Saturday, July 13, 2013

Bad Exogesis - When Billboards Tell Lies

I recently came across a post on Tumblr in which many pictures of  billboards covered with verses in the Bible was posted. The verses are meant to be shocking in such a way that people will come to the conclusion that the Bible couldn't be from God. The verses are presented without context and just attributed to God although many of the verses is not quoting what God said. Let's look at each billboard one-at-a-time and see if we understand what the verses are actually saying. When I quote the Bible it will be from the NIV.

Psalm 137:9

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks. - Psalm 137:8-9

I wonder why people don't seem to ever criticize the Bible in context. God is not commanding anyone to grab babies and bash their heads against rocks! When people make this argument I wonder if they really had bothered to read the chapter. The problem is the speaker is not God but a Jewish exile in Babylon who saw his world collapse around him and he wants God to end the exile and restore Jerusalem. He wanted his oppressors to pay. If you were in his possession you would probably want the same thing, but God is not talking or condoning this. We see here plain emotion - human emotion. The speaker wants revenge on the Edomites who were joyful at the disaster that befell Judah and vengeance on the Babylonians.

1 Timothy 2:12

 11 A woman[a] should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;[b] she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. - 1 Timothy 2:11-13

Rather than rehash a lot of what I've already written, here is a more exhaustive post: An "Evil of Christianity"

 Deuteronomy 22:28-29

28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[a] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. - Deuteronomy 22:28-29

Yup, here is the go to scripture for those who want to say that God condones rape in the Bible. People who butcher the scripture in this way are ignorant to what is being commanded and why it's being commanded in that context. My brother-in-Christ, Mariano Grinbank wrote a wonderful blog post a few years ago that just shows this argument for the farce that it is. Read his essay at the following link: 
Atheism, the Bible, Rape and, part 4 of 6

 Leviticus 25:44,45

44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. - Leviticus 25:44-46

Here is a passage usually used as a proof text that the Bible condones slavery.  It doesn't. Rather than rehash the awesome points Mariano brings up in one of his brilliant articles, here is a link:

 Jeremiah 48:10

 Put salt on Moab,
    for she will be laid waste[f];
her towns will become desolate,
    with no one to live in them.

10 “A curse on anyone who is lax in doing the Lord’s work!
    A curse on anyone who keeps their sword from bloodshed!
11 “Moab has been at rest from youth,
    like wine left on its dregs,
not poured from one jar to another—
    she has not gone into exile.
So she tastes as she did,
    and her aroma is unchanged.
12 But days are coming,”
    declares the Lord,
“when I will send men who pour from pitchers,
    and they will pour her out;
they will empty her pitchers
    and smash her jars.
13 Then Moab will be ashamed of Chemosh,
    as Israel was ashamed
    when they trusted in Bethel. - Jeremiah 48:9-13

Obviously the passage is talking about war and judgement on Moab.  God is merciful. He gave the Moabites plenty of time to stop their idolatry but they did not. I think the violence of the passage is what the posters of the billboard were trying to use to provoke and emotional  response but in its historical context, it is appropriate because the judgement that was coming was going to be severe.

 Ezekiel 9:5

 Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.” And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar.
Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the old men who were in front of the temple.
Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city. While they were killing and I was left alone, I fell facedown, crying out, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?”
He answered me, “The sin of the people of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, ‘The Lord has forsaken the land; the Lord does not see.’ 10 So I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done.”
11 Then the man in linen with the writing kit at his side brought back word, saying, “I have done as you commanded.” - Ezekiel 9

 Exodus 21: 7-8

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself,[a] he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money. - Exodus 21:7-11

 Slavery? Really?? For Americans, slavery is a very touchy subject provoking all kinds of emotions like anger and guilt. But American Chattel Slavery and Slavery in Ancient Israel were not the same thing in the slightest. I would suggest reading Mariano's entire essay on slavery. Does the Bible and its God Condone Slavery?

 Ezekiel 21:31-32

30 “‘Let the sword return to its sheath.
    In the place where you were created,
in the land of your ancestry,
    I will judge you.
31 I will pour out my wrath on you
    and breathe out my fiery anger against you;
I will deliver you into the hands of brutal men,
    men skilled in destruction.
32 You will be fuel for the fire,
    your blood will be shed in your land,
you will be remembered no more;
    for I the Lord have spoken.’” - Ezekiel 21:30-33

I think the problem is that people really don't look at their sins as being bad enough to deserve judgement and death. Yes, we are that bad. What ever joys and happiness we experience isn't because of what we deserve but because of God's mercy on us. This passage is about the judgement deserved about Jerusalem and God using the Babylonians to do it. And it happened just like night follows day in 586 BC.

 Numbers 25:4

1While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.

4The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.”

5So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”

6Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 7When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; 9but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000. - Numbers 25:1-9
Just because you are one of  God's chosen people doesn't mean that you are exempt from judgement. The verse is about the leaders who lead Israel into idolatry and away from God who had just so recently delivered them from Egypt and provided everything for them. I mean think about it: How could they not be judged so harshly after all of that Don't forget they also received mercy because God did not annihilate them all!