In a recent column, H-L religion writer Paul Prather remarked that people often become atheists as a result of reading the Bible and that he could understand that, especially in light of biblical allusions to God-oriented violence such as the destruction of Jericho and incomprehensible accounts concerning such things as the Creation or the impossible feat of a man living three days inside a fish. Prather affirmed that these things didn't happen and that the accounts indicated not truth but misrepresentations by Bible characters such as Joshua and Jonah or the scripture-writers.
Prather is a Pentecostal and thus believes God created the incomprehensibly complex earth and all involved with it (maybe the whole universe) yet couldn't keep a man alive in a fish for three days. His main beef is with fundamentalists who take the Bible literally instead of sensibly, as defined by him, to wit, that nothing is believable if man cannot understand it.
As a minister, Prather missed a golden opportunity to explain that context is important to both belief and interpretation. The Old Testament laws, some 600 or so beyond the Ten Commandments, were mandated by God for a primitive people and had to do with everyday things such as personal hygiene and worship. The violence, both by and against the Israelites, had to do with lessons understood by the primitive mind, to which blood-and-gore meant more than words.
For instance, in Leviticus is found the mandate that practicing homosexuals are to be put to to death. Sanitary-wise, nothing is filthier and more potentially disease-producing than homosexual “sex,” not sex at all but scripturally accounted as simply unnatural. More to the point, this was also God's way of saying the human body was not designed by the Creator for such filth and that the practice is blasphemy of the Divine. The design had to do with procreation and not unnatural ecstasy.
This remarks Prather's main point. Concerning the Bible, he said, “ever-developing church practices and hard-won experience mitigate many passages.” Interpreted, this makes the Bible irrelevant because people – especially in the church – don't like parts of it. This is the same as accounting the U.S. Constitution as worthless because times have changed, currently an accepted opinion politically in some camps.
The Constitution, a man-made instrument, can be amended but the Bible cannot, notwithstanding any work by the “mitigating-crowd.” So, one accepts it or not but it's nowhere near as nuanced or vague as Prather would have it. Its historicity is beyond doubt. Just check both the ancient Jewish and Gentile governmental connections (wars, especially) all the way through. It includes poetry, parables, visions (such as Revelation) and sermons, all of which are subject to interpretation, but the cold hard facts are not.
The disciple John, perhaps Christ's closest friend, wrote unmistakably that Jesus made a whip and drove crooks and animals from the temple (church) but Prather likely would say that John imagined that – too violent – even though Matthew, another disciple, both eyewitnesses, corroborated the account. Jesus called church leaders “whited tombs,” account their hypocrisy, but Prather would say that Matthew, an eyewitness who gave that account, was wrong.
Today, the former would land Jesus in jail and the latter would make him guilty of micro-aggression, the latest racism fad. These examples don't comport with political correctness, the new creed in thousands of churches, so they didn't happen. This represents mitigation that gives the lie to scripture. It's like taking the Second Amendment out of the Constitution...weird.
Prather has not given up on the Bible, however, and even said this about it: “And there's a lot more to the Bible than there is even to Shakespeare.” Wow...what an endorsement! St. Paul would be proud. I'm not a fundamentalist or a “flat-earther,” but I'm not smart enough to figure out which is and which ain't regarding the scripture, so I'll just take it literally, thank you.
And so it goes.