Jef Caine – Graphic Designer
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness 2 Timothy 3:16
It’s been called the greatest book ever written. The one and only manual needed to live a truly fulfilled life. Many an aspiring youth pastor has cited it as their number one favorite book of all time!
The slew of flattery and hyperbole surrounding the Good Book forces me to wonder if people are actually reading this thing.
Take this puzzling passage for example.
If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity. Deuteronomy 25:11-12
Who here among us can claim this as a verse to live by?
Citing an obscure Old Covenant law may seem like a cheap shot, but it brings up a core issue I have with the book which is supposed to be everyone’s guideline for life. This collection of documents that is said to contain all of the answers also happens to be overstuffed with bizarre content that is at best unreadable and irrelevant, and at worst deeply problematic. Deuteronomy 25 happens to be a particularly puzzling passage, but we all know there’s a lot more where that came from.
Honesty time – I haven’t read the whole Bible. This personal blind spot is not for lack of trying. I’ve had my share of false starts. My Bible reading journey usually begins strong, lots of good narratives to follow in Genesis and Exodus, then begins to falter in the Old Covenant Law passages. By the time I get to the Kings and Chronicles my stamina is severely weakened and I’ve never even gotten to the Major Prophets.
At the time of this recording I’m 26 years old and have been plugged into a church community my entire life. I was raised evangelical, graduated from Bible college, volunteered in countless formal ministries and I’m coming up on my third year on staff at Central (which is a church). Somehow I’ve been able to navigate all of these Bible-believing institutions having not actually read the whole thing. Fake it till you make it!
It’s a personal goal of mine to make 2017 the year I actually finish the job. I’m currently a few days behind on my one-year reading plan (pray for me). So far I’ve read some terrific stories of miracles, redemption and men with extra fingers and toes. I’ve also struggled to endure long descriptive passages involving the blueprints for the tabernacle, division of land for the tribes of Israel, and of course the genealogies. Sometimes trudging through these passages is a profound and life giving experience. Sometimes it feels like an empty legalistic pursuit. Beyond the boring stuff, I’ve also come across a lot of material that makes me want to abandon the book altogether.
Slavery, genocide, polygamy, women’s rights, the Bible takes some dicey positions on these and other topics. Most Bible believing Christians have a set of stock answers to explain away these troubling questions. It would be charitable to say some responses are more satisfying than others.
I realize this is uncomfortable, perhaps even heretical territory, but if we’re going to take the time to read this whole thing we must engage the word for what it says and choose not to look the other way.
There is a point where this line of thinking becomes unhelpful. I’m quick to get tripped up by obscure passages and lose sight of the greater meaning of things. Jesus’ words in John 5 come to mind;
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40
Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, these guys had the Old Testament memorized. They knew the scripture front to back, yet in all their learning they missed the Messiah their teachings were pointing to. This is always something to be wary of when studying scripture.
All scripture points to Christ. This is the truth I must live in every day as I read through the Bible. So what about the passages that don’t? The Bible presents more questions than I have time to get into and I’m comfortable admitting I don’t have the answers.
Being equipped to address the problematic sections of the Bible involves approaching the text with a certain amount of humility. Often this simply means doing more research. It also means being less precious with the Bible, allowing research to take us where it may and being willing to re-think some traditional interpretations. In other cases, it means being willing to admit when we don’t have the answers. It’s not a completely satisfying conclusion, but it’s so much more genuine and life giving than a false answer. This too is reminiscent of Christ, who was famous for not answering people’s questions.