Yes, even the Bible uses hyperbole (and metaphors, analogies, etc.). What’s the point of this, you ask? Well, to make a point clearer or to convey emotion and urgency rather than straight information.
You see it often in the Old Testament prophets whose jobs were not simply to predict the future, but to warn people of their disobedience and to snap them out of their spiritual malaise. They would use very graphic and extreme language to voice the displeasure of God. Otherwise, the Jews wouldn’t have listened with ears perked because of their stubbornness. Saying “Nation of Israel, God is not happy with you right now” simply doesn’t have the same sobering effect of comparing them to “whores” (essentially cheating on God with other false gods).
Jesus uses hyperbole as well. Consider this passage from Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Now, as we saw in Part 2, let’s ABC (assume basic competence) here. Nobody could have possibly thought this was actually telling us to hate our own parents in the traditional sense. Heck, honoring our parents is even one of the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:12)! Not only that, but Jesus himself affirms this command in Matthew 15:4.
So what is Jesus saying here? Well, first of all, the word translated as “hate” does not mean to have an intense feeling of dislike as we might assume. In Greek, it means something closer to loving something much less. (There’s a lot of subtle meaning that English apparently doesn’t have that Hebrew and Greek do. This is one of the lingering negative effects of man’s rebellion at the Tower of Babel, I suppose…dealing with translation issues.) For our purposes, “hate” is still a close-enough translation, hyperbole considered.
Basically, if we are truly followers of Jesus Christ, He must come clearly first. If parents are to be honored, as is emphasized multiple times throughout the Bible, but we must “hate” them in following Jesus, how much more must we relegate the lesser things in our lives! Things like social status, money, or pleasure…they need to take an ever further back seat.
Practically speaking, this means that the will of God takes precedence over our parents. If we are clearly called by God to become missionaries, for example, but our parents want us to become doctors or lawyers, we must obey God and ignore our parents’ wishes in this case. If our parents are nonbelievers and want nothing to do with you because of your Christian faith, you must choose your faith over your parents’ unbelief. Better still, you should continue to try to evangelize to them.
Of course, as with everything, we must have a balanced view here. Jesus is not telling us to ignore our parents’ commands completely. We are to love and honor them whenever possible, and importantly, they are still above us in the chain of command. If this life is like a big company, our parents are still our day-to-day, immediate supervisors—but Jesus is the President and CEO. Obviously, if the CEO comes down to ask something of you personally, you do what he says.
Often, our parents’ wishes will function as confirmation of what God wants us to do IF they are continually in prayer and living their lives in accordance with God’s will. If they are worldly parents, then they can still bestow worldly wisdom and experience, which can be helpful, but such advice is ultimately hit-or-miss and contingent upon circumstances.
If you feel led by God to do something, but your godly parents are wholly opposed to it—and have good reasons as well—then God might be telling you, “I don’t know where you felt that leading from, but it certainly wasn’t from me.” If you feel that your prayers have been answered, then confirmation from reliable outside sources should also follow if it is legitimate.
*Update: Another example of hyperbole would be this famous passage:
Matthew 5:29-30: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
First, let’s consider this passage at its most basic level. What is Jesus saying? One of the more obvious points he’s making is that sin is very serious—in this context, especially lust. We need to take drastic measures to keep ourselves from continually sinning. Too often, we abuse God’s grace thinking, “We’re forgiven anyway, what’s the big deal?” This mentality simply cannot persist in a true believer.
Also, Jesus is telling us that sin can actually cause a person to go to hell.
Give that a second to sink in. I’m sure a number of objections are popping into your mind at this moment.
“But we’ve all sinned!”
“Sinning can’t make me go to hell if I’ve already accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior!”
I agree wholeheartedly on both counts. What I think Jesus is indicating here is that a person who perpetually sins—and is not already saved—is driving himself away from God, making the likelihood of coming to salvation more and more unlikely. If a person tries to be humble and does not engage in a very sinful lifestyle, he is naturally more receptive to the word of God. If a person is living recklessly, continually indulging in his lust (which is the primary focus of this passage, really) or pride, then they are pushing themselves away from God. Ultimately, they are driving themselves closer and closer to hell.
A person may also presume upon his salvation when he is really not there yet. Many people attend church and think themselves to be saved, but if they continue to live in sin, they are doing two things: 1) indicating that they are not being sanctified and may have not received the Holy Spirit to begin with; and 2) they are not interested in following Jesus Christ with their lives.
There are also some Bible-believing Christians who think that Christians can actually exercise their free will to such an extent as to lose their salvation. While many do not agree with this position, it would be prudent not to completely dismiss it either.
Now, is Jesus literally saying to gouge out your eyes? Maybe. If a pedophile really cannot help himself, gouging out his eyes might be what he needs in order to prevent himself from sinning and harming others. Maybe that’s the only way he can recenter his life and try to focus on God. In extreme cases, it’s possible that such measures would be worth it.
More likely, however, this passage is another example of hyperbole. Jesus is teaching a poignant truth: the extreme seriousness of sin and lust. If this passage were completely literal, there would be Christians with eye patches everywhere. I don’t think that’s what Jesus expected, but like God does in other parts of Scripture, He’s making a point we can remember. He’s shocking us to wake us up from our spiritual and moral slumber. He knows our tendency to ignore soft wording.
Two posts in two days…what is going on? Well, yesterday put a little wind in my sails, and I wanted to keep some momentum going. Plus, I already had this post written inside of my head, so I wanted to get it out.
What I am about to share with you all is a biblical interpretation technique that is so powerful, it will aid you for the rest of your life. It is so profound, no aspiring scholar can do without it. If skeptics picked up this one simple tool, many of us would be spared their bad arguments. It is a springboard to figuring out many of the Bible’s puzzling passages.
Am I exaggerating a bit? Sure. I’m being a little facetious. But honestly, this patented (not really) technique of mine will prove useful in pointing you in the right direction.
It is simply this: Assume Basic Competence (ABC) of the Jews. That’s it. (It also works great in tandem with another secret technique, UCS: Use Common Sense.) Why is this important and how do we apply this technique? By assuming that the Jews behind 65 of the 66 books of the Bible were not complete morons, that’s how. Make the basic assumption that the Jewish people, especially in biblical times, took their theology seriously. They grew up studying and discussing theology throughout their lifetimes, and they pretty much had all of the biblical stories memorized to the detail, especially during the times of oral tradition. It was not uncommon, for example, for young Jewish boys to memorize the entire Torah word-for-word. In short, whether you believe the Bible is God-breathed or not, at least give the Jews credit for knowing their own theology.
Let’s apply this technique to the following commonly misinterpreted passage. As I mentioned in my previous post, this is an absolute favorite of anti-religious people everywhere.
Judges 1:19: “The LORD was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots.”
Wait, what? An army powered by God Almighty lost the battle because of the superior power of iron chariots, a man-made invention?
Hold yer horses! Let’s assume the Jewish person responsible for recording these events was not a complete neophyte, and if he were, someone would have corrected him before his book went to print, so to speak. Let’s assume that he grew up hearing the widely told stories of Moses crossing the Red Sea, God destroying Pharaoh’s army (which included chariots), or even God being the creator of the entire universe. Is that a fair assumption to make?
Let’s go even further (I know, I’m getting crazy here) and assume that the writer of “Judges” did not have a complete memory meltdown when he later wrote three chapters later that the Jews were able to triumph over an army of iron chariots (see Judges 4:13-15).
So what is a possible explanation here? Well, we don’t really need to get technical just yet. Let us use our reasoning skills and even personal experience to try to come up with a preliminary solution. From the passage, it is clear that God was with the men of Judah. That’s a good thing for sure. But what could have possibly contributed to their defeat? Could it have been a lack of faith and dependence on God? Whenever you see God commanding His people to go head-on into overwhelming odds, they see victory IF they obey with conviction. Apparently, these Jews forgot the mighty God that they served and instead thought to themselves, “This is impossible, how could we possibly defeat these iron chariots?”
With this kind of doubt thrown in the face of God, it’s no wonder they were not given victory. We do the same thing every day. True believers have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but we still try to do things our own way, which is why we still sin. We sometimes feel God calling us to do something or pulling us one way, but we decide to calculate and plan in our own wisdom. What ends up happening is that we crash and burn, and we wonder why God let such calamity fall upon us. It’s due to a lack of obedience and faith. We are now empowered to do right, but we often choose to do wrong because of our disobedience. It is our own failure, not God’s.
The same thing apparently happened here in chapter 1. The Jews had won previous battles and instead of thanking God, they probably attributed their victories to their own might. When it came to iron chariots, however, they were completely stricken with fear because they could no longer rely on their own strength. Their reliance on God had gotten rusty, which contributed directly to their defeat.
That wasn’t so hard was it? By giving even the slightest bit of credit to the biblical authors, it pushed us in the right direction to draw some reasonable conclusions.
Now, let’s go a little deeper.
The Book of Judges is written with a general circular pattern that goes like this:
1) The Jews rely on God and achieve great victories;
2) The Jews start to forget about God and start crumbling to the insistent pressure from their enemies;
3) God chooses a great prophet or “judge” to wake the Jewish people up and turn them back to obedience and faith; and
4) Go back to #1, rinse and repeat (but each time, God starts to lose patience and increasingly delays His deliverance).
With this knowledge in hand, we might notice that the first 18 verses or so constitute step #1 above. The Jews seem to be winning every battle handily. The verse where they failed to defeat the iron chariots, however, is the start of step #2. We now see some victories, some failures—we start to see some chinks in the armor.
There is also a literary device being employed here that could prove very enlightening. Let me start by saying that everyone should acknowledge that the Bible is written with all kinds of different styles—sometimes through very straightforward prose (such as genealogies or historical facts being retold), poetry, allegory, and other literary styles that facilitate storytelling.
In the case of Judges 1:19, the author is employing a perspectival device that views the story from the eyes of the characters involved; namely, the men of Judah. (This literary feature was more common in ancient literature, but it’s almost nonexistent today.) Because they themselves thought it was impossible to defeat iron chariots, the author recorded that as the reason for their defeat. They viewed it as a match-up between Jewish military strength and the unstoppable power of iron chariots. They should have seen it as God > everything.
As mentioned earlier, just a few chapters later, the Jews are able to defeat an army of iron chariots. What was the difference this time? No, the author did not have a brain fart previously—ABC. What happened was that God sent a great prophetess, Deborah, to wake the people up (remember, step #3). They finally obeyed God fully—in their hearts and in their actions—and were victorious (back to step #1). At least for a while.
(Quick note: I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed these days with work, personal life, and seminary, as you may have noticed. This upcoming summer term, I am actually lightening my academic load so that I can regain my balance and focus more on my spiritual life rather than scrambling to finish papers, etc. Hopefully, that will leave me with more time and energy. *Edited 5/17/12 for a little more precision.)
Without further ado, let’s get started with this series!
1) Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The first passage we will examine demonstrates one of the common reasons for misinterpreting the Bible. In a word: CONTEXT.
People seem to love this verse because it has a very positive, encouraging feel to it. Clearly, God wants us as His children to prosper and do well in this life, right? Well, yes and no. Of course, God loves us and wants the best for each one of us. The problem with this interpretation, however, is at least two-fold.
First, while God does have our best interest at heart, His plan might be different from our definition of “prosper”-ing. While God does sometimes bless his children with worldly wealth and success, He is far more concerned with the big picture—that being eternity. Think about it, if God had a choice between granting you riches on this earth or putting you in the best position spiritually to attain eternal life (and to receive far greater riches in heaven), wouldn’t He choose the latter out of His love and wisdom? Sometimes these things are mutually exclusive. Too often, riches right now spoil people and ruin them spiritually. It generally leads to far less dependence on God, a lack of humility, and materialism. Becoming complacent due to wealth is a curse, not a blessing. God knows better than we do whether or not we can handle this form of prosperity. Hardships can be a blessing in disguise if it refines our character and turns us into better people.
Second, many things in the Bible are not meant to be blanket statements that are true in every situation. In other words, we need to consider context. Where does this verse come from? It comes from Jeremiah during the time of the first great Jewish exile. The Jews had lost their land—the very land God had given them as “The Promised Land”—due to serious disobedience over generations. They were dejected and hopeless with enemies on every side. While these people needed to be taught a lesson and scared back into dependence on God, being the empathetic father that He is, God also wanted to give them hope for their future. It wasn’t too much longer after this that the Jews were allowed to return to their land (unexpectedly thanks to the pagan, Cyrus the Great), setting the stage for the savior himself, Jesus Christ, to be brought to mankind.
Bottom line: This promise was made specifically to the Jewish people.
*Special note: If this promise can be considered prophetic, notice that it has had at least two fulfillments so far in history–one near, one far. While the Jews had gotten their land back for a time, they again lost it in 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed, persecution ensued, and the Great Diaspora happened. The Jews did not return to their land until almost 1,900 years later, but they now enjoy a great deal of success and prosperity—just look at a list of Hollywood actors, producers, or company CEOs. The nation of Israel has grown by leaps and bounds in just a few short decades. While an enormous amount of tribulation is about to fall upon the Jewish people once again, in the end, their capital city (Jerusalem) will become the focal point of God’s future kingdom on earth.
The unfortunate thing about misinterpreting this verse is that it gives people a false and distorted hope. The same thing goes for the “Prosperity Gospel” going around these days. This verse is not ensuring success for your business! People start expecting that becoming a believer and serving in the church will open the gates to God’s riches, worldly success, and strong health. Relationships and overall happiness should flourish! When things don’t go their way, however, they grow bitter and disappointed with God. Even worse, their faulty logic surmises that God must not exist since an omniscient being could never be wrong in making promises.
Think about it: Jeremiah preceded the New Testament, and we have abundant examples of people who followed Jesus only to endure extreme hardship and pain. All but one of the disciples were martyred. Paul was stricken with a “thorn in the flesh” (a persistent physical ailment) and went from prison to prison being severely beaten nearly to death. Does this sound like our typical view of “prosperity”? Paul even begged God three times to take away his “thorn,” which God declined. The apostle’s mission and eternal destiny were too important to risk letting comfort and pride set in. God’s approach worked (of course), and Paul succeeded in spreading the gospel around much of the civilized world. Christianity would not be where it is today without him and the ordeals he overcame. Imagine if he had given up and pouted at God! I bet Paul is smiling right now, knowing that it was all well worth it. Any temporary suffering has probably long been forgotten.
2) Genesis 9:20-27 tells the story of how Noah (post-flood) had gotten drunk and passed out naked in his tent. (By the way, this is descriptive, not prescriptive; i.e., just because Noah did it doesn’t make it good.) One of his sons, Ham, came into the tent and here is what transpired:
Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
This passage demonstrates how insufficient knowledge of history or Hebrew could lead to confusion or shallow interpretation.
Let’s start with the most surface-level interpretation. It might be easy to think that Ham accidentally or innocently wandered into the tent—perhaps to ask his father a question—only to be shocked at what he saw. Rattled, he walked out and told his older brothers who would know what to do. And yet, Noah is furious and curses Ham’s son, Canaan, who wasn’t even involved in the situation!
How is it fair to punish Ham (and his son) for a simple mistake like this? Even if Ham had thought it was funny that his father was naked, or simply did not have the consideration to immediately cover him, what’s the big deal? People disrespect their parents all the time, and they don’t receive serious punishment, let alone curses on their offspring. Sure it’s wrong, but isn’t this an overreaction by Noah?
Well, we need to dig deeper. The key word here is a basic one: “saw.” Reading an English translation, whether the NIV or ESV, does not capture the entirety of the text’s meaning. We have to refer to the Hebrew to better understand the story.
In Hebrew, the word we translate as “saw” in this verse actually implies seeing or gazing upon something with pleasure, particularly in a sexual sense. What Ham did was not accidentally stumble into a tent and shield his eyes out of shock, but rather he probably stood there and soaked in the sight. He relished seeing his naked father. Not only was this a disturbing act of disrespect toward his father, but it was also incestuous and homosexual in nature. He probably told his brothers afterward so that they could share in his delight. We might also be able to infer some other details, but at this point, don’t we already have enough?
To further bolster these facts, we also have a key clue in Ham’s son, Canaan. Don’t we recognize that name somehow? Sure, he and his descendants would later constitute some of the Jews’ greatest enemies, the Canaanites. Biblical scholars and secular historians both agree that these were a group of people who practiced all kinds of wicked rituals. They were not only sexually immoral (rampant homosexuality and orgies), but they also committed child sacrifices and worshiped false gods like Baal. Clearly, there was something in the line of Ham that was deeply corrupt. This was no innocent man caught in an unlucky situation.
*Another sidenote: Why isn’t this passage translated better in our English language Bibles? Doesn’t this point to a weakness in God’s Word? Well, ideally, reading this passage should go in one of two ways: 1) Because we trust God (with a child-like faith), we know that He is fair even when we don’t fully understand; or 2) something seems off to us, so we go and research this passage, learning that there is more than meets the eye.
Of course, what often happens is someone with a doubting heart reads this and thinks he/she understands it just fine. “God is unjust and wildly unpredictable.” In a sense, that person is elevating his or her moral standards and code above that of the ultimate judge, God the Creator. If that person could have the right heart (scenario #1) or be less sloppy and do some disciplined research (scenario #2), this kind of misinformed assessment could be avoided.
Furthermore, think about the issues that translators faced when tackling this passage. This is Genesis 9, near the beginning of the Bible. This is a book that even children read. Is it worth it to make kids start thinking about this kind of sin at that young age? Couldn’t it possibly plant some bad ideas or make things awkward with their own fathers? I know if I read something like that before I was ready, I would have been a little scarred and disgusted. Full and open disclosure is not always the wisest idea, and withholding some information is not always a weakness. We are given enough information to learn about God and be edified, but not be sickened with excessive details.
* * * * *
Well, that’s it for now. I’m trying to avoid making these posts too long and “epic” because it makes it difficult to even get started when I’m pressed for time. I really can’t help myself sometimes.
I hope to update more frequently since I have fewer excuses to be tired. With my job stabilizing and the lighter course load (and our new puppy settling in), I should be good to go most weeks.
Next time, we’ll look at one of the favorite passages that anti-religious skeptics love to mock. Hopefully, you’ll see again just how shallow their interpretation is and how the slightest bit of an open mind might help them to realize their error.
It’s been weighing on my heart these days to start a “series” of sorts called “Misinterpreting Scripture” (I know, clever). My goal is to take a look into various passages of the Bible that are often misinterpreted and/or mocked in order to gain more clarity on what God is actually telling us.
When people misinterpret scripture, it’s usually due to one or more of the following reasons:
– taking verses out of biblical context without knowing the big picture
– reading on the surface, rather than thinking things through and using some basic logic and common sense
– not taking into account pertinent historical or cultural information
– distorting the message by infusing the Word with our own expectations
– not knowing what the original Hebrew or Greek says (i.e., the inherent weaknesses of translation)
Motives for these failures range from simple ignorance to deliberately seeking out passages that seem outdated and outlandish today to mock the Christian faith.
The more I learn about the Bible—and there are always more layers to uncover—the more I am amazed at its depth and complexity. I know I say this a lot, but it strikes me as sheer arrogance and stupidity whenever someone thinks they’ve found some gaping theological hole through their own brilliance or “reason.” If you’re not willing to take faith in what the Bible says, at least give centuries of serious scholars some credit. People have been poring over the pages of the Bible more intensely than any other work in history. You are not so special that you’ve found something that others have not (and have already solved for the most part).
And for those who have faith in the Bible, please know that it is not as simple or straightforward as a history book or instruction manual. You must stay engaged intellectually—you cannot check your brain at the door! We are to love the Lord our God not with just our hearts but also with our minds. But most of all, we must be in tune spiritually. Without the voice of the Holy Spirit, we cannot hope to understand what God is actually trying to tell us.
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14. How true these words are!
Let’s take a look at a YouTube clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27pDmWOO73c) with atheist Sam Harris discussing the Bible’s relevance and veracity in modern times. More than other extreme atheists, I can respect Harris’ willingness to concede certain points or to at least maintain an air of respect toward believers during debates and interviews. He might be mocking us inwardly, but at least he has manners, which I think is conducive to understanding.
So per usual, I will quote from the video and comment with my thoughts. I will obviously be approaching it from the Christian/biblical perspective. I’ll try to touch upon all of the main points.
0:04: “Do atheists take a literalist approach to scripture?”
Harris, 0:08: “Well, this is a common criticism: the idea that the atheist is guilty of a literalist reading of scripture, no better than the reading of fundamentalists. It’s a very naive way of approaching religion, and there’s a far more sophisticated and nuanced view of religion on offer and the atheist is disregarding that.”
I’d pretty much agree, though I don’t think we can wholly blame atheists alone. Interpreting scripture can be a tricky thing and it takes people a lifetime of study to grasp it better (but still not perfectly). With our finite minds, all we can do is try our best.
What irks me, however, is that a lot of people encounter something difficult in the Bible and write it off immediately, as if they have figured it all out with just a glance. A lot of things that seem off or contradictory could actually be cleared up with the slightest bit of research and the tiniest crack of openness.
Harris, 0:32: “…few problems with this. First is, anyone making that argument is failing to acknowledge just how many people really do approach these texts literally or functionally, whether they’re selective literalists or literal all the way down the line, there are certain passages in scripture that just cannot be read figuratively.”
Yes, a lot of people differ on when things are literal, but what does this have to do with the integrity of the Bible itself? Here’s the best part of this quote, though: “…there are certain passages in scripture that just cannot be read figuratively.”
Does Sam Harris presume to know which is which with absolute certainty? How did he come to this level of expertise in the Bible? Perhaps he can shed some light onto theologians who have been wrestling with interpretation for many years. Even if something is literal and happens to be unsavory, that doesn’t rule out taking things into context and exploring the deeper, true meaning of certain passages. Sorry for speaking in generalities for now, but I’ll get more specific as he does.
Harris, 1:13: “It’s true that you can cherry-pick scripture and you can look for all the good parts and ignore what it says in Leviticus that if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, you’re supposed to stone her to death on her father’s doorstep. You can ignore that and, to my knowledge, all Jews and Christians do ignore that….most religious people ignore those passages, which really can only be read literally, and say that ‘oh, they were only appropriate for the time and they don’t apply now.”
There are two funny things to this quote. First of all, if anyone is culpable of cherry-picking, it’s Sam Harris. Almost any debate or interview you see with him in it will have a guaranteed reference to Leviticus or Numbers in them. It’s like clockwork. He’ll ignore all the good parts and focus on the difficult, troubling sections as a way to strengthen his argument.
Second, I think it’s funny that Harris knows the answer to his qualms about Leviticus—i.e., they are not appropriate for today—but chooses to brush it off. It’s not some convenient tactic we Christians are using, it’s very obvious why some points in Leviticus no longer apply. Jesus came to us and basically unbound us from the legalism and strict rules Jews needed to follow in order to be “righteous.” The “wages of sin” are no longer death because of Christ’s victory over sin. He gave us salvation that is apart from works, and we are in a different spiritual era.
There is a strange but common misconception that the entire Bible is supposed to be directly applicable to everyone’s lives in the 21st century. Why is this? A lot of the Old Testament is supposed to serve as history and background information. When we are told the age at which someone died, that is not meant to change our behavior or shape our personalities. All the rules in Leviticus don’t apply directly to us anymore in the modern age, but it serves to show us what we would be bound to (almost impossible standards) apart from Christ. The sensuality in “Song of Songs” is intended for married couples and wouldn’t be appropriate for children. We need to get it out of our heads that either everything applies or nothing does. This is a gross simplification and oversight on the part of bible critics.
Harris, 2:10–4:36: [He goes on to describe some current state of affairs, human rights, ways modernism trumps scripture. Then he offers an example in the mother of the Virginia Tech shooter taking her son to religious leaders who performed an exorcism on him rather than taking him to a psychologist. In his view, modern science and knowledge would have been superior to appealing to God.]
I don’t have a lot to say on a lot of current events because frankly, I’m just not that informed or involved. But I think human rights activists would be foolish to ignore the profound influence the Bible has had in ingraining into us the importance and dignity of every human being. The Bible espouses love and fair treatment, and did so during a time and culture of great inequality. If modernism seems somehow more “advanced” than the Bible, it’s only because it used the Bible as a step ladder to get to where it is today. But I would maintain that modernism isn’t more advanced anyway, just more specific and catered to our current culture. I would agree that in some ways, the Bible is more general and broad.
As far as Harris’ example of the Virginia Tech shooting, I have a few things to mention. It’s simply not accurate to imply that Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter, was only brought to an exorcist for his obvious issues. Mental health professionals tried to reach him, but he basically denied everything and refused treatment. It wasn’t for lack of availability of modern psychology (painted as a sort of regrettably bypassed hero in Harris’ illustration) that Cho succumbed to his evil intentions.
More importantly, I think this whole idea of religion and God failing to prove effective is misinformed. There is another widespread misconception in popular culture that ALL evil stems from Satan and his demons. While the devil may poke and prod people in a certain direction—and he is enormously clever in deceiving us into doing wrong—that doesn’t remove all responsibility from us human agents. There are a number of reasons Cho might have been inclined to murder, and it’s not something an exorcist could necessarily fix. The root of the problem may have been Cho’s personal inclinations and environmental shaping. Plus, what’s to say that a psychologist would have been able to fix the problem? Are they suddenly 100% effective?
While we humans are spiritually helpless without God’s grace, as I have said in the past, we are not his pets. We have generally been given the ability to feed ourselves, figure out some of our own problems, and to appeal to medicine and psychology. We have been given the gift of discovery and invention, and I think God appreciates the efforts of hard-working doctors and researchers who help people. Contrary to skeptics’ belief, God is not a dictator who runs every aspect of our daily lives with an iron fist.
4:38: “Is it possible God was speaking in metaphors?”
Harris, 4:41: “Let’s just grant the possibility that there is a creator God who is omniscient who occasionally authors books. And He’s going to give us a book—the most useful book, he’s a loving God, he’s a compassionate God—and he’s going to give us a guide into life. He’s got a scribe, the scribe’s going to write it down. What’s going to be in that book? I mean, just think of how good a book would be if it were authored by an omniscient deity. There is not a single line in the Bible or the Qur’an that could not have been authored by a first century person.
I beg to differ, and I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you’re going to read the whole thing wrong, then of course you’re going to miss its grandness and uniqueness. More than ever, I am continually amazed by the words of the Bible as they speak to me. They seem to come alive and dig into deep heart issues like no other book I’ve ever read. The teachings of Jesus far surpass the very best that philosophy has to offer.
I admit, there was a large chunk of my life when the Bible sometimes felt old, dusty, and boring. (Heck, for most of my life, I found politics and history incredibly dull as well.) But as I grew in emotional and spiritual maturity, my eyes were opened to the inspiration of the word of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18 anticipates this perfectly: “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”
As I read the Bible today, I find myself constantly marveling at it. The power of God can be seen in those pages if you trade in the spiritual blindfold for a nice pair of spiritual glasses. Remember when those old “Magic Eye” books were popular? They would have pages of jumbled images in them, but if you looked at them just right, you’d see a cool 3D image. Some people just couldn’t see it no matter what…
In my opinion, there is no way anyone (let alone multiple authors over centuries) in ancient times could have made up such profound and consistent truths. Some books today that seem to resemble or surpass the Bible in truth might be unwittingly using some of the scripture’s truth as a base and catering its message to a more specific audience (i.e., modern society). Christian teachings have permeated cultures around the world so greatly that it’s impossible to separate it out from mainstream thinking today.
Harris, 5:32: “There’s nothing about electricity, there’s nothing about DNA, there’s nothing about the principles of infectious disease. There’s nothing particularly useful, and there’s a lot of iron age barbarism in there and superstition. This is not a candidate book. I mean, I can go into any Barnes and Nobles blindfolded and pull a book off the shelf which is going to have more relevance, more wisdom, for the 21st century, than the Bible or the Qur’an.”
Did God not create us with inquisitive and creative minds to discover things for ourselves? Is the Bible supposed to teach us about technology? How about insights into fixing engines or leaky faucets? Why not? That would seem pretty darn useful to me.
A mechanic might find a automotive manual more “relevant” to his everyday life, but how does that prove that it’s more important and containing more wisdom? How exactly is this supposed to detract from the Bible?
The Bible does not claim to have every important fact for us to live by. It does not claim to teach us or warn us about every future possibility. But what it does claim to do is teach us about the nature of God. It also tells us how to find salvation and ensure our eternal destiny in heaven, saving ourselves from utter destruction. But yea, I guess that’s not really “useful,” right?
Harris, 6:08: “I mean, it’s really not an exaggeration. Every one of our specific sciences has superseded and surpassed the wisdom of scripture from cosmology to psychology to economics. We know more about ourselves than anyone writing the Bible or the Qur’an did, and that is a distinctly inconvenient fact for anyone wanting to believe that this book was dictated by their creator of the universe.”
Let’s not forget that much of what we know about ourselves today was kick-started by the Bible anyway. Give credit where credit is due, and that’d be a modest start.
There’s nothing “distinctly inconvenient” about any of Harris’ points. The Bible does what it sets out to do, and it succeeds with flying colors. It gives us the word of God that can be understood and digested by simple and learned minds alike. It tells us truths about love and human dignity in ways that do not go obsolete. It clearly and unambiguously shows us the way to save ourselves from perishing…
…but it has nothing to say about the economic laws of supply and demand. =( Phooey.