Q. Do stories of evil acts in the Bible necessarily mean that that the Bible is an “evil book” or take away from its overall truth as the word of God?
A. Just because the Bible records an act, that doesn’t mean God recommends it. The Bible is not evil because of the evil deeds it describes any more than high school history textbooks are anti-Semitic because they document the Holocaust. For example, Exodus 21:18 describes what should happen “if men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but keeps his bed.” Clearly the sacred author is not commanding people to hit each other in the head with rocks. He is just giving sound advice about what should be done if something like this happens. Likewise, Exodus 21:10 and Deuteronomy 21:15 both describe a man with two wives and how he should treat his wives and children, but the texts don’t recommend marrying two women in the first place.
Q. Many accuse the Bible of being “anti-woman,” probably more so in the current social and political climate. Does this claim have any legitimacy?
A. It’s true that women had less rights in the ancient world than they do today, but the Bible is testament to God’s plan for equality amongst the sexes. For example, Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” It is not simply biological males who share in the image and likeness of God; women, too, share this honor. In fact, God’s eternal wisdom is personified as a woman (see Proverbs 8).
Also, women often served God’s purposes by being the heroes in salvation history who paved the way for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus’ genealogy includes Tamar, who outwitted her uncle Judah and exposed his moral hypocrisy; Rahab, who protected the Israelite spies and allowed them to conquer Jericho; Ruth, who courageously left her Moabite heritage and became an Israelite; and Bathsheba, who secured Solomon’s succession to David’s throne.
Let’s not forget the other women in Israel’s history, like Deborah, who led Israel to victory against the Canaanites; Judith and Esther, who saved the Jews from extermination; and of course, Mary, the Mother of God, who the Bible says all generations will call “blessed” (Luke 1:48). No other man in the Bible, save for her son Jesus Christ, is given such an honorific title.
Q. Would you say that most of the internal difficulties or contradictions that people find in the Bible are a result of the manner in which they read the Bible?
A. Most of the internal difficulties arise when people think the Bible is written in the genre of a newspaper or a courtroom transcript and so every detail needs to correspond exactly. However, in the ancient world authors could vary secondary details in an account in order to meet the needs of their audience. For example, consider what God says at Jesus’ baptism. In Mark 1:11 and Luke 3:22, God says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." But in Matthew 3:17 God says, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." So which is it? Did God say, “You are my beloved son” or “This is my beloved son?”
All three evangelists agree that at this event God publicly revealed himself to be the father of Jesus. Matthew, Mark, and Luke differ only in the words they used to describe that revelation. Matthew chose to emphasize how this message affected the crowd, whereas Mark and Luke emphasized how the message affected Jesus. There is no contradiction, because all three writers are asserting the same truth—that Jesus is God’s Son—but they do so in different ways.
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