“There are few among us who have not suffered
from too early familiarity with the Bible
and the conceptions of religion.”
Havelock Ellis 1859-1939
There are those who say that even if the Bible is errant, indeed, even if it is not inspired and does not possess absolute authority, it is still an excellent source of inspiration and moral guidance. I disagree. That idea stems from a lack of knowledge about what the Bible actually says. Most people are familiar with verses about loving your neighbor, honoring your parents and helping the needy. But what most don’t hear from the pulpit is what the Bible says about the role of women, the handicapped, slavery, acts of war, human sacrifice, racism and “family values.”
THE BIBLE AND WOMEN
Occasionally you will hear about it in the news; someone has applied for a permit to operate an adult business in the city and “community values” groups are up in arms. These Judeo Christian watchdog groups will circulate petitions, hold news conferences, demand zoning changes and draft proposed ordinances to fight these establishments. Why? One of the reasons commonly cited is that they degrade women. I find it ironic that any group that espouses a Biblical perception of women would call anything else degrading to women.
Women have historically had to fight to obtain every liberty that they now possess in this country, indeed, just to be seen as equals to men. In other cultures they are still considered inferior to men. One of the reasons that women have held such a lowly status in society is that the Bible teaches that they are, in fact, inferior to men.
The Bible says that the woman was created as man’s helper; “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen 2:18 ). The idea that God created the woman from the rib of the man seems to have indicated to the Biblical writers an automatically subordinate status. In Gen 2:22-23, God makes the woman and presents her to Adam, just as he had presented the animals, and Adam calls her woman. The fact that Adam named her woman carries with it the same idea of dominion that naming the animals carried. I Corinthians 11:8-9 carries the same idea. “For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
With the idea of female subordination in place from the creation story on, the Bible proceeds to detail man’s authority over women. Ephesians 5:23-24 says “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.”
All right, just because women were to be subject to their husbands, does that mean that they were necessarily considered inferior? Couldn’t the idea here be that women were placed in the care of their husbands as children are cared for by their parents? Couldn’t this carry the idea of a special, pampered status rather than a position of inferiority and incompetence? I don’t think so. Consider some of the directives given to the church and to Israel concerning women.
I Corinthians 14:34-35 says “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
I Timothy 2:11-14 carries the same thought and even points out, despite the fact that they both sinned, that it was the woman who was deceived. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”
Numbers chapter 30 outlines the law of vows. The chapter basically says that a daughter’s vow could be voided by her father and wives vows could be voided by their husbands. Verse 13 says “Every vow, and every binding oath to afflict the soul, her husband may establish it, or her husband may make it void.” Basically, this law was established because women were not considered competent enough to make a vow or a contract, just as minor children are not legally bound to contracts in the United States today.
Numbers chapter 5 describes a ritual used when a man was suspicious of his wife to see if she had been unfaithful. The jealous husband brought his wife before the priest with a specially prepared offering. The priest made her drink a mixture called “the bitter water that causeth the curse” (verse 18), which contained, among other things, dust from the tabernacle floor. If she was innocent the drink would cause no harm, but “if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people” (verse 27).So much for trust in a marriage. If you think she may be unfaithful, make her drink the bitter water that causes the curse. What else could you do, take a woman’s word for it? Incidentally, this didn’t work the other way around. Women with cheating husbands had no redress.
Just how low was a woman’s position in the culture from which the Bible was born? Judges chapter 9 gives us some indication. In verse 52-54 we read about the dying request of Abimelech. “And Abimelech came unto the tower, and fought hard against it, and went hard unto the door of the tower to burn it with fire. And a certain woman cast a piece of millstone upon Abimelechs head, and all to brake (sic) his skull. Then he called hastily unto the young man his armourbearer, and said unto him, Draw thy sword, and slay me, that men may not say of me, A woman slew him. And his young man thrust him through and he died.”
Genesis 19:7-8 describes how Lot, who is called by the Bible a just man, offered his two virgin daughters to an angry mob saying “do ye to them as is good in your eyes” to protect two male strangers whom the mob of men outside wanted for sex. These passages leave no doubt that women are considered second class citizens by the Bible, not more than chattel, created for men, subject to men, and inferior to men. Shouldn’t we be glad that few men today base their morals concerning women on the principles defined by the Bible?
There is no doubt that the Bible fosters racial discrimination. Take a look at the Ku Klux Klan, whose members claim to be Christians doing the will of God and erecting their symbol, the cross. Where do groups like the Klan get the idea that racial segregation is an ordinance of God? The Bible.
Genesis chapter 11 says that it was God who separated men by language and scattered them abroad on the face of all the earth (verse 9). Prior to that, it says that the whole earth was of one language and of one speech (verse 1), living and working together in peace. It was God, concerned about their ambition and ability as a unified people, who decided to segregate them by language and geography. Is it therefore surprising when a racial separatist declares that blacks should go back to Africa and points to the Bible as his source of authority? Is he not right, if the Bible has any authority, to claim that people of different races and different languages should remain separated as God wanted? He’s only wrong if the Bible is wrong.
We must also ask the question; how can a just God have a chosen people? How can He offer salvation “to the Jew first” (Romans 1:16 )? Could it be the will of a just God that one race of people should utterly destroy another race of people and their culture in order to possess their land (Joshua chapters 7-8)? Was it not the same act against the Jews that vilified Hitler?
The Bible speaks often of slavery. Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. The Israelites were in bondage to the Egyptians for over 400 years. Judah was later enslaved in Babylon . The Bible gives many instructions to both servants and their masters on how they should treat one another. It gives different punishments for sins involving free persons and slaves. Leviticus 20:10 says that if a man commits adultery with his neighbors wife, both the man and the woman should be put to death. But Leviticus 19:20-21 says that if a man commits adultery with a married bondmaid, then they shall not be put to death because she is not free. She was to be scourged and the man had to sacrifice a ram.
The striking thing about all the mentions of slavery in the Bible is, among all of the precepts in the Bible concerning slavery, who was enslaved, how slaves should act, how masters should act, and how punishments differed, not once is slavery condemned. The Bible never takes a stand against one human being owning another human being.
In Genesis chapter 22, God tells Abraham in verse 2, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah ; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” Anyone who is familiar with the story knows that God did not let Abraham go through with it. Just as Abraham raised his knife to kill his son, who was already bound and laid on the altar, God intervened and supplied a ram for the sacrifice.
This story is supposed to illustrate Abraham’s incredible faith in God. Abraham carried out the instructions he was given fully believing that God would supply an alternative to burning his son as a sacrifice. What is amazing is that God would demand such a thing of Abraham in the first place. Can the same God who says “thou shalt not kill” order a man to burn his son’s body in an act of worship to him? Some would say that God never intended for Abraham to go through with it, but was only testing his faith. If God tells people to do things contrary to his own commandments, then how are you to know that the voice you are hearing is God’s. Just to be safe, if you hear a voice claiming to be God and it’s telling you to kill your children, consider getting professional help.
The most disturbing aspect of this story is the problem that appears when we compare it to another story of human sacrifice to God found in Judges. In chapter 11, verses 30-31, Jephthah vowed that if God would deliver his enemies into his hand then he would sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever came forth first from his home upon his safe return. To his dismay, he returned home victorious and saw his daughter coming out to greet him. Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering to God rather than to break his vow.
Where was God’s intervention in the second account? The similarities are striking. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son rather than to disobey God or question his authority. Jephthah was willing to sacrifice his only daughter to avoid breaking his vow to God. But in one case the Bible says God kept the father from performing this awful deed and in the other he allowed a father to kill and burn his daughter as an act of worship to him. This was still in the “time of miracles” and divine intervention was common according to the Bible. Gideon, another judge, was given signs and spoken to directly by God. Samson, also a judge, was provided with miraculous strength despite his iniquitous lifestyle. Yet here was a man with such convictions that he would rather lose his daughter than break his word to God, who was probably aware of the story of Abraham and Isaac, and God, according to the Bible, allowed him to do this terrible thing.
In Genesis chapter 4, God did not accept Cain’s burnt offering of the fruit of the ground. It doesn’t say how he rejected it. But God made it clear to Cain that his offering was not acceptable. But there is no mention in Judges of God rejecting Jephthah’s burnt offering of a human girl, his own daughter.
Let’s not forget the most prominent example of human sacrifice in the Bible, the death of Jesus. It is not portrayed as merely an execution by civil authorities, but as a sacrificial offering for the atonement of sin. Jesus is called in Revelations the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. His death is symbolic of the Passover lamb killed in Egypt , whose blood offered protection from the wrath of God when he killed the firstborn in every house of Egypt . While the Bible condemns the practice of sacrificing humans to pagan gods, the sacrifice of a human being to God is the central theme of the New Testament.
The Bible mentions persons with physical handicaps quite often. In the New Testament they were often the beneficiaries of miraculous healing. In the Old Testament God commands a sympathetic disposition towards the handicapped, not to throw a stumbling block before the blind etc. But the standard for the treatment of the physically handicapped is not whether or not you pick on them or have fun at their expense, it’s whether or not you count them as a whole person, even if they are not physically whole. God clearly does not, according to Leviticus. It is ironic that the deity who is credited with creating all persons would discriminate against some because of the physical distinctions that he had allegedly given them. But that is exactly what he commanded in Leviticus, not only a systematic discrimination against the handicapped, but even against those who had an undesirable feature such as being short or having a flat nose.
Leviticus 21: 17-23 says “Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous, or a man that is broken footed, or broken handed, or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken; no man that hath a blemish of the seed of Aaron the priest shall come nigh to offer the offerings of the Lord made by fire: he hath a blemish; he shall not come nigh to offer the bread of his God. He shall eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy, only he shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish, that he profane not my sanctuaries: for I the Lord do sanctify them.” God excluded all of these people from service because he felt that their physical distinctions would “profane” his sanctuaries (verse 23).
Is it not cruel to endow a person with some physical distinction, something that has nothing to do with their capacity for faith and worship, and then discriminate against them for it? Could it be that a man could profane the temple because he is less than average height? Does the shape of a man’s nose have anything at all to do with his sincerity or his ability to serve God? No, these are clearly ordinances set forth by a petty and discriminatory group of men who placed more significance on outward appearances than on inward virtue. But the Bible says these are God’s commandments to discriminate. So this kind of discrimination against the handicapped can only be morally wrong if the Bible is wrong.
Should we derive our morality from such a book, a book that promotes racial separatism and sexual discrimination, a book that fails to condemn slavery and human sacrifice, a book that encourages discrimination against the handicapped and the idea that there is no such thing as a war crime, and that the murder of men, women, children and animals for land gain is God’s plan? I don’t think so. We know better.