaccuracy and unreliability of this translation. Yet the Bible itself, which is distinct from your translation, is by no means self-contradictory on this matter.
Gen 6: 5-6. "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in
the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only
evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man upon the earth,
and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, "I will blot out man whom
I have created from the face of the ground...for I am sorry that I have
Charge: God cannot be said to be changeless, nor omniscient. For first, he was not grieved only in effect, but 'to the heart.' Secondly, he evidently did not know beforehand what was to come, for he would not have made them, as the text suggests.
Reply: As for the first matter, the attribution of grief to the heart does not itself indicate that the "grief" was not metaphorical, as all positive statements about God must be. (If you disagree, click here.) Now as it was metaphorical, and the point at which God's type of "grief" and "heart" differ from ours is quite unspecified, the charge is found to be logically insufficient. As for the second matter, the context reveals the more accurate interpretation. We find that "man" here means "most men at that time," not "all men." For "I will blot out man" does not refer to Noah or his excellent family, in God's mind or otherwise: The verses which immediately follow make this quite clear. This charge, in its fundamentalism, therefore fails.
Gen 6:13-8:22. -
The account of the flood and Noah's Ark-
Charge: This is myth, but the Bible presents it as history. It is myth because not all animals over the whole world were destroyed, for certainly they did not all fit in that most limited ark!
Reply: It cannot be denied that Noah did not have room for every single species of every kind of animal on board. Nor is there any need for such an assertion. For the Hebrew word "'erets," which is here translated "the world" or "the earth" for us, is also commonly and properly translated "land" or "country." So instead of "whole earth," which is erroneous, we ought to read "whole land," which will do no matter how much of the earth was flooded, and still gets the Hebrew right. So this charge fails, just as the one before last, for letting itself get caught in the stranglehold of poor translation.
Gen 17: 1,7. "When Abram was 99 years old the
Lord appeared to Abram,
and said to him, 'I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be
blameless...And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after
you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to
you and to your descendants after you...'"
Charge: This is primitive, to make biological connection or race the basis for favoritism. What an unfair God, to favor this people, the Jews!
Reply: The interpretation's failure to see the context shows primitive reading skills bordering on that theological illiteracy common to professionally secular historians. For it is established for Abraham, for the Jews, and for you right here in the surrounding passage that Abraham's descendants do not refer to biological descendants as such, but rather any who entered into the relationship with God in the terms specified. Circumcision was the first sign and condition, and it applied, in God's words to Abraham about male descendants, "every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house, or...not of your offspring..."(Gen 17:12-13) The Jewish people, the holy nation and chosen people of the Old Testament, then, were not necessarily biological Jews at all.
Gen 17: 12. -
to God, in
Abraham's household, people would be bought and sold as slaves.-
Charge: This amounts to the acceptance of a slave trade on God's part!
Reply: God spoke of those who would be bought into Abraham's house. To speak about them does not mean that he condoned the practice, nor that the Old Testament does. (There are only special occasions when slavery was allowed; this is treated at appropriate length here.) This rule covers many things in the Old Testament. If you mean that by not speaking, God was responsible for evils of the Jews, then I suppose God is responsible for all of your sins since he does not yell down to you from heaven for hours or days with a detailed list of everything you must never do. Even if he came down himself, we would probably crucify him for it. But my point is, sometimes God chooses to speak to us through our reason and hearts, and we either do not think or do not care to listen. It seems that this was the case with Abraham and many of his offspring in regards to slavery and other sins.
Gen 19: 4-8. "But before they [Lot's guests] lay down, the men
of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old...surrounded the house; and
they called to Lot, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring
them out to us, that we may know them [sexually].' Lot went out of the
door to the men...and said, 'I beg you, my brothers, do not act so
wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me bring them
out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men,
for they have come under the shelter of my roof.'"
Charge: The Old Testament once again sets a bad example for us; if I believed in mortal sin, then I would believe that Lot had committed it for how basely he treats his daughters here.
Reply: If you do not believe in mortal sin, then you have a weaker stance against Lot than Jews and Christians. Lot was grievously sinful here. As for bad examples in the Old Testament, click here for more.
Gen 19: 5,9,11-13. "[The
Sodomites]...called to Lot, 'Where are the men
who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we may know them
[sexually]...[" Then Lot pleaded that this not happen. They retorted against him, "]This fellow
came to sojourn, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with
them.' Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the
door... And they [the angels in the form of men] struck with blindness the men
who were at the door of the house, both small and great...Then the [angels] said to Lot,
'...we are about to destroy this place...'"
Charge: These men did not deserve to be destroyed or blinded. They were just trying to have a good time; maybe they got a little rowdy, but everyone is good deep down. And as homosexuals, they deserve a break; Lot did deserve a bit of pushing for recommending they change their sexual orientation towards women (his daughters). Further, there were young men in the crowd; surely the young should not be punished: they are young! Finally, they did what was right for their society, because everyone was doing it. So they should not have been blinded or burned, but rather treated in a humane manner in a comfortable therapy center.
Reply: Everyone, including youth, have the free will ability to be good or evil, even very good or very evil. This much is self-evident. It is particularly self-evident to those on the receiving ends of profound human goodness and extreme human evil. To suppose that this evil is imagined, or that serious crime does not deserve correspondingly serious punishment must therefore show either a strange lack of ethical perception, or an unwillingness (for whatever reason) to acknowledge it. The average child knows when punishment is deserved and how much. For we are not talking about this or that individual who may be out of his mind or radically chemically imbalanced; Sodom was attempting highly violent and sexual organized mob crime. Sometimes it is clear, there can be no excuse. This is the case with Sodom.
Gen 19: 15,17,26. "When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot,
saying, "Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be
consumed in the punishment of the city [Sodom]"...Then the Lord rained on Sodom
and Gomor'rah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven...But Lot's
wife behind him looked back, and she became a pillar of salt."
"[Charge:] Can the infallible Catholic Church give me the chemical equation of the reaction which took place when Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt?
[Reply:] The Church does not exist to dispense chemical equations. But your question is not based upon reason. Probably Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by natural agencies set in motion by God, with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Rock-salt abounds in that region, and an upheaval of that material could have overwhelmed and embedded Lot's wife because of her delay, leaving a standing hillock of salt as her memorial." (Frs. Rumble and Carty, Radio Replies, I, 133.)
Gen 19: 31-32,36. "And the first-born
[daughter] said to the younger, 'Our
father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after
the manner of all the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and
we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring through our
father.'...Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father."
Charge: What is sacred in this "Sacred Text"? What scandalous and foul an example this Scripture gives us!
Reply: Not every part of the Bible is meant to edify by itself; certainly this is not edifying. Some parts are meant to give background information to those histories which are important and are edifying. Others provide a contrast between behavior outside of or before the Law, and behavior in accordance with the Law. No one ever said that Scripture was entertainment. As for what example we are to follow, we have the lives of the prophets and saints, and we have the commandments and the law which were introduced to make things more clear and perfect than even you would find easy.
Gen 22: 1-2,9,11-13 "After these things God tested Abraham, and
said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here am I.' He said, 'Take your
son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori'ah,
and and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains
of which I shall tell youl'...When they came to the place...Abraham
built an alter there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his
son, and laid him on the alter, upon the wood... But the angel of the
Lord called down to him from heaven...'Do not lay your hand on the
lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you
have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.'"
Charge: First, the God of Scripture is not omnipotent or changeless, arranging bizarre tests to discover the faithfulness of the man. Further, what kind of sick God would demand a human burnt offering for any reason, much less the beloved son of the man! Do not tell me that this God does not really mean what he says, either. Nor tell me that I should, like Kierkegaard, conclude from this story that self-contradiction is appropriate in faith.
Reply: I shall tell you no such things. "Take your son...and offer him there as a burnt offering..." We resist the obvious solution because we wish there to be some contradiction here. Surely, an easy solution must be wrong because it is easy. You shall be happy, then, if I multiply this problem for you as much as possible: we are all to be offered up "as a burnt offering" to God, as it were. What is really too easy to be taken seriously is further unnecessary insistence upon the "contradiction" in the command.
So Abraham may have failed the test of imagination, not imagining such a thing as non-literal interpretation of a divine command to be possible, but he did pass the test of obedience, for which reason Jews and Christians are edified, and moved to get up on the proverbial wood of sacrifice ourselves, as Christ did. So let us not fail the test of obedience by wishing to find in this text reason not to obey the whole of Sacred Scripture. We see here the reverse of the charge against the text. This does not promote literal human sacrifices; this is what ended human sacrifices for the Jews before it began. In Ur, where Abraham was from, human sacrifices had happened, which is not only repugnant to us, but repugnant to the God of Abraham. And so the purpose of the test was not God's learning experience, but Abraham's, and mine, and yours.
Gen 27: 1-41. -
Jacob's deception of Isaac for Esau's blessing-
Charge: What Jacob did was evil, but he was blessed for it by his father!
Reply: This charge is correct, and agrees with Hosea 12: 2-6 and Isaiah 43: 26-28. This is not a charge against Scripture itself, but a popular interpretation of it, which supposes that Jacob acted rightly. As for the blessing from Isaac, this in no way indicates that from God's point of view Jacob acted sinlessly.
Gen 32: 25-31. -
wrestled throughout a night with an angel, and would not let the angel go until the angel
Charge: Is an angel not incorporeal? Is it some leprechan which one catches to force it to give one its pot of gold?
Reply: An angel is in essence incorporeal, but what should stop it from taking on a physical form? The atheists? I suppose there is scientific proof that angels have not this power? We can laugh off leprechans on account of the nature of the mythical and monstrous mythologies from which they come. But the Bible is at the other end of the scale, as this page and others in this site, Eternity Matters, successfully demonstrate. The force of this objection, as with other atheistic objections, comes not from logic, but from jeering.
To seek out further treatments of "Bible Errors," click here.
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