Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Common Objections To The Bible

The following are responses to common modern objections raised to the Bible:

1. "God gave many commandments, but he never gave a commandment against rape."

Actually, he did.  It's a verse that critics of the Bible conveniently tend to ignore and skip over:

"But if the man meets the engaged woman out in the country, and he rapes her, then only the man must die.  Do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no crime worthy of death. She is as innocent as a murder victim." (Deuteronomy 22:25-26, NLT)

2. "Many of the commandments in the Old Testament make no sense."

After God rescued the Israelites out of Egypt, God gave them 613 commandments, found in the Torah (Genesis - Deuteronomy).  These commandments were never intended to apply to anyone but the Jewish people (Exodus 19:3-6, 31:16, 34:27; Deuteronomy 5:1-3).  Many of them were never intended to apply outside of the land of Israel, or in the absence of the Temple (Deuteronomy 12:8-14).  Some commandments were intended to keep them in community with God, others to keep a peaceful and orderly society, still others such as the dietary/purity laws to make them distinct from other nations.  These commandments were intended to set the Israelites apart from the rest of the world, so that they would point the rest of the world to God.  The commandments were never a means of salvation or achievement of righteousness - this is done by faith in God and in his sacrifice alone (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:18-25).

3. "There is way too much violence in the Old Testament."

It is true that sections of the Old Testament are violent.  It is important to note that the Bible does not always approve everything that it records.  Just because there is an act of violence recorded in the Bible does not mean that God approves of that act of violence.  Some parts of the Bible, particularly the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), are books of history.  The Bible contains many stories where society abandoned God and went wrong, particularly in terms of murder, adultery, rape, polygamy, child sacrifice, incest, etc. (Genesis 29-30, 34; Judges 13-21; 1 Samuel 1:1-8; 2 Samuel 11-13; 2 Chronicles 33:6). 

Critics of the Bible ignore the passages in which people who were usually oppressed and denied their rights in ancient society were given protection under the Law.  The Law offered protection for slaves (Exodus 21:20, 26-27; Deuteronomy 15:12, 23:15-16) and protection and inheritance rights for women - which was a huge deal in a patriarchal society (Exodus 21:7-11; Numbers 27:1-11; Deuteronomy 22:25-26).  Not to mention all of the stories where God expressed his compassion on those who were being oppressed, and rescued people or rewarded them for their faithfulness:

God rescued the Israelites from over 400 years of oppression and slavery in Egypt, where they were being abused and murdered by their slave masters (Exodus 1:11-14, 22, 12:31-42)

God rewarded the midwives who did not submit to Pharaoh's order to murder baby Hebrew boys (Exodus 1:15-21)

God rescued Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego from a fiery furnace; men were plotting against their lives because they refused to bow to idols (Daniel 3)

These are just a few examples of many Biblical stories that show God's compassion and mercy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Bible and Sexuality (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6)

With human sexuality at the forefront of the news lately, I thought it might be helpful to revisit what the Bible says about it.

The beginning of the book of Genesis contains the account where God created man and woman, and the first marriage: “But for Adam no suitable helper was found.  So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
‘This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.’
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:20-24, NIV)

Jesus affirmed this when discussing marriage and divorce with a group of Pharisees: “’
Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’” (Matthew 19:4-6, NIV).

From these two accounts, we learn the following about God’s intention for human sexuality:

1. Human sexuality was designed to be expressed between one man and one woman, united together for life.  The Bible contains many stories of the miseries that arose because of deviant sexual acts such as polygamy (Genesis 29-30, 1 Samuel 1:1-8), adultery (2 Samuel 11), prostitution (Judges 11:1-3), rape (Judges 19; 2 Samuel 13), etc.  Sex was designed as a uniting bond between a man and his wife (the Hebrew root words used in Genesis 2:24 are “ish”, meaning “man, male” and “isha”, meaning “woman, female”). 

From this one verse, Genesis 2:24, we learn the order of marriage – an adult man removes himself from his parents and clings to his wife (only his wife, not the wife of another man, which is adultery), his female wife – (“isha”, feminine, but not to another man), and they shall become one flesh (this term can refer to the combining of man and woman as one flesh in their conceived children, which excludes sex with animals).  These restrictions also apply to women, since the verse ends with “and they (plural, both the man and his wife) become one flesh.”

2. Marriage is a lifelong commitment.  Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9), “And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:12, NIV). 

3. All sexual acts that fall outside of this definition of marriage are what modern English translations of the Bible call “sexual immorality”.  The Greek root word is “porneia”, sometimes translated as “fornication”.  Dictionary.com defines fornication as “voluntary sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other”.  These sexual acts include pre-marital sex, incest, rape, pornography, homosexuality, prostitution, adultery, bestiality and orgies.

These are God’s instructions for humanity, regarding sexuality. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Which commandments in the Bible apply to us today?

            A major misunderstanding arises when we attempt to take every single commandment in the Bible and apply them to each of us personally, as people living in the 21st century.  Some commandments, such as the 613 commandments found in the Law (Torah), were never meant to apply to anyone other than the Jewish people (Exodus 19:3-6, 31:16, 34:27; Deuteronomy 5:1-3).  Even among those commandments, some of them were never meant to apply outside the land of Israel, or in the absence of the Temple (Deuteronomy 12:8-14).  Some commandments found in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) were given to specific people, for a specific time period (Genesis 6:9-22; Exodus 7:1-6; Joshua 4; Judges 4:6, 13:13-14). 
            So how can we know which commandments apply to us today?  There are a few guidelines to observe when reading and studying the Bible:

1. Context.  When you see a commandment in the Bible, make sure to study the surrounding verse, chapter and book.  Is this a time-specific commandment?  Was it given to a specific person or nation?  Is this a commandment that was only given to the nation of Israel?

2. Historical background.  Many of the commandments in the Bible were given during the time period and culture of the Ancient Near East.  We must take the historical and cultural background of the text into consideration when reading.

3. Repeated commandments.  Some commandments in the Bible are given multiple times.  Some are given to all mankind, not just to a specific person, group of people or nation.  The following commandments are repeatedly given to all people:

- To fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Zechariah 2:13; Malachi 1:14)

-To worship God (1 Chronicles 16:28-31; Psalm 22:27-28; Isaiah 66:23; Jeremiah 3:17; Zephaniah 2:11; Zechariah 14:16; Malachi 1:11; John 4:21-24; Revelation 14:7, 15:4, 19:10, 22:9)

- Not to murder (Genesis 9:6; Deuteronomy 18:9-12; 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Matthew 19:16-19)

-Not to worship idols or engage in occult practices (Deuteronomy 18:9-12; 1 Kings 14:23-24; Revelation 9:20)

-Not to have sex outside of marriage (marriage being defined as a lifelong commitment between two unrelated adults consisting of one man and one woman; see Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6) (Leviticus 18, 20; 1 Kings 14:24; Matthew 19:16-19)

- Not to blaspheme (Leviticus 24:15; Isaiah 37:23; Luke 12:10; Romans 2:24)

- Not to steal or be dishonest (Genesis 2:16-17; Matthew 19:16-19)

-Not to treat animals with cruelty (Genesis 9:4; Proverbs 12:10; Matthew 12:11-12)

4. If there is a statement in the Bible that describes an act as something that God views as "evil", "disgusting", an "abomination" or "detestable", it stands to reason that it is something to clearly avoid (Leviticus 18:22; Judges 10:6; 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Kings 14:9; Proverbs 6:16-19; Ezekiel 14:6).

5. Finally, consider the teaching of Jesus, who emphasized that there are two commandments which all the other commandments hang upon:

"One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?'

Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Deuteronomy 6:5)  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:18)  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'” (Matthew 22:35-40, NIV)