When I was a teenager, my youth minister threw a Bible at my head for asking questions. Too often, for various reasons, people don’t have the opportunity to ask the hard questions they have about faith, religion, salvation and the Bible. And when questions are left unanswered in communities of faith, people either seek answers elsewhere or lose interest all together.
That’s why I put together Banned Questions About the Bible, the first volume in the BANNED QUESTIONS series.
The purpose of the series is to collect the most compelling and challenging questions from various theological areas and pose them to a panel of ‘experts’ who are challenged with responding in two hundred words or less in plain English. I collected questions from people on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking media, and then pared down the long list to fifty of the most interesting, compelling or potentially taboo ones.
Each question offers more than one response in the book, but for the sake of space, I’ve pulled a couple of my favorite questions along with one response, to give you a taste of the whole thing:
If Adam and Eve were the first (only) people on earth, where did their kids’ spouses come from? Did they marry each other? And if everyone on earth but Noah’s family was killed in a great flood, did Noah’s kids sleep with each other? Isn’t this a sin?
Stories like these are challenging for those who take the bible literally, because they lead to some potentially creepy conclusions. Consider though that people of this time and culture were storytellers, and although they didn’t have much hard science to explain the inner-workings of the universe, they did have parables.
There are two roots of the name “Adam,” one being “man” and the other being “earth,” as in dirt. A common translation of the name “Eve” is “life.” So while you can look at this story and say it’s about two people named Adam and Eve, you can also think about it as a story about the beginning of “human life on earth.”
The story about Noah is an interesting one. It’s helpful here too to think a little bit more broadly, recognizing that many cultures throughout history have yielded similar stories about floods and other catastrophes. Keep in mind, too, that folks back in those days didn’t travel much, so their idea of what the world encompassed was pretty small. So if a large area was flooded out, it might well seem to them as if the whole world – at least their world – was underwater.
Like the story of Adam and Eve, the story of the flood and Noah’s ark addresses the age-old question about why bad things happen in the world, and how we continue to endure them. This isn’t to say that some form of inbreeding didn’t take place back in those days. But considering the broader questions these stories are meant to address helps to get us away from the little details we tend to get hung up on so often.
Aren’t women treated poorly throughout the bible? Why would any intelligent modern woman today even want to read the bible?
Rebecca Bowman Woods:
Growing up in the church, I learned the better-known stories of biblical women. By age 10 or 11, I had a few questions, like: Why was Jacob allowed to marry both Rachel and Leah? Why was it such a big deal to be “barren?” Why didn’t Jesus have any female disciples (or did he)? And was Eve really to blame for…everything?
By the time I discovered the really awful Old Testament stories and the New Testament texts commanding women to be silent in church, cover their heads, and obey their husbands, I wanted nothing to do with the Bible, or frankly, Christianity.
What convinced me was reading about Jesus. Even though the gospel writers were male, it’s clear that Jesus had an ethic of equality when it came to women. They supported his ministry and were among his closest friends. He rescued a woman caught in adultery from death by public stoning, and then convinced her that her soul was worth saving too. Some of his longest conversations in scripture were with women. When most of the disciples went into hiding on Good Friday, the women stayed by the cross, and women were the first to see the risen Jesus.
A closer look at the rest of the Bible shows a steady (if not sparse) line of women who played a role in God’s unfolding story. Alongside the “good girls” whose names I learned in Sunday School are those who challenged the status quo, made the best of bad situations, and followed God’s call to service, leadership, and ministry: Tamar. Deborah. Bathsheba. Esther. Mary Magdalene. Mary and Martha. Joanna. Lydia. Priscilla. These and nameless others demonstrate resourcefulness, strength, and courage: all the more remarkable considering their place in ancient culture.
What does the Bible really say about homosexuality?
The Bible explicitly condemns homosexuality, but these few passages leave room for interpretation. For example, Genesis 19—the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—is traditionally thought to have been a punishment on the cities’ rampant homosexuality. After all, that’s were we got the term “sodomites.” But Ezekiel 16:49 says the sin of Sodom was arrogance, apathy, and neglect of the poor. So was God punishing Sodom for homosexuality in general? For something specific like rape or inhospitality? Or for something else?
Likewise, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 describe “[lying]with a man as one lies with a woman” as “detestable.” Seems pretty clear, right? But it also describes sex with a woman during her period as being detestable. These verses are part of a holiness code to separate the Israelites from neighboring cultures. Some scholars suggest it doesn’t condemn a homosexual lifestyle as much as it prohibits a specific pagan temple practice.
What about the New Testament? Romans 1:26-27 identifies homosexual activity as “indecent,” but the passage seems to address ritual behavior or pagan orgies. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 denies God’s kingdom to “homosexual offenders,” based on a confusing Greek word that probably refers to older customers of young male prostitutes (pederasty).
What’s the point? The Bible condemns specific homosexual acts, but doesn’t address what we typically think of as homosexuality today—homosexual orientation or loving, committed homosexual relationships. This doesn’t mean the Bible approves of it, but only that it is silent on the subject.
* * *
After each question and set of responses, there are questions for further consideration and resources for deeper study if someone wants to learn more about the topic on their own. Rather than answering these highly charged questions once and for all, the aim of the BANNED QUESTIONS series is to open up an ongoing dialogue that, hopefully, will spill over, well beyond the pages of these books and into our greater communities for some time to come.
The second book in the Banned Questions series, Banned Questions about Jesus releases in July. For more information or to order Banned Questions about the Bible (978-08272-02467, $19.99) call 1-800-366-3383 or visit www.ChalicePress.com.