The Bible for Better and for Worse

The Ship of Fools, a Christian website from the UK, is trying to figure out which verses in the Bible are the worst.

The results were discussed last night by a panel of theologians at the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham. In 1 Timothy ii, 12, St Paul is quoted thus: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

In second place is the order by Samuel, one of the early leaders of the Israelites, for his people to commit genocide: “This is what the Lord Almighty says … ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” (1 Samuel xv, 3).

For me, the whole point of this is to show that the Bible can be used to justify all sorts of horrible things: homophobia, sexism, racism, etc. It’s not a book we need to look to as a great source of wisdom.

And the list provides plenty of ammo to use when Christians try to quote the Bible at all out of context :)

Coincidentally, some Christian publishers are trying to make a revised, more gender-neutral Bible:

The changes did not make all men “people” or remove male references to God, but instead involved dropping gender-specific terms when translators judged that the original text didn’t intend it. So in some verses, references to “sons of God” became “children of God,” for example.

Supporters say gender-inclusive changes are more accurate and make the Bible more accessible, but critics contend they twist meaning or smack of political correctness.

Acknowledging past missteps, the NIV’s overseers are promising that this time, the revision process will be more transparent and that they will actively promote what they describe as a long-held practice of inviting input from scholars and readers.

It would be better scholarship, I think, if they left the “original” version as is, with little footnotes to indicate the revisions, instead of purging the text everywhere it appears sexist.

Plenty of documents in American history are sexist and racist, too. But no one seriously goes around changing the originals. We leave them as they were and modify our laws or add new ones to include more of those people who were originally left out or denied rights.

But the Bible? Apparently, it took over 2000 years to figure out that the Bible wasn’t sexist and we only now figured out what the writers intended to say…

Or, more likely, the publishers want to sell more copies so they’re changing the text to suit the times.

Reader Scott predicts future changes:

I’m betting in future versions the talking snake will morph into an atheist, Noah’s flood into a washed out beach party, the book of revelations into a night in San Fran’s Castro district, and the tower of Babel will transform into the Burj Dubai.

(Thanks to everyone for the links!)

  • littlejohn

    How could they have missed the bit where Isrealite soldiers were instructed by god to kill the men, boys and older women, but to keep the virgin women as sex slaves? God, apparently, is a rapist. Just ask the virgin mary. He nailed her himself.

  • Erp

    I should point out that the original languages were Hebrew and Greek so the question is how best to translate them into modern English (and note that English itself has changed). For instance “men” can mean either “male Homo sapiens”, “adult male Homo sapiens”, or “Homo sapiens (male and female, all ages)” with the last becoming less common in modern English. So what does the Hebrew (or Greek) word in the original mean and what current English word (or words) best fits that meaning? Using ‘men’ 100 years ago might have made sense but ‘people’ might fit better now due to the changing meaning of ‘men’ in English.

  • Valdyr

    If you took out all the bad shit in the Bible, you’d be left with a leaflet-sized book that makes no sense (not that the full version makes anything but cuckoo bizarro-sense) and reads like a very boring schizophrenic’s diary entries.

    I’m always disappointed when Christians undertake a “cleaning-up” exercise like this without ever going so far as to consider whether the whole underlying foundation of theism ought to be chucked. It’s like whenever I hear a decent liberal Christian talk about his/her faith. Yes, it’s good that you’re a non-scathingly-hateful Fundiebot Christian, but… don’t you ever think about that stuff and whether even the fundamentals make sense? About whether you apply the same standards to religious truths as you do everything else?

  • Deltabob

    I’m with Erp. I studied ancient Greek as my foreign language in university; and many places that were translated as “man” or “men” were actually words inclusive of all people, regardless of gender. These “original” versions were, in many cases, created with an agenda to create and support a patriarchal society in areas where matriarchy was the norm.

  • Tyro

    On the one hand, these people are Christians and use the bible to inform themselves of the words and beliefs of Jesus and God.

    On the other hand, they think they can do a better job than Jesus and the other prophets.

    Instead of trying to edit the bible, they should just acknowledge that they think they’re smarter & more in tune than the bible authors and start over from scratch. Write their own bible if they know the mind of God so damn well.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Pretty much what Erp said. I remember that in Spanish class that mixed-sex groups, e.g. mothers and fathers, brother and sisters, male and female students, etc., would be described using the masculine plurals, so the groups would be called “padres” rather than “madres y padres,” “hermanos” rather than “hermanos y hermanas,” and “alumnos” rather than “alumnos y alumnas.” If Hebrew and Greek–which are both gender-inflected, unlike modern English–have a similar rule about mixed-sex rules, then there probably are places where “sons” really means “children,” and “brothers” really means “brothers and sisters,” and not taking this into account would mean a less accurate translation.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Another nice little verse is
    Joshua 6:21 about god’s command to sack Jericho

    And they utterly destroyed all that [was] in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.

  • TJ

    I wonder if God will stop by and say “How dare you change the book, those are my words! I damn you for eternity!”

    Or maybe he’ll come and rewrite it in such a way as to remove any possibility for misinterpretation – something an all-perfect being should have no trouble doing.

  • John L

    How can they change the word of the almighty? Wouldn’t that be admitted that God belongs to humanity as their creation and not the other way around.

  • Jeff Satterley

    Coincidentally, some Christian publishers are trying to make a revised, more gender-neutral Bible:

    How did they deal with Paul’s teachings about women?

    “I do not permit a person to teach or to have authority over a person; that person must be silent.”

    t would be better scholarship, I think, if they left the “original” version as is, with little footnotes to indicate the revisions, instead of purging the text everywhere it appears sexist.

    That’s what the Revised Standard Version tried to do, basically only updating the language from the KJV from 16th century English to a more modern translation, keeping the meaning intact.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I can re-write the essence of the entire bible as the following sentence.

    “Do good, believe, and accept me (Jesus) as your personal savior and have everlasting life or you will be tortured forever after you die.”

    Everything else is just fluff and filler.

  • Kaylya

    I’d guess there are a heck of a lot of instances where it’s perfectly defensible to translate something that’s been previously translated as male in a more gender neutral way.

    Even in English there’s no good way to say something and be completely gender neutral (I find myself using “they / their” etc when I’m trying to speak of a neutral general person, and I’m not the only one, but that’s a relatively new usage that’s far from standard).

    In English, it’s mainly pronouns and some words describing things like professions that are gendered, with the latter generally moving towards gender neutral terms in contemporary usage. But remember that lots of languages have gender that’s far more pervasive with the same term for a group of males being used for a mixed gender group and such. In Spanish, for instance, both “the sons of God” and “the children of God” would be “los hijos de Dios”, unless someone wanted to phrase it as “the sons and daughters of God” or “los hijos y las hijas de Dios”.

    Of course, I do have to admit I know very little about the gramatical structure of ancient Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, etc.

  • mikespeir

    “It would be better scholarship, I think, if they left the ‘original’ version as is, with little footnotes to indicate the revisions, instead of purging the text everywhere it appears sexist.”

    I agree. The Bible is actually useful–if it’s taken as a record of how certain peoples saw things at certain times in history. What the new translators are trying to do is make it reflect our thinking at our time in history. Thus, they render it altogether useless. It no longer tells us about how ancient peoples thought, and we don’t need anyone to tell us how we think.

  • Kaylya

    The KJV is hardly the original text of the Bible. Being the main English translation for so long it has had a lot of influence on later translations.

    Remember, it’s also not a matter of just translating a text from one language to another – we don’t have the original text in the original language, we have lots of copies of copies that don’t always agree. And modern scholars have a lot more manuscripts available to look at than the translators of the KJV.

  • Tom in Iowa

    As Bart Ehrman astutely points out – we don’t know the original author’s intent, nor do we even have the original author’s works. Let alone know who the original authors were.

    So I say “Have at it,” the book’s in the public domain, if they can make a buck off the more liberal christian wings then more power to them. It’s the American way!

    Kind of like – Do we really need another edition of Shakespeare? If we’re going to edit the bible, I’m with the others to suggest we make it as original as possible and footnote to explain modern inclusiveness.

  • http://betapwned.com Tanya

    Having read a good deal of the “old testament” in Masoretic Hebrew I can confidently state that it doesn’t say much of what the Christians think it says anyway. The King James version, which is used by most Christian fundamentalists, is an utter mess from a translational perspective and many of the “mistakes” appear purposeful. Psalms 26:16, which is often sited by Christians as prophetic of the crucifixion, is an excellent example of beneficial mistranslation:

    King James Version:

    “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.”

    Masoretic Hebrew:

    “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: like a lion at my hands and my feet.”

    Easy to see how they mixed that one up… pierced, from the root karah, looks an awful lot like lion, from the root ‘arly… except… you know… for having entirely different letters. *coughs*

    Regardless, I think the whole thing should be re-translated. The results would be fascinating to any true biblical scholar.

  • http://redheadedskeptic.com/ Laura

    “Plenty of documents in American history are sexist and racist, too. But no one seriously goes around changing the originals. We leave them as they were and modify our laws or add new ones to include more of those people who were originally left out or denied rights.”

    If you look at American history, probably, but if you look at history and the English language, that’s not entirely true. Most of us read a version of Chaucer that fits our vernacular better than the original. You can find more “modern” versions of Shakespeare, Beowolf, etc, because the way they were first written is difficult to understand. As others have already stated, it is a matter of translation: the Bible is not an “American” book. You probably wouldn’t want to read something that was translated from Russian to English in the 1600s either.

  • http://redheadedskeptic.com/ Laura

    (Oh, and PS, slightly off topic but referring to good scholarship, the HCSB version of the Bible is pretty new and that is pretty much what they did. The translators tried to write it in the vernacular as much as possible without taking as much away from the passage as The Message does. They were pretty good about putting ambiguous words in footnotes because they wanted it to be as accurate as possible.)

  • Bráulio Bezerra

    Maybe someone could try to put these verses in billboards (or buses). For example

    I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

    Woman, would you even read a book with this advice in it? Of course not. So don’t read the Christian bible.

  • Erp

    Psalm 22:16 not 26:16. I believe that the Septuagint uses a word meaning bore or pierce.

    For those not familiar the Septuagint is an early (pre Christian) translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. So are current attempts to make out the original Hebrew involve piecing together through a translation as well as through the Hebrew text.

    Think of it as a family tree. For a given part of the Hebrew Bible (let us say Psalm 22) we have

    1. The original which we don’t have
    2a. Copies of copies of this in Hebrew one of which is translated into Greek
    2b. Copies of copies of the Greek until we get one or more actual documents (and/or quotes of the Psalm in Greek by various early authors who also left documents (or copies of their documents) that we have)
    2c. One of these versions was translated into Latin (the Vulgate) which also has a textual tree
    3a. Copies of copies of this in Hebrew one of which eventually becomes the Masoretic Text.
    4a. For some parts of the Hebrew Bible we also have alternative Hebrew versions (e.g., Dead Sea Scrolls)

    We actually do seem to have Psalm 22:16 in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It apparently supports the Septuagint version (pierced not lions).

  • http://betapwned.com Tanya

    @Erp

    If that is truly the case, I stand corrected. Thanks!

  • http://peteeddy.blogspot.com/ Pete

    Hemant, did you read the article you linked to closely?

    The NIV is an older (new) translation (new in that it was published in the twentieth century, but older in that it was one of the first common English translations of the twentieth century).

    A revision of it was released in 2002, the TNIV (Today’s New International Version), which was the gender-neutral Bible the article is referring to. The new NIV to be released will undo some of the editorial changes (i.e., gender-neutral changes) made from the original NIV for the TNIV.

  • Tometheus

    Wow.. they talk about atheists taking individual verses out of context…

    Another distasteful set of verses features in Judges xix, 20-25, when a man is trapped in his house by a hostile crowd and sends out his concubine to placate them. She is raped “throughout the night” and eventually returns to the house to collapse in the doorway. His response is simply to tell her to get up. “But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.”

    1) He wasn’t just ‘a man’, but specifically a Levite. You know, the guys who didn’t have to work because they got more money than the rest of the tribes just because God decided they happened to have the right great-great-great-etc grandpa. (The other tribes were required to pay the Levites their tithes — i.e. 1/10 of the GNP goes to 1/12 of the people just because of their ancestry).

    2) Wow. Talk about how to end a story prematurely. “[He] put her on his donkey and set out for home.” Awww.. isn’t that nice of him. They leave off verses 29 and 30 where “he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel”.

  • thilina

    a Christian website from the UK, is trying to figure out which verses in the Bible are the worst.

    I’m guessing this is so they can remove the verses that absolutely no one can twist to justify their own agenda.

    And I don’t quite understand how all the bible editing works. This seems nothing more than a PR stunt so they can say “look how less immoral the bible is now”.

    This is just more proof that religion is only about money. Scientist prove half the “history” in the bible wrong and the bible becomes the infallible word of god (and the science is resisted) because accepting the truth can only lead to more people leaving the religion and becoming less fanatical. People start figuring out just how misogynistic some of the things in the bible are and its edited so more women join (and hopefully bring the kids along).

  • Amy G

    I love the Bible! There’s so many wonderful (or odd, violent, and insane, depending on how you look at it) things that happen in it. I’d like to add a few of my own favorite verses:

    8. Deuteronomy 23:1 (ESV)

    “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”

    9. Mark 14:51-52 (NASB)

    “A young man was following Him, wearing nothing but a linen sheet over his naked body; and they seized him. But he pulled free of the linen sheet and escaped naked.”

  • Autumnal Harvest

    What Erp said. This is a translation issue, not an editing of the “original” Bible.

    NRSV uses gender-neutral language in a number of places, where they deemed that to be an appropriate translation. NRSV is still gender-specific in the misogynistic verses (e.g. Timothy), where gender-specific translation is clearly appropriate.

  • Ian from Texas

    While I agree there are plenty of rather ugly, misogynistic verses in the bible, I would not say it is devoid of wisdom. There are some quite beautiful and insightful parts, the book of Ecclesiastes for instance.

    The bible is a great work of poetry and prose. It’s not a history book, science book, or cookbook. And shouldn’t be treated as such.

    For an interesting insight into the book I recommend David Plotz’s “Good Book” It’s a journal of the time he spent reading the Hebrew bible word for word. I read his blog and found it enjoyable.

  • http://undergroundunbeliever.blogspot.com Anna Lemma

    Well according to Ezekiel 23:20:

    “For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.”

    A woman named Aholibah really, really, liked big penises. A girl’s gotta have her standards.

  • Erp

    I’m guessing this is so they can remove the verses that absolutely no one can twist to justify their own agenda.

    It is amazing what people can do in the twisting sense. Look through the thread on the Amalek killing verse.

  • Solitas

    My personal favourite:
    “Their infants will be dashed in pieces before their eyes;
    their houses will be plundered and their wives ravished.”
    – Isaiah 13:16

    Lovely, isn’t it?
    Isaiah 13 really is a work of art…

  • Aggie

    Unfortunately many people like to treat the bible as a book of eternal wisdom, which it is not.

    It is actually a concise life manual. Use it correctly and it will help u lead a blissful life.

    Attacking the bible will do u no good. Learn to use and love it. It will help u. Quoting verses and condeming events based on puny human morality is dumb.

    Many things are unexplained by normal human morality, thats why we should depend on the divine.

  • Aggie

    The simple way to use the bible is to first read it through, then understand what it is trying to tell you. Sort of like reading a novel or even crap books like dan drown’s – i made up 75% of the facts book the davinci code.

    If you want to narrate a novel to another person, u wouldn’t include all the sex and unnessary scenes too, just the plot.

    Quoting verses will not give you the whole picture. Sigh.

    From my humbleness in reading and understanding the bible, it just tells me that there is a GOD, and he loves us a lot, and wishes us to do the same, in which, his love has no boundaries.

    On the way, please do not forget to love one another and refrain from doing bad things, although shit happens in life which is proven through past stories.
    There, simple. That’s the plot.

    Amen, and God bless everyone, including those haters. :D

  • Aggie

    And for those who believe a lot in the gnostics, u should read St, Irenaus’s book Adversus Haereses in which he argued about it.

    He is also known to have written the bezae codex. Being a believer does not only mean going to church, a person should try to understand and apply it in life. Amen.