Saturday, September 8, 2012
My friend urged me to write about them. My approach to biblical interpretation has helped her resolve a weighty load of frustration and unanswered question about how to deal with Bible conundrums. She has never been content to believe something just because, and neither have I.
We have to begin with the understanding that God is, that he is locatable rather than being an all-pervasive, non-localized force. He may well be omni-present, but he is not merely a conglomeration of all things everywhere. And he is logical. He is compassionate. His reason is beyond ours, but not in the sense of it being incomprehensible. He reveals himself to mankind bit by bit because the gap between his understanding and ours is so immense. He steps into our primitive world with our archaic customs and knowledge and changes us little by little. Change is always difficult. It’s frightening and dangerous and requires adaptation and care to make sure that it is a change for the better. It always produces debate, wars, and division.
The doctrine of an inerrant Bible has produced a rather strange, sometimes contradictory, sometimes archaic, and sometimes violent characterization of God. A too literal approach also produces a distorted view of science. I have already addressed the topic of origins in my posts entitled, “Biblical Creation: Six 24-Hour Days,” and “A Modern Christian Sophistry.” I pointed out that extreme piety can be misguided and harmful to the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ. We also need to take the Bible as a whole, not as a verse here and there. Proof texting leads only to the letter of the law and not to the Spirit of the law.
The biblical concept of God makes so much more sense if we understand that God approaches mankind in a cultural context. He cannot just fly down in a chariot and rip up worldviews that have been in place for thousands of years. Nothing in history can change that fast. God has to speak our language, both the linguistic language and the language of emotion, fear, values. Sometimes he wants to send a prophet to propose a new idea or direction.
Sometimes he whispers a value and he wants us to figure out how to apply that value in the highest ethical manner. He so often sits on the sidelines while we debate and fight with one another about what he wants. Why doesn’t he just tell us in a vision or a dream? I can’t be sure, but challenging us to find the high ground in the Scripture and to apply it in a genuinely godly manner is part of the greater plan for us. It demonstrates that God created a creature that can not only understand the difference between good and evil, but can develop a sensitivity for great ethical thinking and compassion. One sign of that development is to discern what is merely religious and what is truly the heart of God.
The Bible often shouts its piety and even puts the holy words in the mouth of God. An example, in Leviticus 12:1-5 God tells Moses to tell the people that a woman who gives birth must go through a certain amount of days of separation from sacred things, including Temple worship. If she has a boy, she is unclean for 7 days. On the 8th day the boy is circumcised. Thirty-three days later she must present herself and the child to the Temple. But if she has a girl, she is unclean for two weeks, then must be purified for 66 more days. What could be more clear? The high and holy God values men over women. Furthermore, a woman’s blood, or anyone’s blood for that matter, is unclean and causes the person to be unqualified to touch anything sacred or to approach sacred space where God’s presence is concentrated. There is no other way to translate this passage. You can’t say that Moses just wrote it himself if the Bible is inerrant.
But here are the whispers. A woman with an issue of blood for 12 years pushes her way through a crowd. She bends down and touches the robe of God’s holy representative on Earth, the Redeemer of all mankind. Rather than flinching and nuking the audacious woman with a thunderbolt, Jesus praised her for her faith. Instead of slaying her right then and there, power for healing went out of him and she was made whole (Mark 5:25-34). As for the clear indication that women are less valuable than man, the whisper is found in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female…” In Christ, all are equal.
Another shout from Leviticus 21:10-12, a high priest must NEVER touch or even go near a corpse, even if it is his mother or father. Yet, right after touching the woman with the blood disease, Jesus goes took the hand of a dead little girl and restored her life (Mark 5:35-42).
Shout. Leviticus 11: meticulous description of which kinds of animal food will defile a person and which will not. “Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures,” says the LORD to Moses. “Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.”
Whisper: Mark 7:14-23, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean….For it doesn’t go into his heart, but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” So, inerrancy peeps, did God change his nature, or are there things in Leviticus that God allowed Moses to say because Moses sat in a seat of authority as an ombudsman between a primitive people and God, knowing that the cultural development of the people demanded such laws.
The ancient world was challenged to separate between what was ritually unclean and what was clean. We are challenged to separate between what is cultural and what is not.
Culture: Women should pray and prophesy with their head covered. Spirit: Philip had four daughters that prophesied.
Culture. Women must be silent in the church. Spirit: Jesus sent a woman to evangelize the town in Samaria. In the Old Testament there were prophetesses like Deborah and Hulda with great authority.
Cultural ground: A woman must submit to her husband in all things in (Ephesians 5:24). Higher ground: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
There is the letter of the law and there is the spirit of the law. The Lord gave us brains and common sense to discern which is which and how to use the spirit of the law to forge a more Christlike way that is less religious and more like “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And that is the greatest whisper of all, tucked away in the Law of Moses, Lev. 19:18 and Deut. 6:5. Jesus put them together in passages like Luke 10:27, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This is the bottom line, the end game that crosses all eras and national boundaries. All the cultural biases, religious taboos, and must dos are nothing compared to that combined commandment. And how can you fulfill that commandment if you restrain people from fulfilling the call of God in their life or if you make them feel like trash because of their gender, skin color, or their religion or ethnic origin?
Here is a shout from me: God doesn’t give a diddlysquat about your gender, how long your hair is, what you wear (assuming it’s modest by your own cultural standards), what you eat (OK, sheep eyeballs really are detestable), or on which day you worship. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we know that the good man was in a religion that was distorted from Orthodox truth. Yet he was set forth as an exemplar for us to emulate. We know nothing about the man in the ditch except that he was bleeding and was therefore ‘unclean.’ That’s why the priest and Levite wouldn’t touch him. They were obeying the Law. The victim might have been black, white, purple, Sikh, French, gay, leprous, Jew, Egyptian, Republican, etc. He was ‘our neighbor.’ That’s all that mattered.
Christian husbands and pastors, if you love your wife as much as the Samaritan loved the man in the ditch, or as much as Christ loved the church, quit being so ‘dull,’ so obnoxiously religious. Reach for the higher ground. Listen to the whisper of God in your heart and submit one to another.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
It embarrasses me to even deal with this ridiculous topic, but if one googles that question, all sorts of websites appear dealing with the subject, many of which declare that Yaweh is an alien. Such horsefeathers! And these very pseudo-scholars would denigrate the fundamentalist Christians and Jews for taking the Bible stories too literally.
That description sounds oh so much like stories of Reptilian
abductions of today. Serpent worship was ubiquitous in the ancient world. They
were everywhere, including on the crown of the Egyptian Pharaoh. The
represented healing, protection, and wisdom. How could a creature that is so
disgusting and predatory gain such renown in so many cultures if it were not
for the fact that malevolent but powerful spirits often manifested in reptilian
At least the conservative Christians and Jews are taking this magnificent piece of ancient literature as it has been written. The UFO community is grabbing the flotsam and jetsam of many ancient legends, cherry picking what seems interesting, and sewing it all together into a frankensteinish patchwork that makes for great midnight blog reading.
I will agree with them on one point. The ancient world worshiped the serpent as a deity. There are pre-Sumer replicas of strange, human-like bodies with reptilian heads. One female is holding a baby that could well represent the tales of hybrids today. Furthermore Genesis 6 does talk about the bene elohim, the ‘sons’ of the gods, who left their own dimension to mingle with ours. They are also called the Nephilim, the ‘Fallen Ones,’ who were attracted to the daughters of Adam, cohabited with them, taking whomever they chose (as in rape), and created hybrid children that walked the earth. It was a time of great advances in agriculture, architecture, and magic arts. The hybrid children were ‘men of renown.’
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden needs to be read in the context of ancient times when it was written down. It’s a Hebrew story with a Hebrew moral, so superglueing it to other legends from other cultures will only produce a casserole of nonsense. But the Bible story is full of icons of the culture that any Hebrew of the day would immediately recognize. Gardens, sacred trees, serpents, man and woman interacting with those icons were common in ancient illustrations of the day. For instance, from Sumer one might see a man and woman seated facing one another with a tree in the middle and serpents nearby. Or in Egypt one might see a tree that is half goddess that is nurturing a seated man and woman. In Canaan, one might see a goddess standing on a lion holding serpents in both hands. Fierce gods of war and virility would be in the illustration.
The point of the Adam and Eve story is that the serpent offers a quick fix for what we think we need…it looked good, it would make one wise, and the serpent challenged the word that God gave to Adam that eating it would produce death. Eating the fruit in fact gave one the enhanced cognition whereby mankind could understand the difference between good and evil. The serpent indicated that the couple would not die, but would be like a god. In that he told the truth, because if their perfect bodies were the beginning of being in God’s image, then step two would be to understand the difference between good and evil, which the story acknowledges. Another step would be to find eternal life, but mankind was in no way ready for that yet.
So either the fruit had some serious magic qualities, or it was a symbol, not of a fall, but of a growth in which mankind has the ability to knowingly choose evil and must begin to pay the consequences of his or her actions. You don’t spank a two-year-old. You don’t punish someone with an IQ of 70 as you would someone of average ability. But an older child who knows what he is doing when he rebels is liable to severe punishment for crimes committed.
God certainly did not create man and woman to run around naked, isolated, celibate, unaware of the universe around them, unable to function at a higher cognitive capacity forever. The whole Garden motif was a parable. Yahweh did not need a crop or harvest or food. He made it clear through his prophets that he was a spiritual being, energy and light, and needed neither sleep nor food. But apparently the Reptilians were already here when mankind made that leap, and the Hebrew author was warning his people that the root of all pagan religions other than Yahwistic faith was the serpent power and presence. That power was seductive and poisonous.
Part of the thrust of the story of Adam and Eve is to remind the ancient world that God had the power to curse the serpent. The only way the serpent could strike at God was to deceive his creation. The irony of the portrait of the serpent’s fate is that it now crawls lower than all the other animals. The creature that used words to tempt mankind to eat forbidden fruit will now eat dust, which was another icon in the ancient world of the food of hell. The serpent whose words were so slick will now be silent. A snake cannot even squeak let alone bark. It’s irony. It’s symbolic, carefully crafted piece of literature. It has a specific theological point.
The Yahwistic faith looked on the outside very much like all the religions around. There were priests, tri-partite temples, animal sacrifices, harvest celebrations, etc. However, the religions of the day also had aspects that were absolutely forbidden to the people of Yahweh… like child sacrifice, temple prostitution, black magic rituals, idol worship, animistic divination, ancestor worship, calling up the dead for power and protection, drinking blood, etc. All of those practices are open portals for aliens, ghosts, demons, whatever you want to call them. They invite malicious spirits whose only desire is to exploit, enslave, deceive, and ultimate destroy mankind.
The whole point of the Genesis story and the rest of the Hebrew Bible is to demonstrate that Yahweh is not…is NOT…one of them. Yahweh forbad those practices to close those portals, to protect his people from the predations of the Serpent-Reptilian deception. If you want to know more about this theme, order my book, Dust or Dew, from Wipf and Stock. The way of the Serpent was the way of death. The way of Yahweh was the way of life.
But one has to understand that these two powers were warring over the souls of a very primitive and superstitious people. Life was frightening and dangerous. People realized that help could be gotten from higher, inter-dimensional sources, but that those sources themselves could be dangerous. Perhaps the whole idea of animal sacrifice came from ancient cattle mutilations. The practice did not begin with Moses. Sheep and cattle were sacrificed long before Abraham was born, let alone Moses. The ancient world thought that the smoke of an animal sacrifice somehow appeased dangerous and capricious deities, and some of that attitude bleeds into the oldest texts of the Hebrew Scriptures. Later revelations indicated very clearly that Yahweh never was really interested in cattle or animal sacrifices. He wanted purity of heart, faith, social justice. Jesus declared in Mark 7 that God never did give a diddlysquat what people ate because food just goes into the gut and comes out the other end. It’s what comes out of the heart that matters. That was always the case, but it was too great a leap for ancient tribes. Jesus swept away the superstition and brought forth the real goal of God’s commandments. Notice that Jesus always spoke of the heavenly Father. He did not call God Yahweh. Perhaps that was because the ancient religion was too encumbered with the needs and suppositions of human leaders.
Wild speculation as to whether Eve had sex with the serpent is a waste of print. If that were the point, it would have been hinted at in the story. The Hebrew author was quite the inspired genius and knew exactly what he was writing and why. He put in what got his point across and left out what was irrelevant. Eating the fruit of out-of-control imagination does not make one wise or god-like. It makes us look like idiots. It also gives another round of victory to the Reptilian presence of then and now. One thing the Reptilians do not like is the real God and the real Son of God and the real Word of God.