Thinking about the Bible: a conversation between friends

Amy and Chris are new Christians doing the same uni course. Most weeks they meet up for coffee at least once. They often talk about things that puzzle them in their new faith, and what they’re learning.

We join their conversation halfway through.

“So, did you go to your Bible study last night?”

“Yes I did, but I almost wish I hadn’t.”

“That doesn’t sound too good! Why was that?”

“Well, you know we’ve been doing a study for the last few weeks on an overview of the Old Testament. This week we got to Joshua, and God commanding them to kill everyone who got in their way. I said I didn’t think God would do that, and Ben said it was right there in the Bible so it must be true.”

“So I said maybe the Bible was wrong here, and they all piled on me and said I had to believe it. I didn’t really know what to say, so I decided I need to think about it more.

What do you think?”

“It’s a hard one, isn’t it? I’m only new to all this so I don’t want think I’ve got it all figured out. But it doesn’t sound right that God would order genocide.”

“It kind of feels like saying God isn’t good at all. I mean if a person ordered that killing today they’d be charged with war crimes or something.”

“Yeah, it seems like they’re demeaning God to protect their view of the Bible. That”s surely the wrong way round.”

“That’s what I thought. But they said the Bible must be totally true, otherwise it’s not God’s word and we can’t have any confidence in it.”

“Well I don’t know about that! I don’t suppose anything we read is totally true, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get true information from it. Like the textbooks we use at Uni – if we couldn’t learn from them, then why read them?”

“It’s funny, isn’t it? The rest of my group all believe the Bible is totally true, but they still argue about other stuff like predestination. So believing the Bible is totally true doesn’t actually mean they all hold to the same truth!”

“I can’t help feeling we’re all starting at the wrong place. Instead of deciding the Bible must be true and then trying to find answers to difficulties, why not look at what the Bible actually is?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well …. do you reckon everyone in your group believes absolutely everything in the Bible? I mean, I don’t suppose they think the world was created in six days, or that there really was a worldwide flood!”

“We have talked about that. Most of them don’t believe those things are true, but they don’t seem to be sure what they do believe about Adam and Eve and Noah.”

“So that’s something in the Bible they don’t believe is literally true! That tells us something about it doesn’t it?”

“Yes, but that hardly counts, does it? I mean, a worldwide flood with koalas and platypus on the Ark isn’t really sensible or believable. So I don’t suppose that tells us much about the rest of it.”

“Fair enough. But what about this? It says in Leviticus that people who blaspheme, or curse their parents or who have sex with same sex partners or animals, are to be put to death. Do they believe in the death penalty for those things?”

“I hope not! Really, I can’t imagine they do.”

“So that’s something else they don’t believe!? Surely this shows they don’t really believe the whole Bible is literally true?”

“Sure! But it is the Old Testament. There’s lots of stuff in there that no-one believes and does any more. I mean, have you sacrificed any bulls at your church lately?”

“True. Then I wonder how they figure out which bits they should believe and which bits they don’t have to?”

“I really don’t know.

“I think I need to think about this a bit more.”

“Let’s both do some research – read up what other people are saying and see if we can find a way to understand the Bible and feel that God is loving rather than a tyrant.”

“I’m good with that! We can see what each other found out next week.”

“Excellent! See you then!”

The commands to kill entire tribes or nations are found in Deuteronomy 7:1-2 and 20:16-17. The commands to execute those found guilty of sexual sin, blasphemy and cursing parents are found in Leviticus 20:9-16 and 24:14.

Photos by Andrea Piacquadio and Italo Melo.

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  1. Interesting.

    Sad to see that dogmatism still exists, but encouraging that the younger generation are asking questions and thinking about things rationally.

  2. Dogmatism is tempting and generally unhelpful I think. And it’s one thing to be dogmatic and right, and another thing to be dogmatic and wrong!

    I think it is only SOME of the younger generation that are willing to think outside what the have been taught, but I also think the number is growing every generation. (I think that’s probably true in many aspects of life, not just faith.)

  3. “The commands to kill entire tribes or nations are found in Deuteronomy 7:1-2 and 20:16-17.”

    Maybe a bit off topic, but do you think that the above passage may be seen by some as a justification or motivation for what is going on in Gaza?

  4. It’s a good question, and I think, sadly, it is being used that way. Netanyahu has several times quoted or referenced the Old Testament in support of his decisions. I think some Jews, the extremely conservative orthodox Jews, would believe in God and God’s purpsoes for Israel as in the OT, but my feeling is Netanyahu and others use the religious link quite cynically, probably similar to Trump. But of course I don’t know, it is just a suspicion.

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