Sunday, July 29, 2012

That difficult Bible.

"And Moses just sits around, and
writes the Bible!"  Actually this is 
supposed to be John, but we need to
sneak a Keith Green quote in
here, finally. 
In a forum somewhere last week (I won't quote directly), someone reminded participants (all Christians) that while apologetic books are all well and good, we should not neglect to read our Bibles.  Even some pastors, he noted, have not read the Bible through.  The Bible is a pretty good book, he reminded us.  This post received dozens of "likes," and was followed by numerous affirming comments, including suggestions for which Study Bible to buy next, or which version to listen to on tape. 

But Mark Heard's old line comes to mind:

I'm too sacred for the sinners, and the saints wish I would leave.

Apparently I'm doomed to be disagreeable, whereever I am:

I have read the Bible, in more than one language. But honestly, it is hard for me now to read through the OT. Last time I made it to Jeremiah, and ran out of steam. All that wishing of gruesome death on peoples I had never met -- a few passages I could handle, but it seemed unrelenting. Even Isaiah, one of my favorites, was in the mid sections difficult. I understand why so many atheists claim they lost their faith by reading the Bible.  

The Bible is magnificent, mysterious, full of marvelous things, including prophecies of Jesus and teachings that have changed the world for the better. (But in some cases, also seem to have encouraged evil.) It is fantastic how all these different books come ino focus around Christ, even those written centuries before he was born. But let's not be glib. The Bible is not a "pretty good book:" it's a strange collection of books, some of them the greatest things ever written, some containing what look like terrible things. I for one don't claim to have figured this book out. Nor do I think that by itself, the Bible will produce faith in every kindly heart that reads it. (This, Richard Wurmbrand warned about.)


B. Prokop said...

Thanks for posting this. I may have read every word of the Bible at some time or another, but admittedly I have indeed read it quite unevenly. While I can't count the number of times I've read the four Gospels, I'm certain that I've read (all of) Ezekiel only once. And I'm willing to bet that I've read through the Psalms more often than the rest of the Old Testament combined.

Yes, the Bible is a most difficult library of works. There are passages in the Pentateuch that leave me scratching my head in bewilderment, and incidents in the Histories that make me cringe. I don't think I would ever tell an "unbeliever" to go straight to the Bible. There's way too much opportunity for misinterpretation.

Keep in mind that great passage in Acts where Philip meets the Ethiopian, who is reading Isaiah, and this exchange takes place: "Do you understand what you are reading?" And [the Ethiopian] said, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" (Acts 8:30-31)

Without a guide, the Bible can be a difficult read indeed.

On a side note: I'm currently reading the Bible straight through using the King James translation, something I've never done before. My preferred translation is the RSV/CE.

David B Marshall said...

BP: Good point about Phillip and the Ethiopian. Isn't that the pattern of the OT? Pharoah dreams dreams, and Joseph interprets. A hand writes on the wall, and Daniel explains what the words mean.

XAtheistX said...

Dave, you might like to know I've been reading your book The Truth Behind the New Atheism. Very interesting reading. I don't agree with most of it (especially what you have to say about the Bible which is why I've commented on this post) but I do believe very strongly that this post is right on target. I don't think you do understand the Bible. And not just very well, but not at all.

A few tips: Most importantly you need to delve into the history of the Bible. This was a major issue with some of your critiques with interpreting Biblical passages, particularly when dealing with child sacrifice in Deuteronomy and your unusual interpretation of faith in the Bible. Child sacrifice was very common in the Bible and was an accepted practice until the 7th Century.

Read the Bible in context. This is another big one. You certainly have much skill in interpreting Biblical verses in unorthodox ways, which often clash with the known historical and contextual issues I mentioned before.

David B Marshall said...

X: I'm glad you're enjoying the book.

My interpretation of faith in the Bible has been the norm for 2000 years, as I show in "Faith and Reason" at Nothing unorthodox or unusual about it; though hopefully something insightful. Recently, I went through John Paul II's Fides et Ratio again; he was very much on the same page.

Jewish religion helped END human sacrifice. Yes, I know one can interpret some early practices during the (reported) conquest of Canaan as analogous to human sacrifice -- most skeptics deny those events even happened, though, and all Jews and Christian (reading the book as a whole) recognize that prophetic tradition made human sacrifice the ultimate evil.

Crude said...


Given your interactions with PZ Myers, I thought you may find this amusing.

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Crude. PZ seems to be making enemies at a record pace. I've been on the road the past week with my boys; such a small loss, not reading PZ et al's blogs, compared to seeing the wonders of Yellowstone!

Anonymous said...

I find that knowing the OT makes understanding the NT richer - and in some cases, makes it make more sense. I left the faith long ago because I'd never read Scripture for myself - when I hit a rather silly objection that I didn't know the answer to I decided the whole 'deity' thing had to be false (yeah, logic error to go with it). Wasted 10 years as an atheist as a result so I can't agree that reading the Bible is a bad thing - or an unnecessary one.

I read now as a political scientist - I suspect the 'kill 'em all' stuff actually served a different purpose - to get people to leave well ahead of the Israelite army. Rahab certainly knew they were coming and that being in the way was a bad idea - my guess is she was like many others, hearing rumors of this terrible army well in advance of their arrival. The rumors coupled with a few decisive victories probably encouraged far more people to leave when they could than to stand and fight. Few civilians in modern times hang around when armies start moving because modern warfare has a really high collateral damage effect. Ancient warfare didn't - but give people enough reason to expect that they are sitting ducks and they are very likely to fly south - human nature being what it is.

There's some truth to your thesis - no one needs to read Numbers nightly (except insomniacs...) but being ignorant of Scripture - or only having a cursory, Bible Story, look ma we follow the Lectionary, familiarity with it can be just as damaging when whatever test shows itself.

Unknown said...

So your field is political science? In what sense?

Something else you come to realize, living in the 3rd World -- probably 90-95% of locals did NOT live in cities. The vast majority of inhabitants would have packed up and left, and that's the most common emphasis in the OT.

This, by the way, also sheds light on ancient slavery. What were you supposed to do, once you'd won the battle? Slavery may have been the merciful alternative.

truonghieunghia said...
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