A while back, I put a long comment on a Buzzfeed article entitled 7 Shocking Bible Verses You Probably Won’t Hear In Church. Since then, it has become the most popular comment, so I thought I’d reproduce it and expand on it here.
The graphics on the post are excellent, but the representation of the ‘conservative’ view is lacking pretty seriously. So here’s my take on each.
1. Dashing children (Psalm 137:9)
In this passage, the psalmist prays that God would destroy his enemies, and that whomever God uses to bring vengeance would be happy to dash their enemies children’s heads on the rocks. Gruesome. Is this evidence for justification for Christian violence? No.
Current conservative defenses, or explanations of this include:
- This was not an ongoing prescriptive command, but a one time command to destroy a wicked nation that was already killing it’s own children by burning them (alive perhaps) as offerings to Molech. It was in part to purge humankind of a people gone bad.
- The scriptures are being hyperbolic. Despite commands to totally annihilate various ‘races,’ these people show up later in the same histories, even when they ‘genocide’ was supposedly accomplished.
- This and other “imprecatory prayers” are included in the scriptures, not because God condones the content of the prayers, but the free expression of our anguish before God. 1 2
- The commands may have been given in an ironic tone, underscoring the wickedness of the cultures of these nations.
2. Silencing women (1 Tim 2:12)
The Apostle Paul wrote that women should be silent in the church. But is this one passage the whole teaching of the New Testament? No. There is context and other verses to balance in.
- Modern conservatives disagree pretty seriously with your take on this. First, it is well argued that the term ‘woman’ is probably better translated ‘wife,’ addressing the specific situation in that church where women were publicly contradicting and therefore shaming their husbands. Scripture holds a high regard for authority, to the point that even when it is wrong, we ought to disagree respectfully.
- The fact that women are so prominent in the NT church as leaders in other passages weighs in against the more traditional ‘women should shut up’ interpretation.
For more on this subject see Women, Men and God, John Stott’s Complementarianism.
3. Eating your children (Jer. 19:9)
As a judgment on Israel, Jeremiah the prophet predicts that they will be so hungry that they will eat their own children. Since God is bringing this judgement, does that mean God endorses eating our children?
- This is seen as God predicting what will happen because of their own wickedness – more of a ‘consequential wrath’ of God, allowing such things. Think North Korea, and how they suffer due to rejecting truth.
4. Slaves and masters (1 Peter 2:18)
Do the New Testament passages telling slaves to obey masters mean that the Bible supports chattle slavery?
- Slavery in Roman times was not chattle slavery like in more recent times. A majority of the populace lived in these ‘indentured servant’ relationships, and without them, they essentially would not have a job. The term is better translated ‘servant’.
- The biblical prohibitions against kidnapping, including Deut. 24:7 and 1 Tim. 1:10, might be seen as a prohibition on chattle slavery (though some argue this is merely a prohibition on stealing another man’s slaves!)
- Let’s not forget that abolition has ONLY occurred in Christian cultures – neither secularism nor any other religion has produced such a result.
5. Bears killing youths (2 Kings 2:23-34)
A group of hoodlums mock Elijah the prophet. God sends a bear out of the woods to maul the children. Was God over reacting cruelly?
- These weren’t innocent youths, but more likely, a gang of juvenile delinquents.
- Mocking authority, esp. someone like Elijah, who was in essence God’s representative, shows outright defiance of God and community authority – like those who defy the police. Again, while we may take mocking of authority lightly, the Bible does not – our response to even bad authority (which Elijah as not) shows our hearts towards authority in general, and God’s authority as well. If we can’t disagree respectfully, we run the risk of offending someone who has power over our lives.
6. Homosexuality as an abomination (Lev. 18:22)
Should we kill gays as commanded in Old Testament Israel? No, because the Ceremonial, Dietary, and Civil Laws were for Israel only. Only the moral laws still stands.
- Sexual sin is serious in it’s effects on both individuals and a culture. Divorce, promiscuity, and all other sex outside of marriage is roundly conmdemned in scripture.
- The Civil penalties for such acts (execution) were only binding on Israel, and both Jesus and Paul indicated that while such acts are still morally wrong, the Civil penalties were established only for Israel, and to set them apart from the pagan nations, and to keep them ‘pure.’
For more on this topic, see Debate: Is Homosexuality Compatible with Authentic Christianity?
Taking verses out of context of the entire Bible (or any work) is a great way to misrepresent it. That being said, there ARE problematic passages in the Bible that warrant a skeptical eye and a thorough investigation. These are a few prominent ones. But be assured, all have good, though perhaps not complete, answers. YMMV.