D.T. Wallace wrote a letter to the editors last Tuesday about my column on questioning faith and made this statement:
“No man is the smartest man in the room when he has the Bible in the same room; don’t overthink it.”
I disagree. When it comes to the Bible, the real criminals are those who “underthink” it. I find that more damage is done by so-called pastors who haven’t done enough thinking and who feel free to quote passages out of context just to prove a point. Some of them even give the impression that the Bible was written by one person at one point in time with God whispering in his ear. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Bible is not one book. The Protestant Bibles have 66 books; the Catholic Bible has 73; the Jewish Bible or the Tanakh (Christians call it the Old Testament) contains either 24 or 37 depending on how you count the prophets and the writings.
The point is this: Many different men wrote these 31,173 verses over a period of at least 687 years in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek -- not English) for many different reasons in many different styles, including poetry, history, exhortation, imagination, midrash, mythology and metaphor, and these versions were copied and edited and translated for the past 2,000 years.
Lumping it all together -- as if it were a modern novel -- is criminal. If we’re going to call it “the Word of God,” then let’s treat it with the reverence and respect and “thought” it deserves. This means, I think, recognizing not only the poetic brilliance of the Genesis creation stories and the metaphorical beauty of the Matthean and Lucan Infancy narratives, but also grappling with the 143 rather obvious contradictions. (www.philvaz.com/apologetics/bible.htm)
For example, how do we explain away the war-like image of the God-Yahweh in Deuteronomy, chapter 20? The author has God telling the Israelites to kill and destroy everyone in their way -- women and children and animals as well -- when then enter into the lands they are to inherit. “You must completely destroy them.” That’s exactly how they imagined God in those days. That’s a fact.
Or how do we merge Paul’s demeaning of women in 1 Corinthians 14:34 where he says: “they should be silent in church” with his previous non-demeaning statement in 1 Corinthians 11:5 where he explains that it’s OK for a woman to preach in church as long as she wears a veil. Many Scripture scholars maintain the second demeaning statement is a later insertion by a pseudo-Paul writer like the one who wrote 1 Timothy 2:11. But whoever wrote it, we don’t like it and we certainly don’t follow it.
I know. It’s much easier not to “overthink” it. Maybe D.T. Wallace is correct, and we shouldn’t ask questions about the Bible. Maybe we should accept the English versions as if they were the originals and swallow the interpretations we hear from the pulpit and go on with life. Maybe Bible study and Bible groups should be banished from our Sunday schools and synagogues, and ordinary people should be satisfied with being ordinary.
But I don’t think so.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corp. and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.