Home > General, Random thoughts, Theology > Bible surface-dwellers, let’s go deeper (slavery, human lifespan, Jeanne Calment…)

Bible surface-dwellers, let’s go deeper (slavery, human lifespan, Jeanne Calment…)

It amazes me how so many people read the Bible as they would a children’s novel. They expect everything to be obvious, and if something strikes them as odd, contradictory, or erroneous, they immediately jump to the conclusion that the Bible is false. They think that only the extremely naive or foolish could continue to believe. Worse yet, they’ll assume that people who continue to be Christians could not have possibly come across those verses before, or that we’re simply covering our eyes and ears while going “lalalala!”

One of the great things about the Bible, in fact, is that there are so many levels to it. A child can appreciate the stories and learn a few things, but an educated adult can delve far deeper and find complex truths embedded within. I often tell this to my friends, and they will agree…but I feel like every time I read a certain passage of the Bible, I glean something new from it.

What are some examples that skeptics will use to discredit the Bible? Well, one of the most popular subjects is the supposed endorsement of slavery. Both the Old Testament and New Testament seem to be okay with slavery, but here are some things to consider:

– Slavery in biblical times was more like servanthood, and in most cases was voluntary. People figured if they couldn’t make wages to eat properly, the best way they could ensure a proper meal every day was to become a slave. There were no food stamps back then or welfare, so this was a practical alternative.

– Parents would often sell their children into slavery if they couldn’t provide for them (i.e., financially unable).

– Slaves were entitled to inherit their masters’ property if the master did not have proper heirs.

– The Bible has many rules prohibiting mistreatment of slaves when there was temptation on the part of the masters to do so.

Now, compare this to our modern ideas of slavery, which says that slaves have no rights and are essentially property/chattel. Black slaves in the United States did not choose to become slaves, and they were involuntarily stripped from their families and basic human rights.

Slaves in the Bible were more like low-class blue-collar workers. So when Jesus exhorted everyone to do their best—even to be the best slaves they could be—it was basically like saying, “Whether you’re a minimum wage–earner or a doctor, do your best!” And in that way, glory can be given to God.

Context is vitally important when reading the Bible. Obviously, most of us don’t always read the Bible with our brains fully engaged in academic mode. I certainly don’t, and it would make it a very laborious process to do so every time. But my point is that when we come across difficult pieces of scripture, it clues us that maybe it’s time to look deeper into it. It is not correct to simply scoff at it, nor is it appropriate to brush it under the rug and hope no one notices.

Also consider this little tidbit…and I admit I just discovered this for myself today.

Genesis 6:3 (ESV) says: “Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.'”

Now, throughout my entire Christian life, I had always interpreted this to mean something along the lines of 120 years being the maximum human lifespan past the ancient fathers. I thought it was pretty cool that even with modern advances in medicine and such, no one (to my knowledge) had lived past 120 years. “Even in the old days, the Bible knew what it was talking about!” Most of us read things in a fairly straightforward manner unless we’re shown a reason not to.

Well, today I was shown a reason not to trust my interpretation. Out of curiosity, I looked up the age of the oldest human being in recorded history (outside the Bible). Her name is Jeanne Calment of France, and she happened to live over 122 years (1875–1997).

This necessarily set off an alarm in my spiritual head. Did she just prove the Bible wrong? My faith and previous experience (i.e., the many other times I doubted the Bible, only to be shown the shortcomings of my thinking) convinced me that this was not likely. I mean, even a cynic like me can only doubt something or someone so many times before I finally realize they are to be trusted. Were the 120 years mentioned in Genesis just an estimate? That didn’t seem right, but certainly more plausible to me than the Bible being flat-out wrong.

After quickly reading a commentary, the answer turned out to be a lot simpler than I expected. In context, God was simply warning mankind that they had 120 years to shape up and turn from their wicked ways. They didn’t listen, and so an event we call “Noah’s flood” took place. Their days were literally numbered by God in Genesis 6:3.

God was NOT numbering the lifespan of human beings today or for all time.

My point is, there are countless examples of this. Rather than jumping to conclusions or writing the Bible off like most skeptics do (I’m looking at you, surprisingly-shallow Dan Barker), all it takes is a slightly open mind and a little effort to go deeper. After all, you wouldn’t expect God’s great Word to be color-by-numbers all the time, would you? Sure the essentials are simple—believe in Christ as your savior and you will inherit eternal life—but the finer points are not for the lazy or those with perpetually cynical hearts.

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