Should you really pay attention to that critic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Let’s be fair. There are some skeptics out there that do their homework. They do try to really find out what scholars in the world of the Bible are saying and make reasonable cases. I disagree, but at least they are doing their due diligence.
The majority are not.
For the past couple of weeks or so, I’ve been going through a big book. It’s Behind The Scenes of the Old Testament and it’s about 512 pages and most of these pages have plenty of lines on them. It’s the kind of book that these same skeptics will not even read. It would be practically a miracle if they even skimmed it and looked at the pictures.
And yet, these same people will think they can speak with authority on the events in the Bible. They will speak on slavery in the Old Testament and all they have is their knowledge of the Civil War in America and the fact that they are offended and think that is sufficient. Never will they dare ask questions like, “What is slavery in the ancient world? What was the purpose of it? What other alternatives did they have?”
Let alone do these people really have an understanding of the Law for Christians. Many think that the Law was meant to lead us to some kind of Utopia and everything in it is a moral principle for all time. It’d be kind of hard for a Christian to say this since Jesus in the New Testament said that Moses permitted divorce to the people because their hearts were hard. This is not to say there are no moral truths in the Law, but the purpose of the Law is not to produce perfect people.
Too many critics of the Bible read the Bible from a modern Western perspective and then look back on the dumb and unenlightened culture they see in the Bible thinking they’ve made a powerful critique. Argument from outrage is a favorite. God did XYZ! What kind of God would do this? The conquest narratives are a favorite. Lately, I’ve seen David’s baby dying as a result of David’s sin as an example of this. (Strangely enough, these same people will also defend abortion. Go figure.)
My advice to Christians on this is to first off not take such critics seriously. If someone is not willing to read and study life in the Ancient Near East, they shouldn’t comment on it. If they do, we shouldn’t take their comments seriously. I say the same thing about Christians who want to go and critique evolution, but will never ever pick up a book on science in their lifetime. Reading your favorite Christian who argues against evolution without studying science yourself and just repeating what they say is just as bad as reading a new atheist on the Bible and repeating what they say without studying it yourself.
Let me make a caveat here. If you are a Christian and you do read the science and you do want to argue against evolution, have at it. It’s not the route I take as evolution is a non-issue to me. I just don’t repeat the arguments. Someone could be making powerful arguments against evolution or talking nonsense. I don’t know.
Also Christians, if I go after the atheists for doing this, I want to be fair and go after us. Too many of us who are Christians don’t bother to study the context either. We take one little section out of a prophecy and either make it about the end times in a dispensational paradigm (As if the prophets never ever said anything about their own culture) or they make it about themselves.
Let’s go with an example. In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells the people that He knows the plans He has for them, plans to prosper and not harm and to give them a hope and a future. Great passage. It’s used so many times in cards for college graduates and such. Horrible interpretation right there.
Jeremiah is making this point to Israel as they are going to Babylon. If you are sending a card to a college graduate who’s part of a covenant people and is being shipped off to Babylon, then that’s okay. If not, you might want to rethink it.
“Great. So are you saying this verse is useless aside from historical information?”
Not at all. We could apply this to us today. Picture a pastor saying this.
“The children of Israel had received a promise from God. They were about to face suffering and that suffering would make them wonder about the promise. They would doubt it and think God had failed them to let this happen. God assures them that is not so. In the same way, we today are recipients of the promises given to Israel and in Christ. We can often go through hardship and suffering still where we wonder if God has abandoned us. Hebrews tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us. As there was a purpose for the children of Israel going into Babylon, so there is a purpose for our suffering and Romans 8 tells us that God will work all things for good to those that love the Lord. Whatever you are going through in your life, realize that God is in control. As He did for the children of Israel in being with them in their suffering, so will He be with you.”
There. If anything, this is a richer understanding I think because it is connected to the New Testament. In the passage in Jeremiah, we can know that some of the people who went to Babylon never came back. After all, the return was about 70 years later. In the New Testament, some promises are individualized, such as Romans 8. We will all in Christ be resurrected in new and glorified bodies and each of us will give an account of what we have done and each of us will be treated accordingly. At the same time, we are a community in Christ and should live that way.
Studying the context of the passage goes a long way and will help us. Critics of the Bible need to really work to study the text instead of thinking that outrage is an argument. Christians need to study it because we think it comes from God and we need to treat it seriously and not misapply it. Will we always interpret it properly? Of course not, but we should always seek to bring the best information to the table that we can.