Comments in a recent thread have lead me to a new discussion—that of how Christians read the Bible.
Christians must, by definition, believe that the Bible is “special” in some way. If they believe the stories about Jesus Christ to be true, but do not believe the Koran (as one example) to be true, then none of the extra-Biblical examples typically used by Christians to justify their faith will work. They must associate some “special” power with the Bible. Most Christians do not have a problem with this—in fact they defend it and say that the Bible is 100% “inspired by God” or “God-breathed.”
Yet the Bible is a mish-mash of confusing and contradictory passages. Christians will state that this is because men wrote it while trying to interpret what the Holy Spirit was saying to them. The confusion and contradiction may simply be a reflection of the authors’ state of mind while writing. How can men, after all, understand God’s ways? Or they explain the contradictions away by sophistry and irrational arguments. Or, more often, they ignore the weird scriptures (like those that instruct us to kill witches) and cling to the ones they like more (like those that instruct us not to kill period.)
Christians typically read the Bible in three ways.
1. They read it using the common vernacular, apply modern mores and cultural norms, and glean from the words what makes sense by today’s standards. This is how some readers of this blog apparently read the Bible. In a way, this approach to the Bible is the most socially “safe” and least challenging method. Exodus 22:18 (KJV) says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” In today’s society, however, killing a witch is strictly taboo. So people from Group #1 read this scripture and do NOT assume that this is Biblical instruction to kill witches. They will water down the meaning to be exactly the opposite: “We should let witches live” as exemplified in the comments here.
But here are other translations of this scripture, from non-King James versions:
American Standard Version “Thou shalt not suffer a sorceress to live.”
Amplified Bible: You shall not allow a woman to live who practices sorcery.
Good News Version: Put to death any woman who practices magic.
Living Bible: A sorceress shall be put to death.
New American Standard Bible: You shall not let a sorceress live.
This is a God-inspired book? A book that says you should not let witches live really means that you should let witches live? Well, alls well that ends well, I guess. Or maybe not.
2. Some people allow religious leaders to interpret God’s intent. These people are probably the worst of all. They are sheep, and while the Bible tends to laud this ovine role, I find it grossly irresponsible for a person to relinquish their will entirely to the teachings of another human. After all, the religious leaders who have the most congregants are people who are able to make their faith “palatable.” Case in point: most religious leaders have absolved their congregation of any witch-killing obligations this scripture might have conferred upon them by indicating that the word “witch” has been misinterpreted by that Witch-o-phobe King James, and that the original word was “poisoner.” So if someone kills another using poison, they should be put to death. However, this reference is often refuted. So, there are those who say that “… the religious injunction is irrelevant in terms of civil law, since we are not under a theocracy.” In other words, we have to obey the laws of our land, so since it is illegal to kill witches, we should not kill witches. However, these wimpy pastors forget that in Acts chapter 5, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.” Hmm.
So the people in group 2 are often also from group 1—people who cannot stomach a bronze-age form of justice in 2009 and find a myriad of ways to worm around it. So God’s inspiration ends where our squeamishness begins.
Then there are the people in group …
3. The people who read the Bible correctly. By that I mean that they look at the original words and translate them without regard to taboo or social norm in today’s society. These people end up with a non-apologetic sermon that matches the Bible in its words and apparent intent exactly.
“In a Christian society that adheres to God’s perfect and eternal Law there would be no witches to speak of because the scripture calls for a swift death to anyone engaging in this forbidden and powerless craft.” And later, ” So many say that our God isn’t ‘tolerant’ enough or something to that humanistic effect but I could care less — do you think that these serpentile witches are tolerant of our Faith or proven scriptures?”
Many Christians from groups 1. and 2. would read these words from Group 3. and say, “This person does not represent what I believe!” My rebuttal to that? Yes. They. Do. If you believe that the Bible is a mystical book, then those of you who choose not to read it accurately will ultimately be lead by those who do. That is why I oppose even a convivial form of Christianity when it enters the public arena.
No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.