15 Common Bible Difficulties

As you browse through news stories on some sites, you will come across various sensational links.  You know the kind, “Ten most dangerous animals”, “Twelve Celebrity fails”, “Twenty Unbelievable dogs”.  A couple of days ago, I came across one entitled “Fifteen things the Bible bans but we do anyway”.  “This is going to be good.  Let’s see what they have to say.”  I decided to write about this list as an excuse to address a number of common biblical difficulties.  I say “number” because, as the observant will note, there are sixteen difficulties listed below.  The authors of the post are as good at arithmetic as they are at Bible scholarship and critical thinking.

Premarital Sex

We won’t waste too much time on this entry. The rules are clear: if it is fun and involves doing it before marriage then you are in big trouble. The Bible goes all out in its war on premarital sex and any sort of thinking that could lead men and women from believing in purity. There are more than enough theological explanations for the banning of premarital sex but culturally we are sure it all comes back to power. if you control the sexuality of your people then you can control where they get married for political or social gain. Either way, this is definitely one rule that is broken every moment by believers all of the world. No size of charity donation will change humanity’s most basic urge to procreate.

Of course, the modern feminist theory that guides secular Bible interpretation is that the Bible is the product of a patriarchal society where the males were attempting to gain control of young women as property.  That theory will be on full display throughout this list.  While I would agree that the Old Testament is a product of the people to whom God was speaking, (You don’t go into a kindergarten class and lecture the children on quantum physics.) the idea that the only reason one would want to restrict extra-marital sexual intercourse is so that you could control the population for political gain is childishly simplistic.

Firstly, there are the obvious health impacts of Sexually Transmitted Diseases which were much less controllable before the advent of antibiotics and modern medicine.  Secondly, there are the economic impacts of having children outside of marriage which would again have had a much more severe impact on people in an agrarian economy.  These are the straight-forward, materialistic advantages to these rules that have caused societies which never heard of the Old Testament to adopt them and they have nothing whatsoever to do with political gain.

Of course, I think the fundamental reason that God forbids extra-marital sexual activity is that God’s whole purpose for sex is to teach selfish and self-centered human beings to love one another.  Extra-marital sex perverts God’s gift and furthers selfish and self-centred attitudes.  For more on this idea, see my post “God’s Purpose for Sex“.

Tattoos

You know that cute little tattoo you got in college? Or how about the tattoo you got to commemorate a lost loved one? Congratulations, you just played yourself — you are going to Hell. Leviticus 19:28 explains, “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” You may be the Lord of all things, to Christian’s, but you are totally kind of lame. No sweet haircuts, a mandatory beard, no mixed fabrics, and now no tattoos. We’ll pass.Besides this way we can pick which charity to donate to. We’ll start by donating to Tattoos for LGBT Youth (we jest, kind of).

As I explained in a previous post, most of the Old Testament law is not applicable to followers of Christ so the idea that a person can go to hell for a tattoo is absurd.  Also, the context of this passage seems to indicate that there was some kind of cultural ancestor worship that involved cutting your flesh or getting a tattoo?  This prohibition could have been specific to that practice and not at all applicable to other tattoos.  In any case, the command is not applicable today.

Eating Good Food

Okay, we’re being slightly hyperbolic on this entry but our point will make sense here in a moment. If you open up your Bible or search engine to Leviticus 3:17, which is quickly becoming our least favorite passage, you will see the statement: “It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that you eat neither fat nor blood.” Pretty not cool, right? We don’t mind so much the ban on blood but food with fat just happens to taste delicious. Think of your favorite meaty dish and then imagine never having it again. That’s what the Bible is telling you here. We almost don’t care how much Churches donate to charity in the name of the Bible if they want to take bacon away from us. Seriously, how dare they? There are probably at on of rational reasons for this entry and most of them probably have something to do with the lackluster regulation (read: none) on food back in those days. For the health of yourself and your family you were probably better off eating a much stricter diet. Still, this doesn’t read like something we would be happy following — and so we don’t. Eat those cheeseburgers! Ask forgiveness, not permission!

First of all, Jesus proclaimed all foods clean in Matthew 15 and, as I have described in my post “The Ultimate Authority“, Jesus is the ultimate authority for those who believe in Him.  As for why it was originally prohibited, I don’t know.  It is likely that drinking the blood or eating the fat of certain animals had a pagan ritual significance and God was commanding his people to be separate and apart (holy) from the pagans that surrounded them.

Divorce in Any Circumstance

Marriage in modern America as a lightning rod of controversy for a whole litany of reasons that we won’t get into. Instead we’ll talk about the other end of marriage. Divorce is pretty much the worst thing you can do in the Bible, at least according to 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. This passage reads, “The wife should not separate from her husband and the husband should not divorce his wife”. There is little to no wiggle room in that passage for cheating, abuse, lying, or any other rational reason to leave your modern partner. The Bible DOES say that if the wife DOES leave her husband then she must remain unmarried for the rest of her life unless she chooses to go back to her husband. That is sort of progressive, kind of. No matter where you fall on the Bible you have to admit that this passage was probably written by a man. Oh well, it probably kept many a marriage rehab center in business a couple thousand years ago.

Where to begin with this one?  Firstly, what would the author prefer God to say?  “No divorce unless you really feel like it?”  God is trying to get human beings to do the very hard work of learning to love other people at the same level as ourselves because “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is the second most important commandment according to Jesus Christ.  Yes it might be tempting to leave your husband or your wife for some matter of convenience or some temporary situation, but God wants you to fight your way through the difficulty and really learn how to love someone else even when it is hard.  Is this so difficult to understand?

“That is sort of progressive, kind of.  No matter where you fall on the Bible you have to admit that this passage was probably written by a man.”  Since Corinthians was written by Paul I would agree that it was written by a man, but not for some sexist patriarchal reason imagined by this author.  Does this person not know that back in those times male children died off in large numbers and that women outnumbered men as a result?  Does this author not know that this numerical inequality resulted in men leaving their wives as they were able to find attractive younger mates?  Does this person not know that according to the Bible (Malachi 2:14 and other places) God gets very angry when an older male abandons the “wife of his youth”?  This command protected older women and was extremely “progressive” at the time.

Buzzed Haircuts & Beard Trimming

Now, if we told you that the bible explicitly banned any sort of haircut you would probably roll your eyes and believe that we were being sarcastic or mocking. We aren’t. Leviticus 19:27 implores believers with the statement, “You shall not round off the side-growth of your head” which spells pretty explicit doom for many a hipster follower of Christ. Buzzing the side of your head is a popular fashion style right now for men and women alike and it is a timeless look. If you are curious to see this sinful hair cut for yourself then take to your favorite search engine and use the keyword, “undercut”. Do you think this hair cut should be banned from modern followers of the Bible? We like the look but we can understand the hate. Let’s look past the haircut and let our eyes trail down to beards. Leviticus 19:27 continues, “Neither shalt though mar the corners of they beard” which spells doom for almost all of us men out here. Better let your scraggly neck beard keep growing. We’re not sure how this makes us closer to the Lord but oh well.

Working on the Weekend

Have you ever stopped to wonder why most 9 – 5 jobs include weekends off? You thought maybe it was due to government regulations or some such but NOPE it was instead to save your soul. Exodus 31:14 – 15 is very clear on the manner of working on the sabbath stating, “You shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest.” While we are completely down with having the weekend off from work this statement reads harsh at best and downright tyrannical at worst. Seriously, you are put to death and condemned to hell merely for trying to make a paycheck to keep food on your table? We’re pretty sure all of America is going to be guilty of this strict wording.

Once again, these are commands from the Old Testament that are no longer applicable to followers of Jesus.  Christians have been living in accordance with this realization for several thousand years.  How can a person who knows anything really ask “Do you think this hair cut should be banned from modern followers of the Bible?” How can anyone who knows anything about Christian history say “Seriously, you are put to death and condemned to hell merely for trying to make a paycheck to keep food on your table? We’re pretty sure all of America is going to be guilty of this strict wording.”

Wearing Fabric Blends

We swear that the Bible is directing an attack at the world of fashion with some of these verses. First buzzed haircuts are targeted and now we learn that we can’t wear blended fabrics. Leviticus 19:19 tells us, “You are to keep my statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.” Now we aren’t exactly a bastion of theological knowledge but: why. Why are mixed fabric blends so taboo? Why is it so important to avoid having worn two different kinds of materials mixed together? Is this solely in relation to one article of clothing? Or should we go denim from the ankles up just to be safe. Regardless, you can send every professional athlete in the world straight to the Big Red Dude in the Basement for breaking this statute.

When Jesus taught his disciples to “avoid the leaven of the Pharisees” he was not talking about bread but about the teaching of the Pharisees.  In this way, God will often say something the purpose of which is to get us to understand a principle.  Just as a little bit of leaven will contaminate an entire lump of bread dough, so will a false teaching contaminate an entire group of believers.  When God tells us to avoid mixing things he is reinforcing a principle that he gave to the Israelites on many occasions.

As any carpenter can tell you, when you have a join between two different kinds of wood you have a potential problem.  Different kinds of wood react differently to temperature and humidity and this can cause warping.  Likewise, if two people are from two different cultures they will experience stresses that a homogenous couple will not face.  God’s primary purpose in this command was to teach his people not to intermarry with the surrounding pagan cultures.  Marriages with people who did not share the same religious beliefs or cultural upbringing would cause the ancient Israelites to grow astray.  This command is not valid for modern Christians since Jesus Christ and his teachings provide a basis for cross-cultural unity.  The New Testament equivalent to this command is to not be “unequally yoked”.

Gossiping.

Gossiping is bad. We all know it is bad to talk about people or situations behind their back but it is just so deliciously enjoyable. So, of course, it is completely banned. Leviticus 19:16 puts the focus on shutting down gossip with some straightforward language, “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people.” Does this mean you can’t talk about people anymore? Not exactly. You just have to tell it to their face directly. You know what, we actually sort of like this one. We’re still gonna gossip, though.

At least there is one thing on this list where I can agree.

Women Talking in Church

Talking during the sermon is bad no matter what gender you are, right? Right. But the Bible is also pretty explicit on the bare idea of women speaking at all while in the Church. 1 Corinthians 14:34 sends every feminist straight to hell by saying, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.” I mean. Wow. We know that the Bible was written in times where gender norms were very different but…geeze. The most hardened Red Piller might even blush at this command.

Have you ever been in a movie where people are constantly talking?  It can be so distracting that almost every movie theater plays a short commercial before the film saying “Please don’t talk and turn off your cellphones.”  And yet, the author of this list finds this prohibition to be somehow astonishing.

In that culture, women were not often educated and had no real experience with an environment where a lesson was being taught to a group of people.  One example of this is when the disciples of Jesus were amazed that he was speaking to a woman in John 3.  This being the case,  when a woman heard something that she didn’t understand she would ask a question of her husband in the middle of the assembly.  This was, evidently, a particular problem in Corinth.  All Paul is doing here is admonishing these women to be respectful of the church environment and not talk during the service.  Why is this a big deal that would make a “red piller” blush?

American Football

Get used to reading the word ‘unclean’ if you are going to spend any time reading the Good Book. The Bible is explicit in saying that the certain animals are unclean and deemed unworthy to tough. Leviticus 11:7 – 8 puts the kibosh on American football by saying, “You shall not eat any of their flesh (pigs), and you shall not touch their carcasses; they are unclean to you”. Try telling this to the NFL. If you want us to rest on Sunday then football has to stay, period.

Consuming bacon.

Pork gets the ax by way of the word of God. Our modern bacon loving world is taking a bigger L here than Meek Mill in 2015. According to Leviticus 11:4 the consumption of bacon is expressly forbidden along with a host of other meats. Leviticus 11:4 states, “Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof”. We know there is a reason here and a Biblical scholar could probably explain it to us but…why? Seriously, why are non split hoofed animals that chew cud alright, but split hoofed animals that chew cud a sin?

Though these were separate in the original list, I thought I would lump them together for convenience.

First of all, only a simpleton would equate not being able to touch a pig’s carcass with not being able to play football.  Can a football not be made of other materials?  I guess one can’t expect any kind of critical thinking in an internet list, but please.

Second of all, science tells us that pigs are very similar to human beings in terms of our biology.  That is to say, microbes which sicken pigs can also impact human health. For this reason, avoiding the consumption of pigs  and avoiding their dead carcasses is one way of avoiding numerous diseases.  This is a very sound principle in a culture with no knowledge of the germ theory of disease.

Hiring a Psychic.

No matter where you stand on the reality of psychics, the bible is pretty explicit in its banning of the practice or utilization of the practice. Leviticus 19:31 hits home pretty hard and makes it clear that God wants you only to consult Him. Leviticus 19:31 reads “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them” and the condemnation in the tone is pretty clear. In our mind if you actually believe in psychics then you probably deserve whatever condemnation you receive, even if it is just wasting your money in exchange for being conned by a cold reading.

The author actually seems to understand what God is saying here.

When a person goes to a psychic, they are typically seeking guidance for a tough problem or a big issue in their life.  God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for human beings so he might fill that role for us.  God has the power to help you that no psychic does, God loves you more than any psychic can and he longs to bless you and heal you free of charge.  Despite all of this, human beings go to powerless con artists who tell us what we want to hear for a fee.

Consuming Seafood.

Warning Red Lobster: don’t let this bible passage catch on. We’re back to our favorite book for this next passage that openly condemns the consumption of seafood. Leviticus 10-11 warns followers, “And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the water, and of any living thing which is in the water, they shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh.” This passage could have been put in place due to a lack of quality control standards for keeping seafood fresh, but we’re not convinced — surely God would have known freezers would eventually be invented? In any event, we’re going to have to be happy heathens every time we visit Maine — more lobster for us.

Actually, clams, lobsters, oysters and other creatures that “have not fins” are all bottom dwellers.  At that time, untreated sewage was dumped into the sea and rivers near every major human settlement.  Since fecal matter and its associated microbes will tend to sink, this command would have been extremely beneficial for reasons that have nothing to do with the lack of refrigeration.

Getting remarried.

We’re sure that there is some sense in that which Mark 10:11-12 purports but we still can’t get behind it. This passage says, “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” The translation here seems to be that women are property and if you touch another mans property then you have sinned in a great way. The common sense part of us makes us believe that marriage would be treated with more respect if it were a ‘one and done’ gambit, but we think the Best of 7 series is way more interesting (and fair).

When I lived in the Middle East, I became aware of the phenomena of temporary marriage.  Muslims, you understand, believe that it is wrong to have sex with anyone except for your wife or sex slave.  Islamic law, however, provides that all a man has to do to get a divorce is say that you are divorced three times.  Islamic law also allows for a man to have multiple wives.   When a man wants to use a prostitute in a Muslim country, he marries her for a couple of hours and then gets divorced.  This is the human proclivity to seek loopholes for hard requirements in plain view.

According to the Least Common Denominator principle of Biblical interpretation I gave earlier, therefore, when God gives the command to never remarry, he is closing the loophole to serial marriage that many Christians would use if it remained open.  “Well, God said it was okay to divorce and remarry, so I haven’t done anything wrong.”  As discussed above, God wants us to learn how to love another person even when we don’t want to and don’t like that person.  He is serious about it and he gives us many principles and guidelines in accordance with this command.

 

Homosexuality.

If you erased Leviticus 18:22 from the Bible could generations of hatred and civil inequality be wiped out? We aren’t sure but Leviticus 18:22 makes it pretty clear where Christians should stand, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” The translation here is that you could be the most God fearing man in the world with a heart of pure gold but you are still destined for a long and toasty visit to Satan’s headquarters in the end. As LGBT rights come more into focus around the world we are interested to see if modern day theology backs away from this sort of thinking. We’re hopeful, at least.

As mentioned above, one of God’s primary purposes for humanity is to teach us how to love other people at the same level as ourselves (“Love thy neighbor as thyself”).  As I have discussed in a previous post, God gave us sexuality to help us to learn to love one other person in this world as much as we love ourself.  If that person is very different from us, then when we have learned to love that person we have learned to love everyone with a lesser degree of difference as well.  God has constructed men and women in such a way that we can be very similar in terms of interests and opinions and yet be simultaneously very different.  Heterosexual marriage, therefore, is in accordance with God’s purpose to teach us how to love even those very much different from ourselves.  Homosexual relationships and marriage do not do this.  Why?  Because two men can be much more similar to one another and, for this reason, a homosexual relationship does not require the same hard work.  God calls this an abomination because it is extremely important for human society that we do the hard work of learning to love others who are very different from us.

Women dressing provocatively.

One thing we’ve found to be commonplace through the majority of religions in the world is the condemnation of women who dress with confidence. You’ll see religions everywhere saying that women should stay modest and the Bible is no differently. Let your eyes swing down to 1 Timothy 2:9 in order to hear, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety”. It just seems surpassing strange that the Lord cares so much about how women dress yet he never insists to proclaim the same thing for men. Is God slightly misogynistic or is there something being lost in translation? There’s no non-controversial answer to that question so we’ll just leave it alone.

In a previous post, I already discussed why I thought modesty in dress was an important virtue for women.  It is true that I did not go into the issue of why it is not as important for men, but this was because there is no reason to believe that men and women are the same with regards to various sexual traits except for the tenets of feminist fundamentalism.  For the sake of brevity, I will limit myself to one reason why I think God encourages modesty.

If a woman is dressing provocatively, then it stands to reason that she is doing it to attract the attention of men.  If she is attempting to attract the attention of men, then this is likely because her sense of self worth comes from the attention of men and not the love of God.  If a woman gets her sense of self worth from the attention of men and not the love of God, then she is likely to live a miserable life since basing your emotional well-being on other human beings is not a formula for success or happiness.

An Objection

It is possible for someone to argue that all of the commands discussed above are still binding on Christians on the basis of Matthew 15:18-19.

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 15:18-19)

If this verse were interpreted to mean that Christians are responsible for following the entire law of Moses, then this would violate all the teachings of grace and freedom that are found in the New Testament.  How do we reconcile this difficulty?  The answer is found in the very next verse:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:20)

How can I have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees?  How can I perfectly fulfill every law and commandment of God?  Shortly after this verse, Jesus will go to the cross and give me the gift of his righteousness.  He has fulfilled the law for me.  When he spoke verses 18-19, therefore, Jesus was preparing his listeners for the gospel message.  You need the free gift of God’s righteousness made available through the cross in order to make it into heaven.

Conclusion

The trajectory of many conversations between an atheist and a Christian on the subject of why they reject Christian truth follows a fairly predictable pattern.  The atheist mentions a difficulty based on some simplification or misunderstanding of the Bible.  The Christian goes into a detailed explanation of why the objection is invalid by examining the simplification or misunderstanding.  The atheist makes a complaint along the lines of, “That is so complicated.  Can’t you see that you are just making excuses?”    The problem is that truth and reality are often complicated.  What kind of respect could we have for a student in an algebra course who argued “That can’t be true it is too complicated?”  The inability to allow the truth to be complicated and nuanced is the characteristic of the childish and immature mind.  When an atheist uses one of the objections above as a reason for rejecting Christianity, it says a great deal about how they think.

 

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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