Loving the Bible too much to ‘literally’ ignore what it says

Here are a couple of recent items on a recurring theme around here. The first is from Greg Carey at the Huffington Post and the second is from Kenton L. Sparks’ introduction to God’s Word in Human Words.

Here’s Carey on “Where ‘Liberal’ Bible Scholars Come From“:

Biblical scholarship is an academic discipline, taught and studied at universities, colleges and divinity schools all around the world. So it should be no surprise that biblical scholars run in all shapes, sizes, colors and denominations. What would surprise many people, though, is that a very large number of us love Jesus and the church, and we spend hours upon hours communicating the love and wonder we experience with the Bible. Indeed, some of our secular colleagues justifiably complain there are too many of us in the field. More surprising might be this one fact: many of us have our roots in fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. The best way for conservative churches to produce “liberal” biblical scholars is to keep encouraging young people to read the Bible.

That’s how it worked for me. …

… Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “The best cure for Christianity is reading the Bible.” If he did say that, his wisdom didn’t take in my case. Though I understand it differently, I love the Bible as much as I ever have. I’m just as passionate for Jesus and for the gospel as I ever have been, though I understand them differently too. But I can say this: Reading the Bible is a terrific cure for fundamentalism. That’s exactly how many of us so-called liberal Bible scholars got our start.

Go read the whole thing. I’d tell you to read the whole of Sparks’ book, too, except that I haven’t done so myself yet — only the little teaser sample you can read for free on the Kindle. But this bit from Sparks’ introduction is astute:

For the old-school evangelicals, the chief danger to be feared has been that our teaching might explicitly or implicitly undermine the authority of Scripture, and this is a concern that I very much share. But there are other threats to the gospel that this generation of scholars has not taken seriously. Chief among them is the possibility that their version of the Christian faith might harbor false ideas and beliefs that, because they are mistaken, serve as barriers to faith for those who see our evangelical errors. As one example, evangelicals often fail to recognize the possibility that, by arguing strenuously for the strict historicity of Genesis 1, they are more or less shutting their church doors to countless scientists and scholars who might otherwise have come to faith. In essence, the old-school evangelicals have been so sure that they are right that they no longer consider seriously the possibility that they are too conservative; “conservative,” not in the sense of theological orthodoxy, but in the sense that they are unable to really think critically about whether their traditions are intellectually adequate and spiritually healthy.


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  • Ancient technology was not capable of consistently producing enough food for everyone 

    Rome got pretty darn good at it. However, the “free market” intervened, driving up the prices of olives and grapes, causing landholders to grow those at the expense of other foods. The government had to intervene to get those wealthy plantation owners to produce other foods, and the wealthy plantation owners were not happy about it. After all, they always had plenty of bread and meat, and a great variety of foods to choose from, so what was the problem? 

  • Over time, upholding the dual principles of “slavery is okay, but treat them as well as possible” became untenable
    It was never tenable. “As well as possible” included “raping them whenever you like, if they’re female.”

    When people talk about how the bible says to treat slaves well (as Paul did) they forget the fact that there are verses that say just the opposite. 

    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

  • As far as rape of slaves goes:

    17″ Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. ” Numbers 31:17-19

    But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.Judges 19:24-26

    Judges 21:20-21New International Version (NIV)
    20 So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, “Go and hide in the vineyards 21 and watch. When the young women of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, rush from the vineyards and each of you seize one of them to be your wife. Then return to the land of Benjamin.  

  • Joshua

    Well that’s an example of what I’m talking about. The wealthy landowners decided, the slaves who actually did the work had to obey. They were not free to grow food for themselves of their own choosing, nor free to seek employment with farmers who did.

    The removal of the decision making from those who face the consequences of the decision is what I’m talking about. A free market doesn’t do a perfect job of matching consequences with decisions, especially if there is still a large divide between rich and poor; but it’s a lot worse in a slave-owning economy where the divide is so great the poor don’t even own themselves.

  • lowtechcyclist

    If this format remains in place, I hate to say it, but I’ll probably quit visiting this site.

    This isn’t intended as a ‘change back to the way it was or I’ll hold my breath ’til my face turns blue’ remark. 

    This is just saying that other sites I’ve been a regular at have changed to a format where there isn’t enough of a post on the blog’s front page to decide whether I want to read the entire post, and it gets sufficiently wearisome to have to click each “Read More” link just to decide whether I want to read it at all in the first place, that after awhile I just stop going because I find it too tiring. 

    This has happened twice: once at Firedoglake while it was still sane, and once at Ezra Klein’s blog, WonkBlog, at the Washington Post.

    It should really worry Patheos that I quit reading Ezra Klein.  I’m the perfect Ezra reader: I’m a government statistician who’s a political junkie.  I’d been following Ezra for years, at American Prospect, at his own blog, at the Washington Post, and maybe another stop or two along the way that I’ve lost track of.  But like I said, the site just got too tiring to contend with, so I stopped doing so.

    That should tell Patheos something about the nuisance factor involved here.

    There was a third blogger who started to go to a similar format, Berkeley economist Brad DeLong.  Fortunately, his readers spoke against the new format, and he relented.  When I mentioned in that discussion that I’d quit following Ezra, several other people said they’d used to read Ezra but didn’t anymore, and it hadn’t occurred to them why until I’d mentioned that.

    I realize the whole page-views bit, that each additional click means more money for the site owner, and that’s good.  But there really needs to be 3-4 paragraphs before the click-through – enough to decide whether it’s worth the click.  I also don’t know what the $$ tradeoffs are between more clicks v. more unique viewers, because the new format will be good for the former but bad for the latter.