There are lots of parts in the Bible I don’t like. And I’m not talking about sins I’d like to commit that the Bible tells me not to, that’s a different conversation. I’m talking parts of the Bible that make me cringe. Parts that don’t make sense to my 21st century American mind. Parts that feel like they don’t fit with my idea of who God is supposed to be.
Most of us, if we’re honest, feel the same way about various parts of the Bible. Here’s the number one thing we cannot do: We cannot dismiss or alter parts of the Bible we don’t like simply because we don’t like them.
We can’t do this because the Bible is where we find out who Jesus is and how to be saved. If we start selecting the parts we like and don’t like, where is the credibility of any of it?
Before jumping into my personal most-cringe-worthy Bible texts, two very important things to remember:
- If I don’t like something about God, it doesn’t change anything about who God actually is. I don’t want to go as far as to say “God doesn’t give a rip” if I disagree or don’t like something, but you get my point. God is the one in authority about who he is and what is true, not me.
- We have to give authority to Scripture first and authority to our experience second, it cannot be the other way around. I mean, you can do it the other way around, but at that point you’re openly admitting your authority is higher than Scripture’s, which nullifies the need for this entire conversation. Scripture has become something else at that point.
In no particular order, here are the parts of the Bible I don’t like and how I recommend we approach these texts.
Texts about women –
I’m not even talking about the texts on women in leadership, I’ll get to those next. I’m talking about 1 Peter 3:6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord (many translations use the word master instead of lord) or the very next verse, 1 Peter 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner. A wife obeying her husband and calling him master, and women being called the “weaker partner.” Cringe worthy indeed. But you can’t just say, “Well Peter was sexist” or “Well that was Peter’s opinion, not God’s.” This is God’s Word folks, not Peter’s. And it’s either his divinely inspired authoritative word or it isn’t. So is God sexist? Or was 1st century Palestine just a radically different time, place and culture than where we live today? Raise your hand if you lived in 1st century Palestine…Ok, now that we’ve got that straight, we honestly have no ground to stand on to blast these texts for being sexist. To do so would be arrogantly assuming cultural understanding that we have absolutely no way of understanding or appreciating. Travel the world today and see if you agree with every cultural standard you find. Better yet, ask foreigners if they agree with all of the cultural standards of the United States. I guarantee they won’t! Throwing stones at a culture’s standards, especially an ancient one when women truly were more vulnerable than men (they were seldom educated, didn’t have a way to provide for themselves financially, et al), isn’t fair or wise. The fact is, God revealed himself in that culture, not this one, so it’s no surprise He speaks within what made sense to the people of that culture. A closer look at 1 Peter 3:7 shows that what God was doing here was protecting and giving dignity to women, not taking it away from them. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as (equal) heirs with you of the gracious gift of life. The words I put in bold, and I added the word equal for clarity, were extremely demanding to men in a culture where abuse, exploitation and neglect of women ran rampant and unchecked. At the end of the day, we have to stop reading the Bible like it was written to a 2016 American audience, it wasn’t. Yes, we can ask, “Why didn’t God just change the whole culture at that time to treat women with equality?” Probably the same reason He can’t make a caterpillar fly. We can rest knowing God is not sexist, nor has He ever been sexist.
Texts about banning women from being elders –
This hermeneutical question has made me lose more sleep than any other. To give the topic the justice it deserves, please refer to the two parallel posts I recently wrote on this subject:
What does the Bible say about women in church leadership? The egalitarian case.
What does the Bible say about women in church leadership? The complementarian case.
To put it bluntly, I wish the Bible never said anything about men-only as leaders, it would make things a lot easier. I’d like it a lot better if both men and women could hold equal office as elders. It seems unfair, even unjust not to. Please don’t comment on what I just wrote unless you’ve read both of the above linked articles.
Texts banning homosexual behavior –
If there was anything in the Bible I’d like to change as a pastor in 2016, it’d be this. Depending on what circles you run in, holding any view that upholds the Bible’s teaching that homosexual sex is a sin will get you called a homophobe, even a bigot. I’ve written a ton of this subject, with a summary article here: What does the Bible say about homosexuality? I don’t like these biblical texts, partially because they make my job harder and make people not like me, but mostly because of the heartache I feel for people who are attracted to the same sex, whose lives would be a lot easier if the acting out of those attractions wasn’t prohibited by the Bible. This subject above any other has caused many people, and now large sections of the Christian Church, to either reject the Bible as God’s authoritative Word or to try to hold on to it as God’s Word while presenting a very weak interpretation of these texts (see this breakdown here). This latter effort explains “what the Bible really meant” so they can enjoy the mutual comfort of still claiming the Bible as God’s Word and also the much more socially acceptable, more “lovable” and relationally easier view that any sexual preference is okay. You won’t get called a homophobe for that. The fact is, we each have to choose between these two comforts when we approach the Scriptures. We either love people by giving them the green light to live in sexual ways that God prohibits or we love people by directing them to an often painful path of abiding by the Scriptures, having confidence in God’s Word and will.
The creation account in Genesis 1-2
Ay yay yay, this one is a doozy. I’ve met a lot of people who are not Christians because they can’t believe in a young earth (i.e. a ~5000 year old earth). During the early season of the presidential primaries, outspoken atheist and religion-critic Bill Maher described Republican hopeful Ben Carson as a “smart stupid person.”
“Somehow he’s a brilliant neurosurgeon who believes the world is 5,000 years old,” he said. “As long as I live, I will never understand that divide in people’s minds — how you can be brilliant, and a total f*cking idiot at the same time.”
It pains me that something that has so little to do with Jesus prevents so many from considering him. Articles I’ve written on the subject:
Can You Believe in Evolution & Be a Christian?
11/1 Creationism Origin Summit @MSU: Christians wrong in so many ways
Fact or Fiction: 4 Ways to View the Old Testament
Should We Read Genesis Literally?
If you don’t feel like reading any of those previous posts, for the record: I do believe in a literal Adam as he is theologically foundational to the biblical narrative of redemption, Genesis was written by Moses to the just-freed Hebrew slaves in ~1400 B.C. for a specific purpose that most Christians are completely oblivious to (and the purpose was not the age of the earth), and we misread Genesis when we use it as a science textbook to argue from regarding the age of the earth. And lastly and most importantly, I couldn’t care less how old the earth is!
When God commands his people in the Old Testament to invade and kill another people group –
Sorry for all the link referrals, I’m realizing this post is getting too long!
Similar to what I wrote about regarding the New Testament’s texts on women, raise your hand if you were around in the Ancient Near East in 2000 BC, 500 BC, or anywhere in-between? With that out of the way, let’s be honest that we have no clue what it would have been like to live in that culture. A culture where massacre, rape and pillaging were a daily threat and where people who worshiped pagan gods didn’t do so with quaint civility, but with rape, sex trafficking, child molestation and infant sacrifice. We love to judge God, acting as if he has no place to judge people. And that’s where we have the tables turned exactly opposite to how they should be. We don’t have to celebrate these harsh texts, in fact, we should mourn them as I believe God does. But in our mourning, we also don’t need to change them. We need to learn from them!
Texts about hell –
No Christian should like the texts about people going to hell for eternity. I certainly don’t! But it doesn’t do anyone any good to change, twist or contort them to make them more likeable. Let’s let God be God.
Texts about how Jesus is the only way to heaven –
It’d be great if everyone went to heaven, regardless of religious belief or disbelief. But just because it’s cool to imagine this as being so, doesn’t make it so. If everyone was going to heaven, Jesus would have been the biggest idiot for coming to die on the cross for our sins if he didn’t have to, and he’d be a double idiot for teaching as much as he did about his exclusivity and the need to intentionally follow him and put your faith in him. If everyone goes to heaven, Jesus is a liar and a fool.
What does the Bible say about other religions?
Why “All Ways Lead to God” Offends Me
Did you know God cringes at certain Bible verses too? I think his most cringe-worthy verse is Matthew 27:46, while Jesus hung from the cross…
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
- Ep. 69: Pastor Jack and Becky Sytsema on being in a mixed orientation marriage and how the Church should treat LGBTQ+ people - August 8, 2022
- Ep. 68: Thoughts on Hillsong Exposed, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, & Willow Creek - July 19, 2022
- The Flip Side Ep. 67: Jack Sytsema shares about being a gay / same sex attracted pastor in a mixed orientation marriage - June 25, 2022