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Last summer I had some mutually beneficial dialogue with an agnostic friend about Christianity. I appreciated the opportunity to think through some issues. My friend admitted there were some remarkable things about the Bible that point to its trustworthiness, but expressed concern over things in the Bible like polygamy, incest and gang rape. She wondered how Christians can be so against gay marriage or otherwise be on moral crusades when the Bible is filled with polygamy and other moral atrocity. She saw the Bible (and Christians) as inconsistent. Here are some of my thoughts in reply. [This post is NOT about gay marriage or Christians being on moral crusades – so please don’t turn it into something it is not about. Rather this post is about how to view and understand the Bible.]

There are some very disturbing things in the Bible, and this can’t be denied. And if you weren’t aware – yes – polygamy, incest and gang rape are all in there!

A number of times I’ve heard someone say, “the Bible has polygamy in it!!” as a reason to condemn the Bible or to accuse Christians of hypocrisy when they take a stand on certain moral issues.

My initial response would be “Well, duh, of course the Bible has polygamy in it!”  – The Old Testament took place in an ancient eastern culture where polygamy was a cultural norm. God wanted to call out a people who were different and did not practice polygamy, yet he had to start working with people “where they were” –  imperfections and all and in their current cultural environment. For example, in our modern western culture today, things like divorce, co-habitation, and illegitimacy have become a cultural norm. If the Old Testament was being written now, it would reflect that. God would be dealing with people in these life situations – not endorsing those behaviors – but meeting people where they are and teaching them a better way.

There is a big difference between something being descriptive and prescriptive! This is a critical point. Just because a behavior or activity is in the Bible does not mean it is being endorsed! This would be similar to other books, historical records, or news reports. Recording the truth of what happened does not mean it is being sanctioned.

For example, in the book of Judges in the Old Testament troubling immoral things take place. (Such as gang rape in Judges 19.) Yet, a theme of Judges is that this was a very dark time in Israel because “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  The book of Judges is a warning. People were not following God’s ways and dark times resulted. The mayhem is described because it was the truth of what was taking place, not because it was being endorsed as acceptable behavior.

Another example would be famous King Solomon with his many wives and concubines – that would be 1,000! Deuteronomy 17 specifically says the kings of Israel should not multiply their horses (accumulate wealth) and should not multiply their wives (have many wives). King Solomon disobeyed and did not follow God’s law on this matter. Solomon’s grand life ended very badly (I Kings 11). I Kings states that Solomon’s heart was not loyal to God. His marriage to multiple foreign women led him into idolatry. This is a warning for all of us that we can start well for God and end terribly when we do things our way instead of God’s way.

Several verses in the New Testament (Rom. 15:4 for example) emphasize that the Old Testament was written for our learning. We can learn from the bad decisions of God’s people in the past so we don’t make the same ones.

I actually see the moral mayhem in the Bible as pointing to it being a true record of God’s dealings with humanity. It is a real and accurate portrayal of the human condition. Watch the news or read the newspaper – people are really messed up. Better yet, look more closely at yourself and your family. Biblical families weren’t perfect and neither are our families today. Yes, people also do good things and humanity can make progress but the depravity of humanity seems overwhelming.

If the Bible had nothing bad in it, and only recorded wonderful, near perfect people and families –  I’d suspect it was a fairytale or completely whitewashed. (And I’d also feel pretty darn discouraged about myself and my family!)  But…God meets people where they are, with all their hang ups, and transforms them into better people who reflect Jesus. That’s how God worked in biblical times and how he works today.

I know this post is not exhaustive, and not every issue or argument has been addressed – but those are some general thoughts which I hope will help bring a better view of certain aspects of the Bible. I may have some other posts where I delve into other related concerns, like some of the bizarre laws in Leviticus.

Next post here: Understanding weird or disturbing Old Testament laws

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