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My father was a man who continually studied the Bible. He’s currently a 35-year veteran of pastoring local churches. During that time, I’ve watched him pour over the scriptures, all in an effort to “get to know” this God. Much of what I believe today was fundamentally influenced by his wrestling with the scriptures and his continual commitment to not only hold them as holy and sacred, but also as a product of other human beings who wrestled with God in the same way. This idea that the text can be simultaneously a product of human and divine origin seemed normal to me growing up, though I do remember a stint where I fell prey to the allure of a perfect text. But I digress.

I grew up with the text in my home. Not just a dusty bible on a shelf somewhere in the back hall, never being read, but a living text that was open every day, read to us at night (and not just the “obey your parents” verses, those were reserved for faux shouting matches), studied and re-studied. We had the classic Christian game “Bible Trivia” in our home of course, only our edition was, shall we say, more “special”. On numerous cards, in my father’s handwriting, there were phrases and answers crossed out, with the “correct” version written in. I still remember the first time I decided to challenge my dad on one of his corrections. I remember feeling sheepish when I turned to the text, and there it was in black and white. He was right. They (my parents) were always right.

Until they weren’t.

We likely all remember the moment when we first realized our parents had issues, were wrong, or believed something we thought foolish. I’m not talking of those times when they admitted they had been at fault in yelling at us, or at fault in an argument. I mean the kind of realization that shakes us as young adults. For some it is realizing their parents are committed to work, ministry or their own endeavors above family. For others, it is realizing their parent’s worldview is narrow and skewed, most often in a Westerly manner. I don’t specifically remember what brought me to the place where I realized my own parents humanity, but I remember how it made me feel. Everything felt different. Truth felt untrustworthy for a time and I frequently thought to myself, “Could I believe anything they had said to me if they had this issue?”. After a short time though, everything settled down. The world didn’t stop spinning on its axis, cities didn’t crumble, and truth became trusted again. The issues weren’t gone, but I began to realize a life lived amid the issues is a real life.

It is this humanity that then inspired me to begin my study of the text so many years later. A humanity that allowed my father to be open with us about his questions regarding the Bible. His own use of Jesus as the word and revelation of God is what spurred me toward theology so many years later.

And just like I remember realizing some of the problems my parents had, I remember—vividly—the day I realized there were problems in the text of the Bible. I’d been taught about the “seeming” variations of dating in the gospels, how the authors used different calendars or some other excuse to dismiss the contradictions and disagreements. Mostly these were minor mental gymnastics, but they settled my mind. For a time. I’d been taught about contradictions in the text, more specifically, how they don’t exist, and anyone who suggested otherwise was “of the devil”. With all that fodder behind me, it’s no wonder I was fearful in approaching the problems I’d begun to see in the text. Everyone who’s begun to question the Evangelical doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility can name one or two verses that “did it” to them. Above all the other questions and problematic verses in the text, the following verse hit me square in the face.

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 [NIV]

There are a number of questions I had when I first read this passage.

  • Is rape ok as long as the virgin is pledged to be married?
  • Is it ok as long as they aren’t discovered?
  • Would God really force a rape victim to become the property of her assailant until he dies?
  • Is a woman only worth 50 shekels of silver (roughly $500 today)?

My mind was foggy. I’m convinced this is what began global warming—the day I realized the text had issues. Big ones. If everything in the text was “God breathed” as I’d been taught, then I must believe that, at a minimum, God had at one point in history ordained not only the forced marriage of a rape victim to her assailant, but it seemed as though He even authorized the rape, offering such trivial punishments in a patriarchal society. It appears at first glance that God not only authorizes the imprisonment of a woman, it seems also that He’s only concerned as long as she’s:

  • A virgin.
  • Not pledged to be married.
  • Discovered.

Belief in a God that treats people this way went against everything I’d been taught about the nature and character of God as revealed by Jesus. I was forced to do as I’d done when I realized my parent’s issues. Deal with it. The text isn’t going anywhere, it’ll wait. And wait it did. I went almost a year without cracking a book or the Bible again. Finally, I’d had enough and it was time to begin to look at things with a little more open mindedness. God could not both be the “divine penner” of the text and the purveyor of free-will that “they” say He is. Verbal Plenary Inspiration⁠1 not only stands full face in opposition to the doctrine of free will, it assumes a level of arrogance about a certain translation of the Bible proven to have various textual errors in the manuscripts.

What I’ve learned is to be lenient with the text. Sometimes, we’re dealing with poetry. Other times, it’s history, as best as it could be remembered. Still other times we read mythology, folklore, fable and parable. But how on earth do we weed through all this? What is what?

For me, the question became “What does Jesus say?”. Jesus says so many things about the character and nature of God that fly in the face of the revelation given through the Old Testament prophets and poets. Often, his speech isn’t quite so direct as we’d like him to be.

Jesus tells his disciples they don’t know what spirit they’re of when they ask if they should call down fire. We all know the story. But what we likely don’t put together is what Jesus’ speech does to the revelation of God in the Old Testament. If “calling down fire” isn’t something that someone who has the Spirit of God does, then what are we to think of Sodom and Gomorrah? What are we to think of Elijah “calling down fire” from heaven?

For that matter, why would we think that any sort of “fire” would be in the destruction wheelhouse of the one Jesus tells us doesn’t act that way?

You see what I mean. Problems. Big ones. Biblical authors that not only disagreed with Jesus’ revelation of his father, but to add insult to injury their opinions of God have been called “inerrant” or “infallible”. (Note: there’s a distinct difference – inerrant simply means “without error” while infallible means “not subject to any found errors”). Archaeology, history, science and astrology alone have disproven many of the claims made in the text (see the sun “standing still” – the sun doesn’t move), but if that weren’t enough, we have the words of Jesus declaring to us that the revelation of his father from the mouths, quills, and hands of men and women were sub-par to his own revelation.

Growing up with the text requires that we grow up ourselves. Something that is fallible, errant, has problems is something that is uniquely “holy” because it summarizes all that is human. And if the incarnation teaches us anything, it is that nothing on earth is quite as holy as human.

You can read more of Caleb’s thoughts here: http://theimperfectpastor.com

Read the rest of The Scriptures Series

14 Responses to “Caleb’s Journey With The Text Part 6 in The Scriptures Series by Caleb Miler

  1. Andrea on

    How awesome to know that I am not crazy, that those thoughts I’ve had over the years about the discrepancies between the written Word and the Word written in my heart by the Holy Spirit are legit and is simply put, God showing Himself as He is, not subject to paper and ink.

    Thanks Andre and Caleb for sharing these thoughts.

    Reply
  2. Deborah Henry on

    I disagree. This is not about growing up with texts. Deuteronomy 22:vs.13-30 are old testament laws about sexual purity. You can analyze it all you want. “Calling down fire from Heaven” is in reference to the fire of the Holy Spirit….for purity. Our finite minds cannot totally understand the scriptures perfectly.

    Reply
    • Brandon Hobbs on

      Our finite minds cannot totally understand the scriptures perfectly. …. I agree. …so we must. … resist that old devil between our ears, “think not”, for it’s in that hour that the son of man cometh, we “come up higher” where no flesh eating dragon abides, we come out of tribulation, we overcome, conquer this realm, by seeing right through this realm of electrons to the spirit, ) the origin and source of our being, abba, we are born back up to that which is above. …m

      Reply
    • Andre on

      I agree Deborah. ..our finite minds don’t get God (how loving he/she is), but the Bible is not God. Jesus is THE Word and the Biblw is the word about the Word. You say our finite minds don’t get the Bible, but yet you have just given us the meaning of these verses (or at least what you understand from the frame work you have been taught in).

      If we are honest with ourselves we all see things through the ‘lens” or frame work we have gained from others.

      That is why these posts are getting us to question and re adjust our framework to be based on what is revealed about Jesus (God with/in us).

      Jesus said…if you have seen me you have seen the father.

      Let’s start and finish with Jesus and let the questions come 🙂

      Reply
  3. Steve Melvin on

    With the “Mosaic Law” being the “Ministry of Death Engraved in Stone” I see a deeper meaning in the scripture you are using. You can either look at it through the eyes of law and see nothing but evil in it or you can look at it through the eyes of love and see the good in it. The basic law requires that both be put to death in these regulations that God never wanted to give, but through the grace and mercy of this rule they both can live and quite possibly good can be made out of this heinous situation. If there was no mercy from God in allowing more than 600 caveats to the 10 Commandments not one Israelite could have made it to the promised land and that bloodline would have ended since they all carried a death sentence making this part of the story to the Cross Impossible. We can either project our anger and insecurities on God or we can ask to see His Truth and Love through it all in an effort to keep us from destroying ourselves because we simply don’t understand Who He is so We can understand Who We are. As far as questioning the errancy of a scripture like this I will wait until my spiritual eyes are completely open with the Truth standing in front of me to get the full meaning.

    Reply
  4. Bruce on

    I agree with Steve Melvin: – in that society at the time God was bringing grace and mercy into the commandments. Christ is perfect theology and what He has revealed is the truth. Slavery and equality for all men and women have been brought about through the revelation of Christ even though in Moses and in the apostle Paul’s day the customs were different. We cannot interpret the scriptures apart from the revelation of Christ. Human reasoning will always cause us to err. Then again to some people the bible is God but we know the life is in the God of the bible which is Christ!

    Reply
  5. Sellappan on

    Thanks for sharing Caleb’s personal journey with the scriptures. While the act itself was grossly wrong, the solution proposed was probably in the “best” interest of the victim, considering the shame, stigma and guilt that she would have to carry all her life in that culture and society. By marrying her off, having children and family, would at least provide her some respect and dignity in that society. Otherwise, things might be worse for her. (1 Tim. 2:15 tells that woman would be “saved” through childbearing.) Hopefully, the perpetrator would change his attitude toward her with his family around him.

    Reply
  6. Andre Rabe on

    Caleb, thank you for sharing your journey with the scriptures.

    I too have come to see and appreciate the human element in scripture. Some of the commentators referred to the fact that these commands had cultural relevance. And I absolutely agree. But was it God who compromised His morality to fit into an ancient culture … or was it an ancient culture who projected their own violence onto God?

    A more extreme example: There are a number of instances in which the Hebrew scriptures says that YHVH caused them to kill or sacrifice their children. Lets look at two of these verses.
    
“I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh…” Jer 19:9

    “See, O Lord, and consider!
    To whom have You done this?
    Should the women eat their offspring,
    The children they have cuddled? Lam 2:20

    Here the scriptures claim that YHVH is the one who “make them” eat the flesh of their sons and daughters. The writer of Lamentations pleads with YHVH to consider what he, YHVH, has done: caused mothers to eat their offspring.

Can you imagine any situation today in which a parent has been caught in the process of eating their child … and their defense is: “God told me to do it.” Would anyone stand up to defend such a parent? Yet many try to defend such an immoral god … because it happened long ago in a different culture! Obviously we need to take into account the ancient cultures and practices, but no matter how far back you go into history – murder remains murder; to eat your children remains morally wrong.


    So Caleb, I think we have made a similar journey. Either god was progressively becoming more moral … or the scriptures is the story in which we (humanity) progressively work through all our projections and begin to see a God who is not violent at all.

    Thanks for your insightful article.

    Reply
    • Esse on

      Andre, thanks for all your scholarship! Very much wonderful.

      What gets me is that the very same Jeremiah whom we earlier agreed with in contradicting the Torah — campaigning for a much more Christ-like God — is the Jeremiah that we are now considering to be “wrong” about God. Is there some reason to believe that Jeremiah got hijacked later in life? I do see that translations make different assertions on this verse: some flat out say “I will cause them to eat…”; others basically suggest that God will not cause but allow the conditions which ultimately cause them to eat their children. Ick. Ick. The two are quite different; yet, what does the Hebrew actually say?

      Taking the Bible’s errancy to this extreme, where we reconsider the truth behind every “Thus saith the Lord,” do you think it could get all too easy to haphazardly toss out scripture simply because it seems to us that the prophet was “wrong”? Are we simply preferring one faulty text over another more faulty text? Help!

      I agree that ultimately there is no way around this one truth: we must view all fallible scripture in light of…er…what all fallible scriptures….reveal about the infallible Christ. Meanwhile, even our knowledge concerning Christ is progressive.

      Just wondering your counsel for the young student….

      Reply
  7. andre.rabe@gmail.com on

    Such important observations and questions Esse. This is part of a series where the aim is not to figure out what scriptures to keep and what to toss out, but rather to enter into conversation with all of scripture.
    I know of about 8 scriptures where YHVH is said to have ordered to sacrifice/murder of children … in the above comment I simply took 2 examples without any effort to create context etc. The article that was just posted – What Would Jesus Deconstruct – summarizes our journey in this series up to this stage … and point the way forward.

    Reply
    • Esse on

      “Conversation with scripture”

      Yeah. I’m keeping that one. It is written, after all, that the Spirit (and not the “word”) will lead us into all truth. Until recent years, I hadn’t realized how very extreme is the need for great care, rest, patience and all the Spirit gives to “rightly divide” the word. Papa apparently doesn’t want drive-by scholars who come for a nugget and a quick sale, but lovers addicted to the slow revealing and unfolding. Ha! Crazy God. You’re such a cowboy. Literally all over the place!

      Reply
  8. Dollea Herron on

    In the article, a footnote is cited after the term “Verbal Plenary Inspiration⁠1”, however, I did not find the footnote. Am interested in the what this term means. Would you please explain? Thanks.

    Reply

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