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August 8, 2002
BIBLE 101: NOT ALL IT'S CRACKED UP TO BE (Printed on Friday, August 02, 2002 in YellowTimes.org) )
By John Brand, D.Min., J.D.
A gentleman who has read some of my articles is very much concerned about the state of my soul as well as the soul of YellowTimes.org publisher Erich Marquardt. He suggests that if we do not believe in the errant word of God, we will certainly wind up in hell. I have always replied rather politely to his e-mails. Yet, my first impulse was to quote the Bible back to him: "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged." (Matthew 7:1) That is just one passage of many in which folks are warned not to judge others.
My second impulse is to point out to him that we are in deep trouble if the entire Bible is the inerrant word of God. Some of the most lurid stuff is found in the pages of the "Good Book." If the bare metal breast of a lifeless statue offends the Attorney General, he would probably have a serious fit if he ever were to read the 23rd Chapter of Ezekiel. The prophet recounts the fact that the tribes of Israel and Judah had not been faithful to God. The following are the supposed inerrant words of God reported in verses 18 - 21.
"When she (Judah) carried on the nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned from her sister (Israel). Yet she increased her whorings, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose emission was like that of stallions. Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled your bosom and caressed your young breasts."
Boy, this God is really expressive. In view of the fact that the popular image we have of God is one of decency and decorum, propriety and purity, I have a hard time accepting that kind of language as the inerrant word of God. It would make the ladies in most Sunday School classes blush to high heavens. And yet, fundamentalists insist this indeed is the true, eternal, and righteous word of God.
And then there is this story in Judges, chapters 19 - 21. Let me very briefly restate it. I am not taking literary license with a single word. A Levite, name not given, from the hill country of Ephraim, had a concubine whose home was in Bethlehem in Judea. (Whoa, well a little editorializing is all right. Does that mean that the inerrant word of God allows me to have a concubine? My wife can't complain about my request. After all, concubinage is ordained in the inerrant word.) One day the aforementioned lady got her nose out of joint and went back home to her Dad. Hubby followed her intending to sweet-talk her and bring her back.
He arrived at his father-in-law's house (the woman in question in a later verse is called the Levite's wife, so I guess we can call her Dad the man's father-in-law) and the two men ate and drank. They ate and drank for several days! (So, the inerrant word suggests that partying is o.k. I like that. The Biblical God takes on a bit of Bacchus's character here. I wonder if the Puritans knew that?) Anyway, time for partying was over.
The Levite and his concubine/wife left for the hill country. At night they stopped in the village of Gibeah, home to some members of the tribe of Benjamin.
The Levite and his concubine/wife were seated in the town square when an old man invited them to spend the night. The offer of hospitality was accepted. Again we are told that host and guest drank and ate. While they were having a good time, a perverse group of citizens banged on the door demanding that the host turn the guest over to them "so that we may have intercourse with him." (Judges 19:22) The old man refused because as polite and decent host he simply could not honor their request. He continued in v. 24, "Here are my virgin daughters and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them."
Now this must really be exemplary moral behavior. The father protects his guest but is quite willing to have his daughters and his guest's concubine raped. There is not a word of God expressing his disapproval of the old man's offer. This, according to the reader who wants to save my soul, is the inerrant word of God. It is also the inerrant word to Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and who knows how many other millions of Americans who have bought into the fairy tale of the infallibility of the Bible without ever having read the book. But wait, it gets worse.
The Levite pushes his concubine out the door and she was raped and abused all night long. (v. 25) In the morning her master/husband (what do you call the man who has a concubine? I really don't know) saw her lying at the door. He said, "Get up, we are going." When she did not respond, he put her on a donkey and proceeded to go home.
Sometime later it dawned on him that the lady was dead.
So after he got home, he cut her body into twelve pieces, limb by limb, and sent his servants to each of the twelve tribes of Israel with the message that the vile acts of the Benjaminites cried out for justice. Of course, not a word was said that he pushed her out the door knowing full well that the men who demanded to have sexual fun with him would not have a prayer meeting with the young lady.
Well, the furor of this affair caused a terrible war that caused the death of thousands upon thousands. And then in the end, in God's name, the city of Gibeah was burned. On God's orders all the men, women, and children, as well as all animals were killed.
To completely avenge the death of the concubine, some of the other towns of the tribe of Benjamin were also torched.
Now here is a sleeper. Six hundred Benjaminites escaped. After a few months, everybody's blood had cooled down.
It was discovered that these men did not have any prospects of getting married because all the women of their tribe had been killed. So the elders of the tribe of Israel, with God's approval one must assume, authorized the surviving Gibeonites to kidnap some women from Shiloh to take as their wives. Everybody lived happily ever after.
This is supposed to be the inerrant word of God? Come on, I have higher morals than that.
Chapter 15 of I Samuel presents a rather weird picture of the deity. The prophet Samuel claims that God ordered him to anoint Saul as King over Israel. In the same breath, he orders Saul, in God's name, to attack the Amalekites "and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." Talk about a bloodbath!
Well, Saul fought a victorious campaign and started to implement God's commandment to slaughter one and all.
But Saul was no dummy. He saved the best of the sheep and the cattle, the fatlings, the lambs and all that was valuable. Knowing something about international politics, Saul was also clever enough not to kill Agag, the king of the Amalekites. One never knows when a former enemy might prove to be an asset. After all, both Germany and Japan, our archenemies about sixty years ago, are now our buddies. Saul just anticipated international diplomacy by about 3,000 years.
Well, Samuel, even without modern hearing aids, heard the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle. He got pretty mad and started to berate Saul. "Damned," (this is my rendition of what he said to the king) "the Lord told you to kill everybody and everything. And what in the hell did you do, you ingrate? You take it upon yourself to defy God's word." Well, Saul could not stand the prophet's disapproval and confessed that he was a sinner by not chopping off all heads.
Saul was particularly contrite because Samuel threatened to dispose the King and anoint someone else in Saul's place. That really put Saul into a repentant mood. One assumes that to glorify God, Saul did go ahead and kill all the animals. It does not say that in the Bible but I assume that is what happened, particularly in view of what happens next.
Samuel demanded that King Agag be brought before him. Samuel said to the King: "As your sword has made women childless, so your mother shall be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal." (v. 33) Can't you just hear all the angels in heaven breaking out in the Hallelujah Chorus? How happy one and all must have been to see the blood spurting from Agog's severed head.
Now if that is the 24-karat image of God, the genuine sterling silver image, recorded in an inerrant book, I claim that I would make a better God than that caricature. That brutality does not reflect an eternal essence. It does reflect tribal ethos of about 3,000 years ago. I might add, the tribal ethos that hasn't changed all that much. By God, we want bin Laden!
We'll hack the S.O.B. to pieces in the name of all that is holy and honorable.
The New Testament presents its own particular problems calling into question whether the Bible can really be said to be the inerrant word of God. Colossians 4:1 states my concerns most clearly, "Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly." Not a word is said against the practice of slavery. To be sure, passages in the New Testament enjoin believers to treat their slaves in a humane manner but there is no word against the institution of slavery. Col 3:11 states that in the "renewal" there is no difference among classes of people such as Greeks, Jews, barbarians, Scythians, slave and free. But nothing is said about the practice of slavery itself. I Corinthians 12:13 repeats the same thought.
There is to be no difference among believers but again we find no injunction against slavery. It is somewhat difficult for me to consider a book to be the inerrant word of God that does not raise its voice against slavery but by implication condones the practice.
Another serious problem is posed in some passages of the New Testament that totally and unconditionally erase any trace of personal freedom in one's quest for a deeper meaning of life. Romans 8:29-30 states, "For those whom he (God) foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called. And those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."
This express suppression of human will is further underlined in 9:16 of the same book: "So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy."
This last statement is particularly meaningless. If human will is excluded from the ultimate and final decision regarding one's fate and destiny, why would God have to show mercy? He already, according to Paul's writings, has decided whose dice will roll a seven or an eleven and whose will come up snake eyes or double sixes. So what is the place of mercy in a predetermined game? Mercy is needed if snake eyes are rolled and God says, "Oh, what the heck, give the poor sucker a chance" and he changes the roll into a seven. But there is no leeway here. God determined a long time ago who is going the win the pot and who will be left destitute. Such nonsense does not reflect inerrancy. Come on, now. I said "win the pot" not smoke it.
One final passage calling into question that God is the authentic author of these 66 books written over about 1,000 years. We have heard a lot from religious fundamentalists about wanting The Ten Commandments plastered all over this country. For openers, if they really believe that these injunctions came from God himself then all these Bible thumping folks will have to come out strongly against the death penalty. Exodus 20:13, "You shall not murder."
No place does it say that State sanctioned murder is not murder. Now the Bible, as we have seen with Samuel and Agog, is full of killing and murder and mayhem done in God's name. But the Commandment says, "Don't." Our President said that Jesus is his philosopher. Yet, he loves the death penalty. Doesn't make sense, does it?
But the Sixth Commandment is not my main point. What for heaven's sake kind of a deity is it that would say something like this: "For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of the parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing mercy to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20: 5,6) Come on now! I don't even know who any of my 16 great-great-grandparents were. If one of them said, "Damn you God!" I am to be held liable for his apostasy! That would be a really neurotic God who holds his grudges that long.
By the same token, if a truly faithful person, 1000 generations from now has a descendent who is totally ungodly, totally evil, totally sinful God promises to be kind to him. Surely, Adolf, Joe (Stalin) and Benito must have had somebody 1000 generations ago who was a pretty God-fearing character. One thousand generations ago is about 20,000 years. In that period of time one has accumulated a lot of ancestors. According to Scripture, Adolf, Joe, and Benito go free.
That doesn't make any sense to me. Only if one checks one's brains in the narthex of the nearest church can one subscribe to the idea that Scripture is inerrant.
So, those of you who want to save my soul and those of others, start reading the Bible with your brains intact.
If you really believe the Scriptures you would learn that one is to "love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37 and Luke 10:27 and sundry other passages in the Old Testament.)
****** [John Brand is a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry veteran of World War II. He received his Juris Doctor degree at Northwestern University and a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry at Southern Methodist University. He served as a Methodist minister for 19 years, was Vice President, Birkman & Associates, Industrial Psychologists, and concluded his career as Director, Organizational and Human Resources, Warren-King Enterprises, an independent oil and gas company. He is the author of Shaking the Foundations.
John Brand ****** GNN is grateful to www.YellowTimes.org
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