I hope this post offends as many people as little as possible. I know many smart, kind, respectable, and fantastic Christians and non-Christians. Regardless of where you stand, I wish to be your friend. Whether you believe I am a heretic or insane I hope you will still be a friend. I am open to new evidence and can appreciate many opinions. I hope you will not hate me for mine. If you do, I am sorry, but this is what I believe at this time.
I believe listening to a diversity of opinions is important. That is why I am currently listening to several books that are at odds with each other. For example, Is God a Moral Monster, disagrees with me strongly and tries to prove the Bible is without errors. At the same time, I am listening to The Bible Tells Me So which agrees with much of what I am about to say. I am also listening to an atheist podcast that disagrees with me entirely. Whether you agree with me or not that is okay. Whether you think I am a heretic or crazy for believing in Jesus that is okay! At the end of the day, I simply cast my hope in Christ’s mercy and attest that I believe God is an uncontrolling God of love, and I hope to be more and more like Jesus. Furthermore, I wish you all the best regardless of what you believe, and if you have been mistreated by me and my fellow not so Christlike Christians, I am sorry. While the content below is written as though to one person, it is really a response to a set of questions posed to me by several fellow Christians that I respect and wish nothing but the best. I think my answer encapsulates much of what I currently believe, as best as can be expected with my poor writing skills.
Thank you again for the thoughtful discussion. I really enjoy conversations like this, and I hope you do too. I would certainly say you are right that the Old-Testament (OT) is inspired and God-breathed. However, I would not say it is inerrant or without any errors. Humans are also God-breathed and created by Him but not without many faults. God created the world, and it is not perfect.
I think the whole Bible is extremely valuable and important, but it is not all equal to Him and it is not perfect. Moses is not equal to Jesus. Paul is not equal to Jesus. Even the gospel accounts are not equal to Jesus. All of them talk about and point to Jesus, but they are not him. They do not fully capture Him. I certainly believe the gospel stories give us the best picture of how we should live, but that does not mean the rest of the Bible isn’t extremely important. I do not wish to throw the baby out with the bathwater, only to make a distinction between Jesus and the Bible and say they are not the same. I would also suggest that we have made an idol of sorts out of the Bible.
When I read the gospels I see Jesus criticizing the Old-Testament all the time. Him doing it all the time. This is much of the reason the Pharisees hated him. I believe the only reason we often convince ourselves that he did not criticize the OT is because we are trying to protect inerrancy and have made an idol out of the Bible. Jesus, as John 1 says, is the Word of God. Meaning He is the only perfect message. Though I am sure you are familiar with all of them, this is a small sampling of the many times Jesus either criticized, disobeyed, or taught something different than the OT.
- When asked about divorce Jesus says that Moses gave it to them due to the hardness of their hearts but that from the beginning it was not so. Matthew 19.
- The OT taught that adulterers MUST be stoned. Jesus rejected that and refused to condemn an adulterer. Leviticus 20 and John 8.
- The OT taught that in many ways what you did ceremonially could defile you. Jesus teaches against this. He says that it is “obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness” that defile us. Mark 7 (MSG).
- The OT teaches that is acceptable to destroy entire cities if they do not accept you or fear the Lord. The disciples asked if they should do the same? Jesus rebuked them. Luke 9.
- The OT teaches it is permissible to take eye for eye. Jesus rebukes this. Matthew 5 and Exodus 21. I would argue that Jesus teaches non-violence or at the very least limited violence to protect someone else. The OT teaches it is okay to commit genocide.
- Over and over, He used the phrase “You have heard that it was said, . . . But I tell you . . .” In some cases, he was simply pointing to the heart of a law, but in others he is disobeying or teaching something different.
Fantastic points about Sodom, the Flood, and the bloody history. Even if we could find a solution to the times in which Israelites commit genocide, there are many times that God does it all on his own – according to OT scribes. The exodus story is one of the stories I find most fascinating and morally reprehensible when compared to the standard Jesus displays for us. Some of the times we are told Pharaoh hardened his own heart, thereby refusing to release the Israelites. However, we also read of many other times that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and prevented him from letting the people go so that He could show his power to His people, Exodus 10. This results in God killing every firstborn baby in Egypt because Pharaoh would not let the people go. In any other context we would easily call this genocide. The mass murder of the babies of an entire nation is nothing but genocide and terrorism.
By the standard laid out by Jesus – not my standard – the exodus story does not make sense. In Matthew 18 Jesus shows us that he is the kind of God that would leave the 99 to go after the 1 lost sheep and go so far as to let his “enemies” kill him. How could God force a situation requiring the genocide of babies simply to show his power and somehow still be the same God that would leave everything to go after one lost sheep?
This is an exceedingly difficult topic and I certainly reserve the right to be wrong. I wish all things were black and white, but I think we must be serious students of the Bible and appreciate nuance. I once believed that everything in the Bible had to be literal, historically accurate, and scientifically correct, or else my faith would crumble. If any of it was wrong, even one sentence, it was all wrong. My faith was a house of cards I like to say. Much to the chagrin of my beloved atheist friends, my faith is stronger than ever. I am more in love with God today than I ever have been. I am more convinced than ever he looks just like Jesus and that if I have seen Jesus, I have seen the Father. In other words, there is no un-Christlikeness in God the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. I thank the works of many great theologians, pastors, and friends that have helped further me move forward in my ongoing journey over the past several years. At the same time, I apologize to all who think I have fallen away and am leading others to eternal damnation. I assure you that is not my intention, and I wish to remain open to all dialogue.
In recent history, particularly in the evangelical church, we have begun to read the Bible like a history and science textbook even though for centuries it was not read this way. This is primarily a newer and incorrect way to read the Bible imposed by our modern culture. Many – NOT ALL – of the stories in the Bible were not written to be read as a literal history or scientific exposé. Some even that intended to tell history didn’t do it correctly. While some parts of the Bible do provide reliable and mostly accurate history, others focus on storytelling, allegory, and various forms of literature to help understand the world, conceptualize God, and teach various morals – some good some bad. I believe The Bible is God-breathed and inspired, but not perfect. The Bible was put to paper by fallible humans then translated and passed on by more fallible humans. Like I said God created everything and it isn’t perfect right? I am not alone in this opinion. As I said this is an old way to read the Bible, and many other recent, respectable people of faith such as C.S. Lewis also read it this way. There are of course many others, but I will use Lewis since he is generally seen as a mostly good figure in many evangelical circles. I hope you may give serious consideration to his words in the next paragraph.
“In what sense does the Bible ‘present’ the Jonah story ‘as historical’? Of course, it doesn’t say, ‘This is fiction,’ but then neither does our Lord say that the Unjust Judge, Good Samaritan, or Prodigal Son are fiction (I would put Esther in the same category as Jonah for the same reason). How does a denial, a doubt, of their historicity lead logically to a similar denial of New Testament miracles? Supposing (as I think is the case), that sound critical reading revealed different kinds of narrative in the Bible, surely it would be illogical to suppose that these different kinds should all be read in the same way? This is not a ‘rationalistic approach’ to miracles. Where I doubt the historicity of an Old Testament narrative I never do so on the ground that the miraculous as such is incredible. Nor does it deny a unique sort of inspiration: allegory, parable, romance, and lyric might be inspired as well as chronicle.”– C.S. Lewis
If you wish to find a book that explains this method of reading the Bible, I recommend the following books and just remember that you do not have to agree with a book to read it. It is good to expose yourself to other ideas, despite the objection of many fundamentalists. God Speaks by Gabriel Gordon, The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns, and Cross Vison by Greg Boyd are all fantastic books that can tell you far more than I could on how this manner of reading the Bible works. The Podcast the Bible for Normal People is also great for those that prefer to listen. Episode 169 covers this topic quite well. I will not say they have it all right, but they seem to all be thoughtful followers of Christ and have much better answers than books that support inerrancy like Is God a Moral Monster.
In an attempt to leave no question dodged in your response, I will ask another. Is being forced to sleep with and bear children to a person that killed your family and friends being treated with dignity simply because you were given a moment to grieve and handed a certificate of marriage? Keep in mind this would likely have been a young teenager whose parents and siblings had been killed in part or in whole by this man. This to me is one of many dangers of when holding so tightly to the idea of inerrancy. It leads to us trying to justify genocide, race-based slavery (Leviticus 25), the killing of children, the killing of infants, and so much more. I have heard the excuses such as, “But Jesus had to come.” I agree that he did. However, one does not require the other. I believe that holding to inerrancy prevents us from becoming more like Jesus and taking to heart that He is the only perfect revelation of who God is.
If Jesus came to you or me and told us to do something different than what the Bible commands, should we do it? If we make the excuse that God could not ask us to do anything different than what the Bible has already said, we may think we have found our logical way out, but we would have surely cast the first stone in John 8. Paraphrasing my good friend, we must not have a book-bound God like the Pharisees.
If you wish to dive deep into this topic, I highly encourage you to read the book God Speaks by Gabriel Gordon. I will not say that he is perfect or has everything right. However, I believe he is far more knowledgeable than me in these topics, and his book is worth a read even if you disagree with everything I have said. If you wish to read it, but cannot afford it, I would likely be willing to buy it for you if you ask.