Bible Misconceptions: Diminishing the Work of Messiah- Part 1
A friend of mine named Robert and I recently got together for lunch. Robert had passed along a link to a CNN.com article entitled “Bible has some shocking ‘family values'” and wanted some help answering the claims that were made in it. He wanted to provide a good, solid, Biblical response to his brother-in-law who had sent it to him.
Once we had ordered lunch, we got down to business.
“The guy who wrote the article, Michael Coogan, makes three claims that we should discuss”, I said. “Let’s start at the top.”
G-d is not the author of Scripture
I read the first part of the article out loud.
When talking about so-called family values, pastors, popes, and politicians routinely quote the Bible as if it were an unassailable divine authority — after all, they assume, God wrote the Bible, and therefore it is absolutely and literally true.
But that is a misconception. As the Bible itself makes clear, its authors were human beings, many of whom are named: David, Isaiah, Luke, and Paul.
“First off, Coogan claims that G-d is not the author of Scripture”, I said. ”If by ‘author’ he means ‘the person who took a pen and wrote all the words of the Bible in a scroll’ then he is correct. Over three dozen Jewish men (Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Matthew, John, Peter, Paul, etc.) wrote the words that we call ‘The Bible’.”
Robert had a funny look on his face so I stopped and asked, “What?”
“Are you telling me that the entire Bible, front to back, was written by Jews?”
“Yes. Why, is that surprising?”
“It is. I guess I never really thought of the Bible as a Jewish book”, he said.
“Well, technically, it’s G-d’s book. G-d did, however, chose Jewish men as the means to deliver its message to humanity. Israel is very special to G-d. In the book of Romans, Paul actually mentions that there are many great benefits of being a Jew and the first thing on his list was that they were ‘entrusted with the oracles of G-d.’
“In actual fact, there is only a single instance mentioned in Scripture where G-d, himself, literally ‘wrote’ the words found in the Bible:
When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God. (Exodus 31:18)
“I don’t think that’s what Coogan is talking about, though”, I said.
“No, I think by ‘author’ he means ‘the source’ or ‘the originator’ of Scripture. I think he is dead wrong and this part of his article I can answer”, Robert said confidently.
He continued, “At Mt Sinai, with over a million witnesses present, G-d spoke the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel.”
Then God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me…” (Exodus 20:1-3)
Robert chuckled. “If G-d had not spoken these words or if they were incorrectly recorded in Scripture then surely somebody would have pointed out the error to Moses!”
“You’re right”, I said. ”There are over 50 passages in the Bible that begin with the phrase ‘Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying…’. These are simply transcriptions of the exact words that G-d spoke to Moses.
“Consider this analogy. If an executive dictated a letter to his assistant (who recorded it verbatim), nobody would claim that those were the words of the assistant. Everyone would recognize that the executive was the source of the message. Coogan, however, is claiming it was the assistant who wrote it!”
Robert smiled. “Good analogy. For those types of passages, it entirely makes sense but most of the Bible isn’t simply a transcription, right? The vast majority of Scripture was inspired and I had a verse in mind that supports that understanding.”
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)
“That is a great example,” I said. “Consider this verse, too.”
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
“In their original languages, the written words of Scripture that we have today are G-d’s expression of Himself into this world. G-d is so unique, so rare, and so absolutely other that He had to express Himself to us in our terms so that we could even begin to comprehend the tiniest bit of Who He Is and what He desires for us.”
Robert nodded and agreed, “That’s why Scripture is so important to believers.”
We paused for a minute while the waiter refilled our glasses and then moved on to the next claim from the article.
G-d’s Law is merely a reflection of shared cultural values
We read the next few paragraphs from the CNN.com article together.
These human writers wrote over the course of more than a thousand years, and their writings reflect their own views and the values they shared with their contemporaries. So it’s not surprising that inconsistencies are frequent in the Bible, both trivial and profound.
Opponents of same-sex marriage cite Leviticus, which says that when a man sleeps with a man as with a woman it is an abomination. They’re right: It does say that. But it later calls for the death penalty for such activity, which only the most rabid opponents would insist on. The Bible also calls eating pork and a woman wearing a man’s clothes abominations, yet many would no longer enforce such prohibitions. [Ed: after our article was written this last paragraph has since disappeared from the original CNN web page.]
We pulled up our Bible apps on our phones so we could see what Leviticus actually says.
You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
“Sure enough,” said Robert. “That’s what it says.”
I pointed out, “Here’s the important part, though. Go to the very first verse of that chapter. What does it say?”
Robert read it out loud:
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying… (Leviticus 18:1)
“Exactly!” I exclaimed. “The article claims ‘These human writers wrote over the course of more than a thousand years, and their writings reflect their own views and the values they shared with their contemporaries.’ In Coogan’s estimation G-d did not really say that. The prohibition against homosexuality was just part of the values Moses ‘shared with his contemporaries’. In making such a statement, Coogan is calling Moses a liar and uses the exact same tactic as the serpent in the Garden of Eden: ‘Has G-d really said…?’”.
Robert shook his head. “So either the Bible is true and G-d said homosexuality is an abomination to Him or the Bible is false and Moses said homosexuality is an abomination because that was the standard in his culture. I know what my choice is between those two options!”
Robert then got that same slightly confused look on his face. “But what about the other points he makes? You know… the part about eating pork and cross dressing being abominations to G-d?”
I smiled. “Personally speaking, I agree with what the Bible says and think those are abominations in G-d’s eyes. That can get into a really long discussion, however, so we’ll have to save that for another time,” I said. “Let’s move on to the next point so we can finish before lunch arrives. I think it was the primary point of the CNN article anyway.”