Literal or Metaphoric? (or are we asking the wrong question entirely?)

NoahDoveReturnsWhile I love the debates on whether or not a particular passage in scripture is intended to be taken literally or metaphorically, lately I’ve been wondering if after all this time, we’re simply asking the wrong set of questions.

Back in February I had the opportunity to attend the Justice Conference with one of my friends who spoke on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology of social action. During an unrelated breakout session, one of the speakers broached the topic of the age old literal or metaphoric debate. The speaker (and for the life of me, I can’t remember who it was) asked if perhaps we would get more gas mileage out of asking a different question entirely.

Instead of asking “do you take this passage literally?” or “do you take this passage metaphorically?”, the speaker suggested that perhaps we should begin asking: “do you take this passage seriously?”

I’ve spent months now mulling over this concept, and while I think there is value in asking “what does literal mean?” (because sometimes, metaphorical is the literal way to interpret), I think that asking a different set a questions is a place that could radically change the face of American Christianity.

First, I think an important foundation for us to agree upon is that the Bible is ridiculously hard to interpret. Yes, I know you’ve been told that scripture is actually so simple that anyone can understand it, but that’s usually a line used by people who don’t want their worldviews shattered. I have two master’s in the subject, am mid-way through my doctorate in the subject, can read biblical Greek… and for me, it is STILL hard to interpret scripture… certainly not a task that I would ever attempt in isolation. Understanding scripture is more than understanding the words… it’s understanding nuance of language, issues in translation, cultural differences with authors, audiences… understanding the Bible means we have to work tirelessly to understand the people it was about.

Don’t misread me- I’m not saying we can’t understand the Bible or that we shouldn’t draw conclusions, but simply being clear that we must enter into the issue of hermeneutics with a deep humility. We must understand biblical interpretation is difficult and something that people have disagreed about throughout all of Christian history.

crossing-red-seaWithin the discussion of biblical interpretation, we hit certain trouble passages that often become an impasse between those who choose to interpret using a straight literalism, and those who aren’t comfortable with such an approach. However, what if both sides are actually missing the point?

What if the literal or metaphorical discussion has become so consuming, that we fail to take scripture seriously?

I’ve been told in the past that if I don’t accept a literal, 24 hour creation, that I am rejecting everything else in the Bible. On the flip side, I’ve heard it said by some that nothing in the Bible was intended to be taken at face value.

Both sides, have missed the point.

The literal or metaphorical discussion fails us, if it fails to cause us to take scripture seriously.

I think instead of getting hung up on these problem texts and instead of classifying other Christians as “in” or “out” based upon how they are most comfortable viewing these texts, we should simply ask a different question:

Do you take this part of scripture seriously?

 Think of how this new question could radically change the discussion and bring both sides together in a meaningful way…

Instead of debating whether or not the universe was made in seven, 24 hour days (which I don’t believe it was), the question instead becomes:

Do you take it seriously that this world is God’s creation and that he asked humanity to care for it?


If we do take it seriously- regardless of how or when it happened- we can join together and actually start caring for the environment, as people who take God’s creation seriously.

Instead of debating whether or not God flooded the whole world, or if it was a localized flood, the question becomes:

Do you take it seriously that God is so anti-violence that he allowed the world to experience judgement when it became too violent?

 Here in America, we tend to forget that God’s disdain for violence was what triggered the flood story. Do we take it seriously? If we take this seriously, we must become the people who reject violence, instead of the people who are protesting in support of our right to use violence. We must be people who take God so seriously, we pick up a cross instead of a .45

Instead of debating whether or not there was a burning bush, or a host of plagues across Egypt, the question becomes:

Do you take it seriously that God hates slavery and wants people to go to any length to end it?

 If we do take the story of Moses seriously, we must be serious about addressing Human Trafficking in our culture. Whether or not every aspect of the story happened “literally”, the entire point was that God hates slavery and wanted Moses to free slaves. If we take this seriously, we’ll find ourselves doing the same.

Instead of asking “Did God really rain fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah?” the question becomes:

Do you take it seriously that God hates greediness, consumerism, and oppression of strangers/immigrants?

If we do take the story of Sodom and Gomorrah seriously (which I wrote about here), we will be forced to recon with the fact that God was furious with this culture because they were “overfed”, “arrogant” and mistreated immigrants and strangers. By taking this story seriously, we would find ourselves working to change American culture which is both overfed, arrogant, and everything else that was wrong with Sodom. Taking this scripture seriously, means we would take the sin of greed seriously.

Jonah and Great FishThe Bible contains a host of “problem” passages that beg the question: “did this literally happen?” And, while there’s nothing wrong with asking that question– getting hung up on the question can cause you to miss the depths and richness of scripture. It is possible to know the passage without actually knowing the passage. For too long, we have missed the entire point of these problem stories, and I believe it’s because we’ve spent too much time debating the wrong questions.

I could continue to walk through story after story, and get lost in debates that ultimately don’t matter. Why? The point isn’t whether or not it happened the way it is described as happening… the point is much deeper. And, to get to that point, we have to start asking different questions.

The question must begin with:

Do you take it seriously?

Let’s meet there.


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About Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey, is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Theology & Missiology), is currently a 3rd year Doctor of Missiology student (a subset of practical theology) at Fuller Seminary, and is a member of the Phi Alpha Chi Honors Society. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, is available now at your local bookstore. He is also a contributor for Time, Sojourners, Red Letter Christians, Evangelicals for Social Action, Mennonite World Review, has been a guest on Huffington Post Live, and is one of the CANA Initiators. Ben is also a syndicated author for MennoNerds, a collective of Mennonite and Anabaptist writers. Ben is also co-host of That God Show with Matthew Paul Turner. Ben lives in Auburn, Maine with his wife Tracy and his daughter Johanna.

You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Sandra

    Out of curiosity, why do you not believe the universe was made in literal 24 hour days?

  • Charl Eksteen

    Mate, thanks so much for this. Really great insights and the conversation stopper to the whole silly debate.

  • Amelia

    Why do you believe that creation was not created in 7 24 hour days? I’m interested to know.

  • Benjamin L. Corey

    @ Sandra @ Amelia- thanks for the question! I guess since two of you have asked it, I should probably do a post about why I don’t believe it. The short answer is, I take scripture very, very seriously and I don’t believe scripture teaches literal 7/24 hour days, and I do not believe scripture teaches a young earth.

    Stay tuned later this week– I’ll go ahead and make that topic my next post! Be sure to sign up for e-mail updates so you don’t miss the post.

  • Natalie ._c-

    People disagreed over biblical interpretation LONG before there was any such thing as Christianity. So that’s no surprise.

    What biblical literalists have to learn to understand, at least in terms of the Hebrew Scriptures (and I hope you’ve studied Hebrew, so that you know something about the difficulty of translating Bronze Age Hebrew into modern English), is that these were a primitive desert people in the beginning, and they had their mythology just as all other people have had their own mythologies. That doesn’t make it literally true. We now recognize that Greek, Roman, Norse, Inuit and other mythologies were invented by scientifically primitive people who were trying to understand their universe. So why not give the ancient Jews the same benefit of the doubt? They were trying to come to terms with the universe by explaining it in light of their God. There ARE gems of wisdom in those writings, but there is also a lot of mythology, which gradually blends into history as you read on into the later writings.

    But your point about taking scripture seriously is a good one, if you are prepared to take what is eternally true and practice it, while appreciating the rest for its literary value, but not as the way we should live or believe today.

  • The Irish Atheist

    “Do you take it seriously that God hates slavery and wants people to go to any length to end it?”

    Oh, Mr. Corey, I thought you were more intelligent than this. Where on earth in your Bible did you get the idea that God hates slavery? Certainly, the Book of Exodus depicts how Yahweh inflicted terrible suffering on hundreds of thousands of people so that the Hebrews would go free. It’s a great story about social justice and a rousing adventure tale, and it would be a grand example of how God hates slavery and deals justice to slavers…it would. Except….

    God’s pretty okay with it a few chapters later. Consider the word that he related DIRECTLY to his servant Moses about the owning of slaves.

    However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)

    So the Hebrews were allowed to own non-Hebrews for life. And the children of their slaves would be born into bondage, just as the Hebrews were.

    If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever. (Exodus 21:4-6 NLT)

    So if you want to hold an Israelite slave for life, hold his wife and children hostage and refuse to free them.

    When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. (Exodus 21:7 NLT)

    Besides the ramifications of selling your daughter into slavery, the Hebrew word for ‘please’ in this case infers sexual gratification. So much for all the Marriage is One Man and One Woman stuff the Christians continually tout. But perhaps slaves here don’t count as ‘one woman,’ since technically slaves are not perceived as human.

    When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)

    For some odd reason, the word ‘Three-Fifths’ keeps flashing through my mind as I’m reading this.

    And that’s besides all the New Testament examples, particularly where a slave escapes a cruel Christian master named Philemon and the Apostle Paul ensures that the slave is shipped back to him. He includes a letter saying ‘Don’t be too hard on the bloke.’ Never mind that it would have been more potent to say, ‘Hey, don’t own people.’ It doesn’t seem as though Paul had your conviction, Mr. Corey.

    The fact of the matter is, your assertion that the god of the Bible hates slavery and wants us to go to any lengths to end it is completely contrary to Biblical teachings. If your god in his wisdom didn’t want man to own slaves, there was a very simple solution.

    The Eleventh Commandment “Thou shalt not own people.”


    “This is how you are to own people”

    Now, I’ve heard all the arguments that you’re currently summing up in your mind about how none of this applies TODAY. None of them matter. The fact that your god supported and instructed slavery at any point in history among any people renders your entire article about the moral superiority of your god into nothing more than a whitewashed grave.

  • Benjamin L. Corey

    @ Irish Atheist-

    You are correct; I am more intelligent than this. 1/3 of my doctoral dissertation is an exegesis of these “slavery” passages. I have been planning to adapt some of it into a blog post, which I’ll do in the future.

    In short, however, the word “slave” doesn’t appear anywhere in the New Testament, and the Old Testament is inconclusive, since they used one word to incorporate any type of servitude. It is impossible to say that all forms of ancient servitude equate to modern understandings of slavery.

    In fact, when it comes to the NT, the closest usage of the word for “slave” we find, is a denunciation of slavery.

    Additionally, simply because a practice is noted in a historic narrative, such as the Hebrew Old Testament, doesn’t mean that God endorsed it. There’s all sorts of evil documented in the old narrative; its existence in the story doesn’t mean it was God’s idea or that he agrees with it. People can try to attribute evil acts to God, but that doesn’t make it true.

    Paul, actually does agree with this– calling the OT a “shadow” or a negative object lesson which reveals who God is by revealing who he is not. The reality of God is found in Jesus.

    I’ll do a major post on the issue in the future; I’d encourage you to read and wrestle with it and not simply accept your previous understanding on the issue.

  • laura g

    Honestly? It has been really hard for me to take the Bible seriously. Like it is hard for me to get the message that God hates violence, especially in the OT. And it doesn’t seem like God has much of an opinion at all about horrifying issues I care about like rape (the closest the bible gets to condemning it makes me more upset, it seems to imply only virgins can be raped? and it only “counts” as rape if they fight back “appropriately”? and even then they are supposed to marry the rapist??? what?). Or slavery (echoing the issues brought up by @the irish atheist). I say that not at all wanting to believe it is true. I desperately want the Bible to be peaceful and against oppression and all that. But like how hard could it have been for a Bible-writer-dude to have said: hey you all, no raping! no slavery! it is not cool! dashing toddlers to bits is super messed up! like so many words are in that book and they could spare half a dozen or so to clear this up? So I don’t know if I take the Bible seriously anymore. And that makes me kinda sad.

  • laura g

    {I just saw your reply to @the Irish atheist and I’d really, really look forward to a post on this topic, it is something I felt like I never really got a good answer to in my church}

  • Benjamin L. Corey

    I’m sorry you’re in that place, Laura. I think part of the problem is we’re taught to read the OT as books which reveal what God is like— which they do, but it is by way of a negative object lesson. They point to God by revealing what God is NOT like. Paul tells us that Jesus is the “exact” representation of God, and that Jesus alone reveals to us what God is like.

    Jesus is peaceful, loving, and reveals to us exactly what God is like. The OT shows us what God is like, by revealing what he is not– Jesus shows us what God is like by revealing what he actually is… the kind of God who loves his enemies enough to forgive them with his last breath.

    You might also see my article, Flipping the Pages Away From Jesus:

    And, I’d also point you to Greg Boyd, at

    Greg has spent 20+ years dealing with problem passages, like OT violence and does an excellent job at handling them while still affirming the inspiration of scripture.

    I’ll continue to post about this issue– difficulties in the OT, since it seems like it is an issue for so many readers. Just hang in there— there is some resolution to these issues, so don’t let go yet.

  • The Irish Atheist

    “You are correct; I am more intelligent than this. 1/3 of my doctoral dissertation is an exegesis of these “slavery” passages. I have been planning to adapt some of it into a blog post, which I’ll do in the future.”

    You’re jumping around the issue. I’ve read dissertations by doctors of theology on why Luther wasn’t actually anti-Semitic, how the Crusades were the fulfillment of Revelation’s judgement on the Muslims, and how the Holocaust was perpetrated by the gay rights movement. So you’ll excuse me if I say that writing a dissertation that touches on a subject doesn’t automatically establish authourity on said subject.

    “It is impossible to say that all forms of ancient servitude equate to modern understandings of slavery.”

    Yes, that’s why it’s so convenient that the practises were described by Yahweh in such detail. I defy you to read out loud the verses I listed, in any translation you want, and then ask yourself if you’d want your daughter placed in such a role of servitude. If it wasn’t ‘true slavery’ then you shouldn’t have a problem with it.

    “Additionally, simply because a practice is noted in a historic narrative, such as the Hebrew Old Testament, doesn’t mean that God endorsed it. There’s all sorts of evil documented in the old narrative; its existence in the story doesn’t mean it was God’s idea or that he agrees with it”

    I suspected you would come up with this argument. Yes, it is true. In some cases. Not the examples I listed though. If you take the time to crack open your Bible, you will find that every single verse and command I listed was directly spoken by Yahweh to Moses according to the Biblical narrative. That’s a pretty big endorsement right there, and one that you casually ignored.

    “The reality of God is found in Jesus.”

    If your Christ was with God at the beginning, then he was part and parcel to the stoning of gays, raping of women, and genocide of children that God commanded. I’ll pass.

    “I’ll do a major post on the issue in the future; I’d encourage you to read and wrestle with it and not simply accept your previous understanding on the issue.”

    I’m sure it will be fascinating, Mr. Corey. But keep in mind that I have no patience for people who take what is clearly a violation of human rights and defend it to make their deity look better. I have spent the better part of my life wrestling with what your brothers and sisters in Christ did to my home, my people, and my family. “The correct way to own people” is not high on my list of things I have tolerance for.

  • Benjamin L. Corey

    I’m not defending a violation of human rights– you are aware that in real life I am a trafficking scholar and work for an anti-trafficking/human rights organization, correct?

    I’m actually denouncing slavery. I am also arguing that simply because something appears in the Old Testament, doesn’t mean it actually happened and certainly doesn’t mean that God endorsed it.

    I am actually defending a skeptical position in that I argue simply because it’s in the text, doesn’t mean it is true, right or even occurred- or that perhaps we have profoundly misunderstood the text. Simply because the text makes it appear that Yahweh was directly speaking to Moses, doesn’t mean that the text got it right (as an atheist, I’m assuming you’d agree that Yahweh didn’t actually say that). Arguing the text is correct without critique would, ironically, be the fundamentalist approach. My approach is far more that of the skeptic.

    I’m very sorry for what has happened in your homeland, and even more sorry that it has been done at the hands of my own tribe.

    I think if we could sit down over a pint, we’d see that we actually hold very similar views which is why I really don’t desire to argue with you.

  • gimpi1

    “Understanding scripture is more than understanding the words… it’s understanding nuance of language, issues in translation, cultural differences with authors, audiences… understanding the Bible means we have to work tirelessly to understand the people it was about.”

    YES! It’s so refreshing to read a Christian who understands that simply deconstructing King James verses doesn’t lead to any kind of understanding. Who knows that culture, and cultural context matter. Who can see that simply taking bronze and early iron age social mores and applying them to 21st century US culture would be a recipe for silliness at best and disaster at worst. Well done, Ben. You give an outsider hope, and reason to think.

  • The Irish Atheist

    “I’m not defending a violation of human rights– you are aware that in real life I am a trafficking scholar and work for an anti-trafficking/human rights organization, correct?”

    I am aware of what you’ve put into your biography. Which is why I’ve found it astounding that you simultaneously prop up a system that has been responsible for some of the worst human trafficking in history as well as the writings that supported it.

    I look forward to your article on the slavery issue and other violence Yahweh condoned in the Old Testament, because from what you’ve said here you’re allowing yourself to deal in some intellectual dishonesty. You look at a few passages from the Bible that show your god working in favour of slaves, and you use them to show how anti-slavery God is. And we (your readers) are expected to take that at face value. But when I quote passages from your same Bible where God gives specific instructions on how to own people and use them to show how Yahweh doesn’t (or didn’t) have a problem with slavery, suddenly I am misinterpreting. I have preconceived notions. I’m not reading the passages for what they really mean. It’s a bit too convenient for me to take seriously.

    Christians who take the entire Bible literally are usually treated with intellectual disdain by those of us who don’t adhere to the Bible. After all, there’s nothing quite like hearing that the entire fossil record is totally inaccurate, but that donkeys can talk with the aid of Jesus-magic. But Christians like yourself, who make great mental gymnastics to dismiss the parts of the Bible they find distasteful but expect the rest of us to take the nicer parts with utter sincerity are regarded with equal skepticism. Why should I believe that you take the Gospel so seriously and without question when you fight so hard to twist or demolish other parts of the same book that make you uncomfortable?

    Here’s the difference between you and me,Mr. Corey. I don’t NEED to write dissertations on the interpretation of religious texts in order to feel comfortable saying that slavery is wrong. For me, it’s natural knowledge. No mental gymnastics or exegesis required.

    “I’m assuming you’d agree that Yahweh didn’t actually say that.”

    Naturally. Among other things.

    “I think if we could sit down over a pint, we’d see that we actually hold very similar views which is why I really don’t desire to argue with you”

    I highly doubt that. I’m much younger than you but far more jaded.You expend your considerable resources and talents in support of an organisation that has caused great pain and suffering. By your own admission in your biography, as a fundamentalist and Republican you expended even more time and resources fighting against immigrants, gay people, non-believers….people like me, in other words, even though I came to the United States legally. Such things are not easily forgotten, or forgiven. We didn’t know of each others existence during the time when you were the leader of your chapter of the Republican party and I was a child in another country hoping the Christian extremists wouldn’t kill anyone I knew. But we were still enemies. Why would that change just because you write a blog and I read it?

    As for arguing, I can’t believe for a moment that you expected to write on such sensitive issues such as American Christianity and not known that some of us would be critical.

  • Benjamin L. Corey

    If we’re enemies, why read my blog?

  • The Irish Atheist

    I’m a bit disappointed that that was the only part of my previous comment you chose to comment on when it is in fact the easiest to address. It’s quite simple. Your personal history causes you to work towards the advancement of Christianity. My personal history causes me to do exactly the opposite. That puts us on opposite sides, spiritually and intellectually at least. That does not mean that we wish ill on each other or that we cannot engage in respectful discourse, as polarising as our views may be.

    And don’t take it too personally, I frequent a number of traditionally Christian blogs. Perhaps that makes me a ‘troll,’ but I enjoy challenging people’s views. I’m just as anti-violence as you are, Mr. Corey, but that doesn’t mean I won’t fight for my beliefs as hard as you will for yours. If you only want Christians frequenting your posts, let me know and I’ll vanish quicker than the Sidhe.

  • Benjamin L. Corey

    No, I’m not saying don’t come here. That wouldn’t be very loving of my enemies, now would it ;-)

    - I’m ok with you not liking that I have an alternative interpretation of certain biblical passages. I don’t have a traditional interpretation of much of the OT, which is what makes me much more of a progressive. Not sure how to defend that, it’s just my position. I believe that everything has to be filtered through Jesus, and if something doesn’t line up, we’ve got to reconsider the traditional understanding and dig a little deeper into what is going on.

    - I don’t need to write dissertations to say that slavery is wrong, either. My opinion on slavery is external to scripture. I would be against slavery regardless of what any religious text stated, because my own conscience tells me it’s wrong. So, I think you’ve misidentified where I get my compass on that issue- it’s not scripture, though scripture is not irrelevant to it.

    It feels like you want me to say “it’s all literal” in order for you to “take it seriously”, but the Bible is made up of 66 books written over hundreds of years, in several different cultural settings. It’s just not that simple. I’m not a fundamentalist. If that means I do theological gymnastics, I’m okay with that. I don’t have all the answers, this blog is just my open wrestling with issues.

    I believe that violent images of God in the OT, along with other portraits that don’t line up with the enemy loving, non-violent Jesus, are to serve as a negative object lesson- or a “shadow”, as Paul called it. I also believe that some writers flat out describe God incorrectly and inaccurately attribute actions to him, but that these passages still serve a purpose by pointing to what God is not. That’s my position, along with many other Anabaptist. Greg Boyd at is much more articulate on the hermeneutic than I am, so if you’re sincerely interested in this approach to interpreting the Old Testament, I’d encourage you to read some of his stuff. I’m not the best guy to debate it with, because I am wrestling knee-deep with it myself.

  • Natalie ._c-

    I wouldn’t say that the violent and otherwise contemporarily unacceptable passages in the OT (which I prefer to call the Tanakh, or Jewish writings) are there to show what God isn’t. After all, the people who wrote those books were not aware that any such religion as Christianity would come along, and they were just reflecting the culture they lived in. That we are, for the most part, more advanced that that is fine, but humanity has always had practices that, in time, became unacceptable. So, just as in colonial America, it was a given that rich people would own slaves, and even such eminent people as Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, so it was in Biblical times. It was part of the fabric of the culture, and people’s judgment of God had nothing to do with it. Because when you say it was there to show what God isn’t, you are implying that the writers were judging God and finding him wanting. And that it was only the coming of Jesus that put things aright. Sorry, can’t buy it. If the world has improved, it HASN’T been through the workings of Jesus — the Christian church has done much more harm than good. Why don’t you acknowledge that good is where you find it, and almost never unalloyed — all of us have to work toward good, and Jesus isn’t necessary for a good many of us. Sorry to call you out like that, but some of the stuff you’re writing is extremely ethnocentric, and good would be to accept the truth of others as well as your own.

  • Andrew Cort

    Very much appreciate the article. (You know, from Plato to Niebuhr, people have said we mustn’t take myth literally but this does not mean that we mustn’t take it seriously.) Your third alternative, ‘seriously’, as you address it at the end of your article, seems to me to be synonymous with ‘as a lesson in morality’. Taking scripture morally is certainly one way to approach it. But it isn’t the only way to be serious about it.

  • jonathan

    Wow this blogger has really missed the point of those passages in the bible and I’m afraid has allowed his liberal slant to seriously color his interpretation. I like the first half of the post though.

    The creation story isn’t about caring for the environment, its about how great God is. The flood isn’t about anti violence, goodness knows God commanded the Israelites to do some extremely violent things! The flood was about how evil the people had become and how they had turned away from their creator. Same with sodom and Gomorrah.

    In fact, if any particular thing about sodom is to be pointed out as the reason behind his wrath it would be homosexuality. The fact he ignored that is very telling that his politics come first and interpretation second. Now to be clear I don’t think homosexuality was the reason behind his wrath, rather their open sexuality was a symptom of their turning away from God.

    And the exodus was not about slavery and doing everything to abolish it. In fact some of the new testament says that slaves should obey their masters. The exodus is about setting up what jesus did on the cross, hence all the symbolism and the passion week being on passover week, jesus being the ultimate passover lamb (as john points out), etc.

    Its also about God fulfilling his covenant with abraham, and showing that he will take care of his chosen people and fulfill his promises. He is faithful!

    I applaud his moral stance on protecting the environment, caring for others and being against human trafficking. Those are all important issues, as are many other moral issues he may (or may not) see as important. However, the bible as a whole is very clear that more than anything God cares about our heart and that we put him first and make him Lord of our lives and serve him. In comparison nothing else matters very much.

  • Benjamin L. Corey

    Thanks for chiming in, Jonathan. I always love it when fundamentalists frequent the blog.

    You are aware, that homosexuality is not mentioned in the Sodom narrative, correct? And, I’m assuming you’re also aware that “sodomy” in the bible means “greed” correct?

    You’re also aware, that the word “slave” doesn’t appear in the New Testament when reading it in the original language?

    I’m praying for your recovery and that you’ll encounter Jesus.

  • Scarlet

    I may only have a minor in Christian theology, but I’ve been saying this for the last ten years. People spend SO much time fighting over who is right and who is wrong that they completely ignore the intent of the message. It doesn’t matter HOW, but it does matter WHY. It’s the intent behind the messages.

    I also never cease to be amazed at how people are SO willing to defend the prevalent fundamentalist views, spreading their hatred and turning people into enemies.

    “However, the bible as a whole is very clear that more than anything God cares about our heart and that we put him first and make him Lord of our lives and serve him. In comparison nothing else matters very much.”

    Apparently this means that we are allowed to treat every other person on this planet like dirt because all that matters is if we love God. And this is why atheists want to wipe Christianity from the planet. It’s that very core of evil and hate that simply can’t be something created by a loving God. I’m reminded of a serial killer who prays to Jesus while murdering, believing with every fiber that he’ll end up in heaven because he’s doing it to further the kingdom of heaven.

    There is danger in believing you are the only right person on earth and everybody else is wrong, that you have the only truth and are willing to murder for it. I wonder how many fundamentalists would be willing to sacrifice their OWN lives to stand up for what they believe is the truth.

  • Lana

    great post, like so good

  • Julie

    I’m curious about your assertion that the word “slave” doesn’t appear in the NT. It sure shows up in my Nestle-Aland. How do you read δουλος?

  • Benjamin L. Corey

    @ Julie-

    δουλος is a catch-all word for “servant” and is used 122 in the NT. It can include any type of servitude, from slave to waitress- but does not designate the type of servitude. Being the catch-all word in Greek, the best way to translate is simply “servant”. The closest word we find in the NT to slavery, is ἀνδραποδιστής. This is used in 1 Tim 1:10, where the practice is condemned.

    See Barnes, and Inquiry into the Scriptural Views of Slavery which is a fantastic book that goes in-depth on the subject.

  • Ransom Backus

    My question is…why can’t people believe that God is bigger than their world? Why can’t God do something outrageous and outside of what we consider normal? Have we become so rational and logical that we no longer have faith that God can and DOES do these things? If God can’t flood the world, if God can’t raise the dead, if God can’t create a world in 6 earth days, what kind of a God do we have? We have nothing more than a powerless well wisher who does absolutely nothing for anyone and just gives us the wink and the thumbs up every now and then. What we are left with is an abstraction of idle fancy and an invisible gentleman whose existence is of no consequence on our lives.

  • Julie

    Thanks for your response to my question about how you interpret δουλος. But I’m not convinced that it ought -never- to be translated slave. That would be like translating κυριος solely as ‘sir’. Slavery was such a common practice in NT times that we shouldn’t be surprised it appears in the text. Regardless, its not a very important point.

    I’m more interested in seeing you give a fleshed-out response to Jonathan. While I agree in the OT context Sodom and Gomorrah aren’t condemned for homosexual practice, check the book of Jude. Jonathan also uses the Exodus story in a way similar to Paul I’m 1 Corinthians 10– and as others have mentioned, its hard to see that story as God hating slavery. Doesn’t it show God as willing and able to do anything for his chosen people? Can you show me how it’s speaking against the practice of slavery?

    Overall your ideas are good but I can’t see how you’re drawing them out of the texts at hand, let alone that they are the central idea of the narratives.

    Thanks for your time,


  • Julie

    Oops– in autocorrected to I’m.

  • Ransom Backus

    I have an idea. Let’s rewrite the Bible to make ourselves feel good, to accommodate our cultural sensibilities. (please overlook the sarcasm) But I need to say something. I came to a place in my faith where I had to choose. Either I was going to follow a very ancient God who has existed long before our post-modern enlightened Western culture has, who created the very fabric of our existence and the universe, or I was going to follow along with the trends of everyone else in a culture of canned cheese, microwaved dinners, and instant access to whatever entertainment pleasure we could possibly want at the click of a button. When I took an honest look, I saw how the two worlds diametrically opposed each other and I couldn’t be in both.

    NOW, I am ok with a violent God who wiped out entire nations. I am ok with a God who used slavery. I am ok with a God who has done many things that our artificial culture of canned cheese and microwaved dinners finds offensive. Why? Because it makes a whole lot more sense than the mild, hair-stroking “there there” we give to people who demand rights to sin and not have any of the natural consequences of those sins. We have SOMA (ala Aldous Huxley) now and we can get away with almost anything. And if our consciences bother us? WE explain it away with psychology and pop another SOMA. I like the Bible as is without a thousand people trying to tell me I am reading it wrong. It is raw,primal, rugged, offensive and real, and I can live with that. Why? Because it is the constant. It is the game changer when a person decides to start being honest. People seek God because they want something that transcends our frustrated existence in this world. It seems to me that we are trying to make God more accommodating and tolerant of our current way of things, in the end, we create a God not really worth any real respect, healthy fear, or worship, and that is not a God I care to indulge my time with.

  • The Irish Atheist

    Ransom Backus said: “NOW, I am ok with a violent God who wiped out entire nations. I am ok with a God who used slavery. I am ok with a God who has done many things that our artificial culture of canned cheese and microwaved dinners finds offensive.”

    The only reason you believe that, sir, is because you have never been on the wrong side of the walls of Jericho.

  • Ransom Backus

    No…I haven’t, but I have been on the wrong side of God, deserving of what they got. In humility and contrition, I, like the harlot Rehab ask for mercy.

  • The Irish Atheist

    Well I hope you never are. No one should have to be…

    But on the flip side, don’t you DARE tell those of us who have been that we deserved what we got at the hands of your Christians. You Christians are not known for your mercy, and your god is not known for hearing prayers.

  • Ransom Backus

    Try not lumping me in with the “you Christians” i usually keep to myself and have no reason not to extend mercy unless someone maliciously and unrepentantly crosses me. You are probably referring to the bastardized faith concerning wars and inquisitions of which I have no claim to and I don’t recognize any of it, or for that matter the shredded bastardized faith of today. I don’t own any of it as being of The Master for a whole lot of complex reasons I won’t discuss here (find me on facebook) When dealing with me, take me as someone quite apart from the norm…I promise you…if you attempt to pigeonhole me and try to categorize me with others, sooner or later you will find a snafu where I don’t fit. I am quite the anomaly in my faith and even most Westernized Christians give me the raised eyebrow. Careful where you tread.

  • The Irish Atheist

    I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you really aren’t all that special. I’ve glanced at your blog posts, and to be honest I’m not exactly sure what you think is setting you apart from the rest of your brothers and sisters in Christ. It certainly wasn’t the constant affirmations of your masculinity, your labeling of all gay men as effeminate, or your mockery of people who rely on science in their battles with devastating addictions instead of Jesus-magic. Despite all this, there was nothing, absolutely nothing you said that sets you apart from the average American evangelical. Even your use of alternative phrasing like “The Master” has already been picked up by churches around the country.

    I’ve come face to face with Christian terrorists, Christian hatemongers, Christian gay-bashers, and every single other type of Christian you can imagine throughout my time in Ireland and America. Like I said before, you’re nothing special.

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