Background story: I was always Christian, but in the beginning of college I went much deeper into it, and finally I dug so far that I found something I couldn’t deal with. This is some of what I found. Many of these are verses I had never heard anyone preach about, in 20 years of Sundays.
I don’t care if you believe things I disagree with. But I do care if you to try to convert people to Christianity by showing them the gospels and the parts of the Bible that sound beautiful, and then once they have converted, tell them they get everything else that’s in the Bible too, and they have to accept it or they’re letting God down, especially if you do so without even knowing what accepting the whole Bible as God’s truth entails (ie, you haven’t seen these verses). That is hypocritical and can be psychologically harmful to others. But if it really is The Good Book, you should be able to find ways of understanding these verses that allow for you to continue to believe they were inspired by a loving and almighty God. In other words, you shouldn’t be afraid to read your own holy book and I’m not a bad person for trying to expose you to it. Nor am I going to send you to The Corner for having approached the Bible in what I consider the wrong way. I did it too, I know how it works. But take the time to check yourself now.
If you make sense of it all with your faith intact, good for you. Just as long as you don’t ignore these passages because they make you uncomfortable and then preach the perfection of the Bible to others, I’m happy. But please, evangelize honestly: don’t hide the hard parts from potential new believers.
If you don’t find satisfactory interpretations, feel free to comment. I know I could’ve used someone who would take my concerns seriously.
I know that most of these passages were Jewish before they were Christian, and still are. But I know a lot less about Judaism, partially because I’ve never had a Jew try to get me to live according to the Torah. So I focus on Christians.
You can look the verses up on http://www.biblegateway.com or in any Bible. My writing is my brief interpretation and why I think it’s problematic. I tried not to take stuff out of context in a way that misrepresented it, but check me anyway.
Genesis 19:5-8 – Lot, called a righteous man by Peter, offers his daughters to be gang-raped. Explanations include that this was out of hospitality, said to be very important in that culture (don’t ask me how we know this), and moreover, hospitality to angels. But Judges 19 shows that you don’t have to be an angel to get protected as long as you’re a man, and that female guests were not protected by the hospitality requirement.
Genesis 38:16, 24 – Judah sleeps with a prostitute, no one complains. Then he says a woman should be burned for being a prostitute. Yes, in the end he says the prostitute was more righteous than he was, but that’s not because he decided the double standard was wrong, it’s because he had actually sinned against this woman in a totally different way and she was just doing this to get his attention. So in general, women were still wrong for being prostitutes but men were still ok if they were johns. This is doubly upsetting if you know anything about sex work and how johns are often much more the criminal than the prostitutes.
Exodus 21:7-8 – A man can sell his daughter into slavery. A female slave can’t just be set free like a male slave, there are extra rules. I think that’s because her master would have used her as a sex slave.
Exodus 21:10 – Polygyny is ok as long as you don’t neglect any of your wives.
Exodus 21:20-21 – Masters can beat their slaves, just not kill them, because after all, slaves are their masters’ property/money. So God thinks it’s ok to own people.
Leviticus 25:44-46 – Israelites can enslave foreigners but not fellow Israelites. Consider that the Israelites had just complained to God about how unfair it was that they were slaves to another nation, the Egyptians, and God set them free, plaguing and drowning their enslavers in the process. I guess the Israelites get special treatment (this is one of my main problems with the book The Truth Is Stranger Than It Used To Be), although that doesn’t explain how Israelite men could sell their daughters into slavery. Either female Israelites don’t count or the Bible isn’t consistent.
Leviticus 27:1-8 – Males are worth more money than females.
Deuteronomy 17:17 – The king should not marry multiple women, not because men aren’t allowed to do that, but because the women would lead his heart astray. Sure enough, in 1 Kings 11:4, Solomon’s wives are blamed for Solomon’s turning away from God. On the subject of blaming women for everything, see Genesis 3, especially verse 12, Leviticus 12:1-8, where women are unclean for twice as long if they give birth to a girl than if they give birth to a boy, and Revelation 17, mentioned below.
Deuteronomy 21:15-17 – Men can have two wives, and they can love one more than the other, but they can’t cheat their firstborn son out of his inheritance just because they love his mother less.
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 – If a man rapes a woman, the woman has to marry him. The rapist has to pay her father what he would pay to marry. He can never divorce her, and women didn’t have the right to initiate divorce at all. To my knowledge, there is no biblical law against marital rape. The rapist gets no punishment besides this marriage. This law implies that the problem with rape is not the violation of the woman’s rights or the trauma she endures, but the stealing or devaluing of the property of the woman’s father. Therefore, paying the father what he would have been paid for an unspoiled virgin daughter and marrying her so that he doesn’t have an unmarriageable daughter to support fixes the problem. In fact, when you look at this law and Exodus 22:16 together, they treat raping an unengaged woman and having consensual sex with an unengaged woman the same way. I read that later on some rabbis changed this rule to keep men from using rape as a way to catch a wife, but that wasn’t divinely inspired the way this is supposed to be.
Deuteronomy 22:13-21 – Stone a woman if her husband thinks she isn’t a virgin and there isn’t a bloody cloth from the wedding night to prove him wrong. She is guilty until proven innocent even though not all women bleed their first time having sex. Not only is this law sexist, as there’s no equivalent for men (who were definitely allowed to sleep with more than one woman), but it seems impossible for an omniscient God, who would have known that not bleeding doesn’t have to mean not being a virgin. One could argue that this law was so important (which I disagree with anyway, but ok) that God needed to just do the best he could, and we’re all sinners anyway, so it’s ok to kill some innocent women in order to make sure to get the unchaste women. But even that doesn’t work, because if God knew the hymen wasn’t a virginity test, he could have used the magic test described in Numbers:
Numbers 5:11-31 – If a man thinks his wife has cheated on him, he can have her drink “bitter water” to see if she becomes cursed. There is no similar test for unfaithful husbands. We have three ways of looking at this: 1) the bitter water was poison and the wives were always shown to be cheaters. This would condemn innocent women, just like the hymen test above. 2) The bitter water was harmless, and the test was prescribed in order to placate jealous husbands so they wouldn’t beat their wives. This would be dishonest to the husbands of women who actually had cheated, and would leave us with the puzzle of why a God so concerned about avoiding domestic violence wouldn’t go ahead and outlaw it explicitly. 3) The bitter water really worked. This would still prop up the sexual double standard, and there’s no excuse for this magic not to have been used for newlyweds instead of the very flawed hymen test above.
Numbers 30:1-16 – Men can make vows to God, but women have to have their father’s or husband’s permission to do so.
Numbers 31:14-18 – Moses got angry at the Israelites for not killing all the Midianites, and told them to kill the rest but to keep the virgins for themselves. I don’t know if they were kept as wives or as slaves (presumably sex slaves, given that virginity mattered), but Deuteronomy 21:10-14 says that they could take captives such as these as wives. I don’t think the women got a say in that, although they did get a whole month to mourn how their new husband killed their whole family. Again, I’ve never found a law against marital rape in the Bible.
Judges 5:30 – There must be a woman or two for each man (spoils of war, because women are property and men can sleep with multiple women).
Judges 16:1 – Samson, set aside as holy by God and made a judge, spends the night with a prostitute. No one complains.
Judges 21:10-24 – Some Israelites didn’t have enough women to go around, so they kidnapped some.
Judges 19:22-29 – A man offers his concubine to be gang-raped one night. He doesn’t try to take care of her the next morning, just throws her on his donkey and keeps traveling. She dies. He takes no responsibility for her death, cuts her body into twelve pieces, and uses the pieces to incite the Israelites to war. Compare Ezekiel 16. And if you’re Methodist, look at what John Wesley wrote about this in his biblical commentary.
2 Samuel 12:11-14 – Because David sinned, God makes his son die. I see this as a punishment to David on the principle that children were their father’s property.
*** New Testament ***
Romans 13:1-4 – Those who are in authority right now on earth will not harm good people, only bad people, because God put them in power and they’re his servants. News to me!
1 Corinthians 11:1-16 – Men are the glory of God, women are the glory of man. Women are made for men. Women must cover their heads in church because they’re under the authority of men. This is not merely cultural but “the nature of things” and due to the fact that Adam was created before Eve, which should remain true no matter what culture you’re in, if it’s ever true. Most Christians I asked said it was just cultural. A better rebuttal might point to the next section which sounds much more egalitarian, but I would reply that in the end, Paul keeps the conclusion he came to in the first section. Personally, I do think this was cultural, and I think Paul was fudging the truth to find a theological way to back up his demand that women wear veils, which seemed to him the only proper thing to do; then I think he wanted to try to backtrack on the sexism without giving up the conclusion he had just come to. But you can’t argue that he was fudging the truth and argue that he was divinely inspired.
1 Timothy 2:11-15 – Women cannot teach or have authority over men because Adam was created before Eve. Women will be saved through childbearing.
Titus 1:12-13 – Paul affirms a stereotype against Cretans. They are always evil, lazy liars. I can forgive Paul for saying that, but I can’t attribute it to God.
The Analogy “Man is to woman as God is to people”: the book of Hosea (God makes Hosea marry a prostitute and he has to keep getting her back because she keeps being a prostitute, and the whole thing is an allegory where Hosea is like God and the prostitute is like Israel), Ephesians 5:22-33 (Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church, wives are to respect their husbands and submit to them “in everything”), Matthew 9:15/Mark 2:19-20/Luke5:34-35, Matthew 25:1-13, John 3:29 (Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom), Revelation 19:7, 21:2,9 (Jerusalem is compared to a bride, the bride of the Lamb, the Lamb meaning Jesus). Oh yeah, and the way God is always spoken of and represented as (and incarnated as) a male.
The above leads to the idea that if God’s people (first Jerusalem/Israel, then later everyone) aren’t faithful, they’re like prostitutes who should be punished (because being a prostitute is basically the worst thing a woman can do, for the Bible’s authors): Ezekiel 16 (“I find you guilty of being an unfaithful wife…Your lovers and an angry mob will stone you to death; they will cut your dead body into pieces”), Revelation 17 (which gets even worse, because not only are the mere mortals represented by a female, but the female is then blamed as “the mother of every immoral and filthy thing on earth.”)
There’s more, but I think these are a good place to start.
Oh, and for those who want to get out of this homework assignment by throwing out everything except the gospels, you’re welcome to do that as far as I’m concerned, but you’ll have your own verses to confront: Matthew 5:17-18, Luke 16:31, Luke 24:44, John 5:45-47, for instance. Pointing to another verse that says something different is not an argument that Jesus doesn’t think you need to read the Old Testament; it’s an argument that the Bible is inconsistent. But if you find an argument that shows how these verses allow you to ignore everything except the gospels, or if you decide that since you’re unsure about the status of the Bible you won’t tell people they should live by it or try to pass laws to force them to live by it, then I won’t complain. I’m not out to deconvert people. I just really dislike hypocrisy.
Also: If you do decide to throw out the Torah and Paul’s letters, remember that means that all the verses usually used against homosexuality are now gone. If you keep the Torah, and if you are politically pro-life, you have this verse to examine: Exodus 21:22-25. Make sure to check the footnote if there is one.