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Troublesome Things in the Bible

This discussion is continued from Spong, Symbolism, and Literalism in the Bible. As before, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.

The points you raise in your following paragraph many have found troubling, Christians included. So I will try to comment on each separately.

> This is especially troublesome to me with respect to generational condemnation of offspring for sins of the father,<

The book of Ezekiel specifically says, "The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son" (Ezek 18:20).

Now, I assume you have in mind the statement from the Ten Commandments where God says He is, "visiting the iniquity of the father on the children to the third and fourth generation" (Exod 20:5).

Now, comparing the above two passages, it might appear like a contradiction. But note, Ezekiel is referring to the "guilt" and the Commandment to the "iniquity." The former refers to not punishing the sons for the sins of the Fathers, and vice-a-verse. The latter I have always interpreted as referring to a phenomena very common in our society.

If a man is an alcoholic, there is a very chance his son will be an alcoholic, and his son, and his son. If a man beats his son, there is a good chance the son will beat his own son, etc. If a sexually abuses his son, there is good chance he will sexually abuse his son, etc. etc.

In other words, if we engage in iniquity then that iniquity is passed on to our offspring in the sense that they will be much more likely to engage in the same sin, until the chain is broken.

>killing of women & children of conquered nations,<

A troublesome action I will concur. But a few things need to be remembered. Such actions were rather standard for the times. Second, in enabling the Israelites to conquer other lands, God says it is because the iniquity of the land is full. Now two of the most common sins would have been the worshipping of false gods and sexual promiscuity.

In the case of the former, allowing the women to live, would have led to them inter-marrying with the Israelite men. And as can be seen in the case of Solomon, such intermarriage would very easily lead the men to worshipping false gods also. Moreover, it must be remembered, the nation Israel was a theocracy. As such, the worshipping of false gods would be considered treason, a capital offense in any country.

Next, given the extreme sexual promiscuity of the heathen nations, sexual diseases would have been rampant. So for the Israelites to intermarry with the women would have brought these diseases into the Israelite population. In fact, in the list of "curses" in Deut 28 that God says will come upon the Israelites for disobeying the Law (which included many statements on sexual purity) can be seen possible descriptions of the symptoms of sexual diseases (i.e. blindness from tertiary syphilis).

Now, the children. This is the most troubling of all. If we are talking about young children then the problem of leading the Israelites into false worship would not be there; but it could still be if we were talking about older children. However, the problem of diseases, sexual and otherwise would be. Such diseases are passed on from mother to child. So again, it could be God was trying to protect the Israelites from having these diseases entering the population.

I know this sounds cruel; but even in our day, when a person or persons are infected with an infectious disease, we will quarantine them. More humane than death; but still not very pleasant. And with modern medicine we have a hope for developing a cure. But then, such a hope was not around.

> offering of wives & daughters for prevention of homosexual actions against men,<

This did occur; but not with the sanction of God. The Bible records many such hideous acts, rape, incest, murder, and the like. But unless the text specifically says God approved of it, then all we have is a honest historical record. So it is not different than the hideous things being reported on a modern-day newscast.

> enslavement,<

There is slavery in the Bible; but it was much different than the slavery practiced in the USA prior to the War Between the States.

Israelites only become slaves to other Israelites when they committed a crime and could not make restitution or if they sold themselves into slavery because they could not pay off debts. POWs from other countries could be slaves; but there was no sanction of stealing people from another country solely for the purpose of slavery (as was done in the US).

Also, the treatment of slaves was far different. First, slaves were only allowed to be kept until their debts were paid for, or at the most seven years. After that they must be released, unless the slave himself chose to remain with his master. When the slave was released he had to be provided with, by the master, some "capital" so he could start a life of his own.

Moreover, the Law provided for sanctions against masters who beat or killed their slaves. All of these points are a far cry from how slavery was practiced in this country, and more importantly, than how it was practiced in the surrounding nations of the time.

In other words, although the OT did not specifically outlaw slavery, it provided many safeguards to the slave that were unknown otherwise at the time.

Further, I am currently reading Matthew Henry's "Commentary on the Holy Bible." It was first published in 1710 when slavery was being practiced in the colonies. And he specifically points out many of the above points and states emphatically that the slavery as it was practiced in the nation Israel provided no justification for the type of slavery then being practiced.

As for the NT, it does assume that slavery is being practice, and it was. More people in the Roman Empire were slaves than free. And the NT does not specifically declare it is wrong. However, it must be remember the situation the writers were in.

If they had spoken out specifically against slavery the Roman Empire would have looked at it as an attack on the very fabric of the society. Almost all government officials held slaves, and they were vital to building projects, etc. of the empire. So for the NT writers to have specifically spoken against it would have brought down the wrath of the empire against the new movement as being an enemy of the state. It also would have gotten the early Church unduly involved in "political" issues.

But, Paul did make statements to masters to be sure they treated their slaves in a humane manner (which was not the norm for masters). Also, Paul declares there is neither slave nor free in Christ (Gal 3:28). Thus a basic equality is being asserted.

Moreover, in the little epistle of Philemon Paul seems to be strongly hinting to Philemon that he should set his runaway slave Onesimus free.

So the spirit of the Gospel is one of equality. And it needs to be noted that once the empire was "Christianized" slavery was eventually abandoned. In more recent times, it was Christians who were in the forefront to end slavery, William Wilborforce in the UK and many Christian groups in the North in the US.

>subjugation of women to men,<

This is somewhat similar to my last point above. When you compare how women were supposed to be treated according to the Law and how they were treated by the surrounding countries of the time, and even in many countries without a Christian heritage today, there is a big difference. The women are elevated and given rights unknown elsewhere.

Biblical laws about divorce and remarriage were intended to prevent women from being passed between men like chattel. They were to receive equal treatment before the law. Under normal circumstances it is true they could not own land; but under special situations they could. They were allowed to engage in commerce. There were even women prophets and judges (though no priests).

In the NT, their position is further elevated through the actions of Jesus and their position in the early Church, and Paul saying there is neither male nor female in Christ (Gal 3:28).

Now, there is much debate within the Christian world over Paul's teaching about women being subject to their husbands, the man being the head of woman, and women not being allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man.

What is often ignore in these debates (such as the recent media hoopla over the Southern Baptists affirming women should be subject to their husbands) is the context of these passages. In the first passage about submission, the next verses tell husbands to love their wives as Christ does the Church, and to love them as they love their own bodies (along with other such stipulations; Eph 5:25-29).

In other words, the language of submission is very guarded with many restrictions being placed on it. So when you put it altogether, yes there is still a sense in which a man is to be the head of is house, but not in any absolute sense as the media tries to distort things. In any case, "subjugation " would definitely be too strong of a term for the NT's teaching in regards to the relationship between the sexes.

Moreover, I must emphasize that it is in countries with a Christian heritage in which women are looked upon as being equal to men in a far greater capacity than in countries without a Christian heritage.

Much more could be said here, and has been said in Christian circles; but the above will have to suffice for now.

> "holy" wars,<

This is something that has troubled many Christians. For instance, the holy wars in the OT led many to "spiritualize" much of the OT. For instance, Augustine looked at the these wars as simply being symbolic of the believer's fight against sin. And many throughout the Middle Ages followed suit. And I believe this attitude might be what you are alluding to.

However, with the Reformation it was recognized that spiritualizing simply did not do justice to the text. The books in which these wars are included show no signs of being anything other than straightforward history. And most Christians today take them literally, including myself.

So what to make of the holy wars? Again, it must be remember the nation Israel was a theocracy. The wars they fought were under the direct command of God. But, again as Henry point out, God did not give a blanket OK for Israelites to kill anyone in His name. The nations to be attacked and not attacked were specifically stated.

Moreover, again as Henry comments, such wars give no justification for violence to be committed in the name of God today. There is no theocracy in the NT. Jesus specifically said His kingdom was not of this world. Paul wrote that our weapons are not physical but spiritual.

> death sentences of heresy, inquisitions...etc.<

In the OT, yes it was commanded that those promoting the worshipping of false gods were to be executed. But again, it must be remember the nation Israel was a theocracy. As such, the worship of false gods was treason, which is a capital offense.

But again, Jesus did not set up a theocracy. As such, there is no justification for Christians to execute or torture "heretics." I know that so called Christians have tried to justify such actions. But that people will pervert the Scriptures to their own evil ends does not impinge the integrity of the Scriptures themselves. Any document can be perverted and people will find justification for evil actions in one way or another. For more on this topic, see my short article Two Christianities."

To sum up, the points you raise that you find troublesome in the Bible have also troubled many before you. However, as indicated, most of these points concern the NT and are not applicable to Christians today. A proper understanding of the relationship of the two Testaments is essential in Biblical understanding. I give some more of my ideas in this regard on the following page on my site: The Sabbath and Decision Making.

In addition, the troublesome passages need to be interpreted within their historical/ literary contexts. When looked at in these contexts, I personally do not find them troublesome to the degree that they would shake my faith in the integrity of the Bible.

So with these precautions, for me, the above troublesome passages can be taken literally. I don't see a need to take them in a symbolic manner.

>Please your thoughts,

I hope the above is helpful.

Lastly, given that the points you raise in this and your previous e-mail are areas that many others have questions on, with your permission, I would like to post our discussion as an "E-mail Exchange" on my site. I will only use your first name.


>Your point explanations were well taken. It also reinforced to me the true necessity of examining passages in contextual relationship to the literary narrative. It is easy at times for me, as I 'm sure it is for others, to allow discriminate focus on words/ wording to cloud meaning.

I realize fully now that reflection on verse in its historical-spiritual-symbolic harmony is what is needed to promote understanding. Clear study leads to insight, poor study to ignorance. Our efforts our destiny.

Feel free to utilize our discussions at your discretion; your counsel strengthens my path.

I am thankful you found my explanations helpful. And thank you for the permission to post our discussion.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

The above e-mail exchange was posted on this Web site August 5, 1998.

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