Can We Really Believe the Bible?

Some Thoughts for Those who Wish they Could

Our best modern science tells us that:

  • The universe is almost fourteen billion years old.
  • Our solar system formed gradually about four and a half billion years ago.
  • Life first appeared on earth nearly four billion years ago.
  • Humans evolved from lower animals about two and a half million years ago.

But the Bible says that:

  • The universe is about six thousand years old.
  • The sun, moon, stars, and earth were created instantaneously.
  • All life on earth, including humans, was created in less than six days.

So how can we believe the Bible?

If we read the Bible as a textbook of science and history, we must choose whether to believe the Bible or science. But if we read the Bible as a book about God and spiritual life, we can believe both science and the Bible. A rational person can believe the Bible, not as a schoolroom textbook, but as a guidebook to spiritual life.

That’s because the Bible’s literal meaning contains a spiritual meaning, like a locked chest that contains precious jewels. The key to unlocking the chest is understanding “correspondences”: the living relationship between heaven and earth.

How can we possibly believe the Bible?

Let’s face it: the Bible is just plain old. Even the most recent parts of it were written almost two thousand years ago. Back then they didn’t have all the scientific knowledge we have today—and you can certainly tell! The world created in six days? All the people on earth descended from Adam and Eve? A flood that covered the whole earth? How can a rational, scientific person possibly believe the Bible when it contains so many things that can’t possibly be true?

Is God a good author?

Christianity can be its own worst enemy. In the past few hundred years, many Christian ministers have preached the notion that every word in the Bible must be literally true.

Do we apply the same standard to human literature?

If we’re reading a textbook of chemistry or biology, then of course we hope that what’s in it is literally true. Those textbooks are supposed to be informing us about the physical world around us. If the information is outdated or inaccurate, that textbook must be replaced!

But what about the great literature of humankind? What about A Tale of Two Cities and The Lord of the Rings? What about “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost? What about Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet? What about Star Wars and Titanic? These are some of the most widely circulated stories of all time, yet most of what is in them never happened! And if any of it actually did happen, it makes very little difference to the story.

Is God capable of writing only textbooks? We humans can produce great literature, plays, poetry, and movies that tell powerful truths about the human spirit through characters that are products of the human imagination. We limit God if we think that God can write only in a literal historical and scientific style. God is a far greater author than the greatest of human authors. God’s book, the Bible, has all the features of the greatest human literature . . . and so much more!

The Bible is a book inspired by God, yet written by the hand of many human authors. It draws on time-bound human history and events, arranging and narrating them in such a way that the narrative conveys a timeless spiritual message from God to humankind.

What is the Bible about, anyway?

When authors sit down to write a book, they pick a style that will best convey the message they want to deliver. Those writing about science, mathematics, or history will pick a direct, literal, informative style. Those wanting to convey something about the human spirit will more likely pick a narrative, fictional style. One kind of author will produce a textbook; the other, a novel.

If God were to write a book for humans, what would it be about? And what style would God pick to convey that subject to us?

Some Christians assume that the Bible is a textbook of science and history. But does God really need to tell us about these things? God has given us physical senses and thinking minds so that we are capable of investigating and figuring these things out for ourselves. No, God produced a book for humans about things we couldn’t figure out for ourselves.

Jesus asked the question, “What good would it be for you to gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The Bible is not a textbook of science or history telling us how to gain the whole world. It is a divine story telling us how to gain our own soul.

Where is the Bible’s meaning?

In “The Road Not Taken,” poet Robert Frost paints a picture of two roads diverging in the woods, with many vivid details about the fresh leaves and grass, and how the paths turn in the surrounding undergrowth. It ends in these famous lines:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

For many years I have used this poem as an example to introduce the Bible’s deeper meaning to both teenagers and adults. After reading it to them I ask, “What is this poem about?” Not once has anyone answered, “It’s about walking in the woods.” There have been a variety of answers relating to decisions, regrets, pathways taken in life, and standing out from the crowd. Everyone reading this poem recognizes that its meaning transcends strolling in a forest and turning left instead of right at a fork.

Isn’t that a little surprising? The entire poem is describing a physical setting and a physical activity in great detail! But neither the author nor the reader is focusing on physical things. The meaning of the poem is conveyed by the physical details, but the meaning itself is not physical. It is psychological and spiritual.

This is precisely where the primary meaning of the Bible lies as well. The meaning is conveyed by the physical objects, people, and events described in the Bible. And yes, some parts of it are intended to be followed literally. But the entire Bible is a great divine parable containing deeper meanings that relate not only to the human spirit, but also to who God is and how we humans can have a relationship with God.

Think of the literal meaning of the Bible as a chest that opens up to reveal great spiritual and divine treasures. Or think of it as a beautiful, clear crystal that flashes as the sun shines through it. The beauty and meaning of the Bible is not the chest itself, but the treasure it contains. It is not the crystal itself, but the light of divine truth shining through the crystal.

Focusing only on the literal story of the Bible is like studying the ornamentation on the outside of the chest without ever opening it up to see what’s inside. It is like describing the scientific properties of the crystal in meticulous detail, but never holding it up to the sunlight.

Wouldn’t you rather have the gold and silver, rubies and diamonds that are contained in the chest? Wouldn’t you rather have beautiful rainbows shining all through your house?

Will we ever find the key to the chest?

For many centuries Christians knew that the Bible contained deeper meanings. In the Gospels Jesus is continually speaking to the crowds in parables, and sometimes he explains to his disciples what they mean (see Matthew 13:34–35; Mark 4:33–34). Psalm 78 opens with these lines: “Give ear, my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old” (Psalm 78:1–2). The “parable” that follows is a poetic narrative of the history of ancient Israel.

These and many other passages and prophecies in the Bible have suggested to Christians throughout the centuries that the Bible is a divine parable containing deeper messages. And many Christians did find precious insights hidden in the Bible. Yet no one was able to offer a clear and consistent method of seeing the deeper meanings shining through the literal stories, poetry, and prophecies.

Perhaps it was out of frustration at never finding the key to unlock the chest of the Bible and lay open its spiritual meaning that for the past five hundred years, many Christian leaders have focused entirely on the literal meaning.

However, interest in the spiritual meanings in the Bible and in nature has made a comeback in recent centuries, thanks largely to the work of scientist, philosopher, and spiritual pioneer Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). In volume after volume of his spiritual writings, Swedenborg detailed a method of interpreting the deeper meanings of the Bible based on a mechanism he called “correspondences.”

You can think of correspondences as the way spiritual things express themselves on the physical level. The idea is that every person, place, object, animal, and action in nature and in the Bible is an expression of something spiritual. And of course, everything is also an expression of something about God, who created it all. Just as a painting, sculpture, novel, or movie expresses something of the mind of the artist who created it, so God’s creations, both in nature and in the Bible, express the mind of God.

What the heck are “correspondences”?

The fact is, we talk in correspondences all the time. We say “I see” when we mean “I understand.” We talk about our friends and family “warming our hearts” when we mean they fill us with love. We talk about people being “hard-headed” when we mean they are stubborn. We talk about people being “spineless” when we mean they lack courage. We instinctively realize that every physical thing has a deeper psychological and spiritual meaning. It’s built right into the universe, and right into the human mind.

The same principle applies to the deeper meanings of the Bible. To give you an idea of how correspondences work in the Bible, here’s a quick sketch of the spiritual meaning contained in the famous (or infamous) story of the world being created in six days. That story is not really about the creation of the physical universe. It is the story of our own spiritual creation and rebirth.

  • Day One: God’s creation of light and darkness, day and night corresponds to our first realization that there is a higher truth and meaning (represented by light) to our often dark and meaningless life here on earth.
  • Day Two: God’s creation of the sky, and the waters above and below corresponds to learning more clearly the difference between spiritual and material-level truth (which is also represented by water).
  • Day Three: God’s creation of the land and seas, the plants and trees corresponds to a more “grounded” spiritual life and the gradual development of our understanding of spiritual reality, represented by the growing plants.
  • Day Four: God’s creation of the sun, moon, and stars corresponds to when we start putting God (represented by the sun) at the center of our life, and start being guided by our faith (the moon as reflected light from the sun, or God) and by various spiritual insights (the stars).
  • Day Five: God’s creation of fish and birds corresponds to a new and more living faith that comes from our new focus on following God’s will in our lives.
  • Day Six: God’s creation of land animals and humans corresponds to our growing into a warm-blooded love and faith that is expressed in a joyful life of service to God and to our fellow human beings.

When we have gone through all these stages of spiritual development, we reach the seventh day when God rests from all the work of creating us as angels of love and light. We can then enjoy the fullness of human life as it was originally intended for us by God.

So can a rational person really believe the Bible?

Obviously, we can only scratch the surface here. But this may give you a sense of the great treasures that lie hidden in God’s Word. It can also provide assurance that it is perfectly possible for a rational, scientific person to believe in the Bible. Good science and true spiritual knowledge do not conflict with each other. Both material and spiritual reality operate according to universal laws that come from God.

The key is understanding that the Bible is not intended to teach us about science and history. It is intended to teach us about our spiritual life and our relationship with God.

This article is © 2012 by Lee Woofenden

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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21 comments on “Can We Really Believe the Bible?
  1. chicagoja says:

    You’re right, but who is going to believe you except a few old souls like myself.

  2. Ben says:

    We can definitely believe the Bible. There is no denying that careful interpretation and context are important, but there is no reason to ever assume that the Bible and science contradict. Take a look at the Hebrew word that we translate as “day” in Genesis 1. Biblical Hebrew did not have a huge amount of words and therefore many words were versatile. The Hebrew word “yom” or yowm” can be translated as day or something more like “age” depending on the context. In other words, the creation days were probably very long. Once people step away from the 24-hour day assumption for Genesis 1 it is amazing how much they can calm down. This does not mean that English Bibles are wrong, as we often use phrases like “back in my day” that are not taken to mean a literal 24-hour day. It also does not necessarily mean that evolution is what God used if He took His time creating the earth and its creatures, but I have no problem with the thought of God using the “big bang” to kick-start the universe. Scientific discovery does not put biblical inerrancy in any kind of troublesome spot.

    You make many good points in this post, Lee, but your implication that Genesis 1 is merely allegory has me somewhat troubled.


  3. Ben Williams says:

    Great article which reflects what many thinking Christians regard as the reality, but are often afraid to express. I think that there is a good case for differentiating sections of the Bible: the Old testament; the Gospels; the letters; and revelations, and putting each into context. The Old Testament should not be viewed literally since there are many questions about its origins etc. The gospels should be viewed exactly as they are…accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus written within a few decades of his death. The letters – good advice from a great Christian. Revelations-did they have LSD in those days?

    As I explain in my book “Aware of Aware”, all of these are the writings of men, none are technically the word of God. If you believe the Gospels are relatively accurate, and you believe the claim of Jesus, that he was God in the flesh, then the true words of God are the words he says.

    It is a huge mistake of the modern church to insist that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, and articles like yours help to shed light on how this incredible book should be viewed.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      I do see the Bible as the Word of God, but not as “inerrant”–something the Bible never claims for itself. The idea that the Bible is literally true and inerrant throughout is a relatively modern invention of Christian theologians who missed the great depth and variety of the various books of the Bible.

      As I say in the article above, God is a better author than even the best human authors. God is able to convey more depths of meaning through the words on the page than any human author ever has or ever will do. This does not require that we take everything literally. In fact, taking everything literally causes us to miss much of God’s message in the Bible. Many passages–such as the entire book of Revelation–are clearly meant to be taken symbolically, not literally. Others, such as the Creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2, may seem to be about literal events, but were never meant to be taken literally; they use physical imagery to tell about spiritual realities.

      I do tend to agree with you that the Gospels are generally accurate representations of what Jesus actually said and did. However, the differences between the various accounts in the four Gospels should warn us against getting too literal even about them. They can be thought of as four variations on how Jesus’ words and actions reached and touched his followers. And they, too, contain great depths of divine meaning throughout.

      Some books made it into the Protestant Bible that, while they are good books for the church, are not, I think, part of the Word of God proper. The Acts and the Epistles, for example, were written by various early apostles and followers of Jesus. However, they are about human events that took place after and in response to the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ. Unlike the Gospels and Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ does not speak in them, except very briefly in the Acts 1:1-11–which serves as an introduction to the book, tying it in with the account of Jesus’ life found in the Gospel of Luke. As such, the Acts and Epistles are human books rather than divine ones.

      Still, the Acts and the Epistles are immensely valuable for Christians. Though they do not have the same kind of continuous deeper meanings as do the books in the Word of God proper, they contain many good teachings that were and are necessary to clarify and establish Christianity.

      In general, the Word of God has both a divine component and a human component. The divine component is the divine truth within, which comes from God. The human component is the outward expression, adapted to the understanding and culture of human beings here on earth. Without a human component, we could not understand it. Without a divine component, it would not be the Word of God, but mere human literature.

      The human component does come from human ideas and changing cultural realities, and cannot be supported as literally true and inerrant throughout. But regardless of the literal truth of any particular statement or section of the Word of God, all of it serves as a conduit for deeper, divine truth that flows through the literal words like sunlight through the facets of a cut diamond or ruby.

  4. This is so beautifully written, especially this bit: “Focusing only on the literal story of the Bible is like studying the ornamentation on the outside of the chest without ever opening it up to see what’s inside. It is like describing the scientific properties of the crystal in meticulous detail, but never holding it up to the sunlight.”

    When you only have space for material fact and illusion, you lose the ability to believe that anything could be inside the chest because you can’t see inside it while it’s closed.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Michelle,

      Thank you! I do find the idea that there is a precious and beautiful “inside” of the Bible to be very helpful and satisfying.

  5. chicagoja says:

    The problem with science is, as Einstein noted, that man cannot possibly grasp the universe. In part, that’s because science can’t observe beyond space and time.

    • Lee says:

      Hi chicagoja,

      Thanks for your comment. FYI, I initially approved the comment you’re responding to. But when I realized that the commenter had “skipped the line” and responded to the first comment, which just happened to be yours, even though the “response” actually had nothing to do with your comment, I deleted it. Hate it when people do that! :-/

      Anyway, good to hear from you again. I hope all is well with you and yours.

      And yes, science has its field of study, which is the physical universe. As good and useful as it may be for that purpose, science can’t say anything definite about the spiritual universe, still less about God. And these are the realities that ultimately matter the most.

  6. Adam says:

    Nice article, I really enjoyed your take on this. My question is, if the Bible was written, as you maintain here, to best speak to us on a “spiritual” level rather than a strictly historical/scientific one—especially for those living during and relatively after the NT was completed—then how might you explain why God never allowed room to or inspired us to modify the Bible to better suit humanity as it is now? Sure, the idea of an “annual update” to the Bible might be an absurd concept, but 2000 years through a rapidly-advancing age of humanity seems like an unreasonably long time to hold it unrevised, and then to expect us humans to abide by it unquestionably in the same exact way. I mean, if I’m correct in assuming that God, as an omniscient Being, knew *when and how* our civilization/sciences/social orders would eventually modernize—that is, relatively quickly, on the good baseis of evidence, reason, logic, utilitarianism, and in several starkly contradictory ways to important topics throughout the Bible (e.g., astronomy, evolution, women’s rights, homosexuality, slavery, physics)—then what good reason might God have for declaring, through His word, that the Bible should be forever unamendable? Or by “staying silent” and/or “remaining hidden” from Man’s eye since the Jesus’ time? In other words, what *else* might God have expected from humans other than a growing number of (rationally-thinking) non-believers? What do you suppose will happen to—and more importantly, what should be fairly expected from—our offspring 2000 years from now when the future of our civilization has reached a point where biology, archaeology, psychology, and society is so far removed from such a large number of outdated Biblical notions that it as a standalone document is no longer able to be credibly able to preserve the Faith? Another way to look at it is this: do you suppose that the devoted followers of Jesus during his time, would have come to believe in Christ as the son of God if they, rather than bearing witness to Jesus firsthand, were simply handed a lengthy, enigmatic book to read and interpret, passed down from thousands of years before *their* time, perhaps by earlier humans in the dawn of the Bronze Age? If not, then does it make sense that God should hold us humans today to such a faith-based belief in order to enter Heaven, when Jesus’ own disciples might not have qualified to enter Heaven had they not been convinced by Jesus’ miracles and teachings with their own eyes and ears?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your long and thoughtful comment. There are many very good questions here. I hope you don’t mind if, in the interest of time and efficiency, I refer you along the way to some other articles that go into many of your questions in more depth.

      To take your last and most critical question first, it is a fundamental error of traditional Christianity in general, and of Protestant Christianity in particular, to think that entering heaven is a matter of “faith-based belief” in Jesus Christ—especially if that is seen as the only way into heaven. In plain language, getting into heaven is not about believing in Jesus if that means intellectually accepting that Jesus died for our sins, or paid the penalty for our sins, or satisfied the wrath of the Father, or any such thing. Faith, as that word is used in the Bible, is more like our English word “faithfulness.” It involves not just believing, but living according to what we believe. For more on this, please see these articles:

      There is no danger of people not getting into heaven because they haven’t had the idea of Jesus as the Son of God and Savior presented to them in a contemporary and understandable way. In fact, people of all religions, and even of no religion at all, are saved if they believe in God as they have been taught about God, or if they at least believe in some principle or ideal of goodness higher than themselves and their own benefit, and if according to that belief they live a good life of love and service to their fellow human beings. For more on this, please see:

      I know that’s already a lot of articles. But if you want real, substantial answers to these very big questions, you’ll need to put in some serious time getting those answers.

      Now on to your questions about the Bible, which are also excellent questions.

      In one sense, the Word of God could have been written in any era, through any culture on the face of the earth. There are even indications in the Bible itself that there were earlier books and writings containing the Word of God that no longer survive. And of course, various non-Christian cultures have their own sacred books that they look to as inspired revelation from God just as Christians look to the Bible. Some of those books were written many centuries after the Bible. So in one sense, the Bible has been updated for various human eras and cultures.

      As to why the Bible as Christians believe in it was written when it was, I think there are two basic reasons:

      1. Once written language was developed and became the primary storehouse of human knowledge, it would have been uncharacteristic (and rather stingy) of God not to provide humanity with a written revelation.
      2. Since much of the Bible was written during an era when humanity was at a very low, unspiritual and materialistic ebb, this gave a directness and concreteness to the Bible that enables it to reach even people who are in the lowest, most unspiritual states of mind and life.

      On the first point, it is God’s will to reach out to humanity and provide us with the knowledge and inspiration we need to be saved and live eternally in heaven rather than in hell.

      Scholars believe that written language first developed about 5,200 years ago (see History of Writing). And writing on religious subjects goes back to the very beginning of the development of writing. Once oral history gave way to writing as the primary means of keeping records, preserving human knowledge, and engaging in widespread communication, it would be unlike God not to begin inspiring texts on spiritual and religious subjects in order to convey to as many humans on earth as possible these eternally vital types of information.

      So the simplest reason the Bible was written over the time period it was (and some of the stories in the earliest chapters of Genesis probably go back to pre-literate times, and were originally passed down orally) is that these were the times when written language first came onto the scene and became sufficiently developed for God to be able to communicate with humankind through this new written medium. It would have been uncharacteristic and rather stingy of God not to provide a written revelation, or Word of God, as early as possible in the history of humanity.

      On the second point:

      It might seem to people in our more intellectually advanced cultures of today that it would have been better for God to write the Bible when our knowledge of science, psychology, and so on were more advanced, so that there wouldn’t be so many errors and inconsistencies in the Bible about scientific and cultural things. Wouldn’t it at least have been better to write the Bible in the Age of Enlightenment rather than in the Bronze Age? (Of course, to people living 2,000 years from now our age will probably look something like the Bronze Age in terms of its intellectual development.)

      But the very fact that most of the Bible was written when humanity was at a very low and materialistic ebb gives it a concreteness and immediacy that is lacking in much religious and spiritual writing of our day and age. Biblical Hebrew, in particular, is a very concrete and direct language. And much of the Old Testament deals with basic human needs: food, water, fertility, safety from enemies, and so on. It’s really not very “spiritual” at all.

      However, this means that it is able to reach ordinary people even today, many of whom have the very same concerns about the basic necessities of life. If the Bible had been written today, in our more “sophisticated” age, much of it would likely have gone right over the heads of the vast bulk of humanity. The New Testament does add a more spiritual and philosophical view of things. But in the main, the Bible is a very pragmatic book, speaking of basic human issues that any ordinary person can understand quite well regardless of his or her level of education.

      Along these lines, you might be interested in this article: “How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads.”

      But there is also a deeper reason why, under God’s providence, the Bible was written when it was, in the largely very concrete style it was. As stated in the above article, the Bible is not primarily a book of history, science, or culture. Rather, as the Word of God, it is a book containing deeper meanings that are all about God and about the spiritual life and development of human beings, both individually and collectively. And in order to provide a good written foundation for that deeper meaning, the Bible needed to be written in largely concrete language and stories.

      Food, drink, drought, famine, fertility of crops and herds, wives, children, war, kings, temples, animal sacrifices . . . all of these things provide easily remembered and very evocative symbols pointing to deeper spiritual realities and experiences, and toward the nature of God. If the Bible had been a philosophical or scientific treatise, not only would it have gone over the heads of most people even in today’s world, but it would be nowhere near as colorful and memorable, and would serve nowhere near as well as a bearer of deeper metaphorical and spiritual meaning.

      That is also why it is not necessary for God to provide periodic updates to the Bible. The Bible as it now exists is a complete story, from the first Creation narrative in Genesis 1 to the final descent of the Holy City, New Jerusalem, out of heaven from God in the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation. In between it covers the whole sweep of human spiritual history in metaphorical language, and covers the whole gamut of human spiritual states from highest to lowest. (And I would add that the basics about salvation are right there in the plain, literal words of the Bible, without any need for interpretation.)

      What’s needed is not a new Bible, but a new and deeper understanding of the Bible. And that’s what Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) set out to do—commissioned for that task, as he believed, by the Lord Jesus Christ—over two centuries ago. Much of the spiritual insight offered on this blog is based on the new (yet ancient) understanding of God, Christianity, salvation, the Bible, and the afterlife that is contained in Swedenborg’s theological writings. Swedenborg did not provide a new Bible. But his writings do provide a new and deeper understanding of the Bible appropriate to our post-Enlightenment world. For more on this, please see: “Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?

      I hope these thoughts and the linked articles give you at least the start of some good, solid answers to your excellent questions. Please feel free to continue the conversation as you read, and as further thoughts and questions come to mind.

  7. rothpoetry says:

    I believe those who take a literal approach to the Bible lose the perspective and purpose for which they were written. Metaphorical truth goes much deeper than literal details which may or may not be as literal as some would like to believe. The mysteries Paul talks about can only be understood from the metaphorical perspective. I think we tend to do with the Bible what the news media does with politics. We way over think it, pick and choose what suits our story, then put it out as the gospel truth! The gospel is very simple and easy to understand.

  8. Eve says:

    I’ve found that a main problem people have with Christianity lies in the Old Testament. They quote how it says it’s okay to beat your wife or your slave and stuff like that, and use it as ammunition to claim the faith is corrupt. What do you think?

    Asking from the point of view of a pop-culture conscious teenager.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Eve,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      Just for the record, the Bible never says that it’s okay to beat your wife. But it does talk about beating slaves, and not just in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament as well.

      The problem comes from attempting to read the Bible literally, and also from not reading it within its own historical and cultural context. Slavery, and beating slaves, was just ordinary life 2,000+ years ago. The Bible talks about it because that’s how life was back then. It doesn’t mean it’s ultimately a good thing to own slaves, or to beat them.

      I do understand, though, why many people in today’s culture who read the Bible are repulsed by what they read there.

      It’s a huge issue, and a big topic. Here’s another article that may shed some more light on the subject for you:

      How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads

  9. Annie Howell says:

    i just want to say that your blog means so much to me. whenever i question my faith i come here and you give me faith to carry on with my spiritual beliefs. one thing i still question though is i get we can’t rely on literal biblical representations but what about those passages in the bible that just seem cruel. i would like to know how do you get over certain quotes like this – Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) i want to be a genuine christian and while jesus was inclusive there are parts of the bible that i cant agree with. i get that homosexuality used to be illegal but there are a lot of christians who treat gays like it still is. i’m not gay but i have friends who are and if you dismiss parts of the bible as wrong it just feels like you are picking and choosing what bits to read. to be a genuine christian i don’t think you can refuse bits of the bible but as a genuine christian i can’t read bits of it without feeling like parts are sick and cruel.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Annie,

      Good to hear from you again. I’m glad our website helps to keep you steady in your faith.

      Your question is a good one. For people who take the Bible very literally, there isn’t a very good answer. There certainly are many very cruel passages in the Bible. For example, what do we do with this passage from the Psalms:

      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)

      Does God really want us to take revenge on our enemies and murder their babies? I don’t think so. But if we take everything in the Bible literally, it’s hard to avoid thinking that under certain circumstances, God smiles down upon revenge and infanticide.

      But if we’re willing to recognize that not everything in the Bible is meant to be taken literally, and that many things in it are written according to the particular cultures in which the stories and events took place, then we can begin to pay attention to the spirit behind what is being said literally. Here are a couple more articles about reading the Bible spiritually rather than literally:

      About homosexuality in particular, I have written an extensive article on that subject, which I invite you to read:
      Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity

      For a quick summary to get the general idea, please see:
      Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity: A Summary

      The full version goes into detail about the various passages in the Bible relating to homosexual sex, including 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. I won’t attempt to repeat it all here. However I will say that “those who practice homosexuality” is a very loose and not very accurate translation. As covered in the article, it would be better translated as “men who have sex with men.” The reasons this was condemned in ancient Hebrew society, and by Paul in the New Testament (Jesus never said anything about homosexual sex), are covered in the full article.

      Short version: In the ancient world, sex was universally viewed as a dominant and socially superior partner penetrating a submissive and socially inferior partner. In heterosexual sex, the man was considered dominant and socially superior, and the woman was considered submissive and socially inferior.

      Because of this view of sex, two men engaging in sex with each other clashed with the ancient Hebrew view—which was also held by the early Jewish Christians who wrote the books of the New Testament—that all men are equal under the law and in the eyes of God. For one man to penetrate another was to reduce the penetrated man to the social status of a woman. That is why a man having sex with another man was pronounced “ritually unclean” in two passages in the book of Leviticus. (There is no mention of women having sex with women.) Paul had similar views, and he was especially condemning homosexual sex as practiced in the surrounding Roman and Greek societies of the time, in which an older, higher status man penetrated a younger, lower status man or teenage boy.

      Today we are finally dropping the idea that women are inferior to men socially, legally, and in the eyes of God. And though some low-level parts of society still think of sexual intercourse as an act of dominance and submission, that is no longer how sex is viewed in the more civilized parts of society. Today marital and sexual relations are increasingly seen as a relationship between two equal partners. So the concern of the ancient Hebrews, and of Paul, that men having sex with other men disrespected and demeaned the penetrated partner no longer applies in today’s very different social environment.

      Many laws and teachings given in the Bible must be read in the context of the culture in which they were given. They were given to accomplish a specific purpose in that society. That purpose is the spirit behind the literal law or teaching. Today, our job is to look to the spirit of those laws, and not get stuck in the literal, culturally-specific law. As Paul himself expressed it:

      Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5–6)

      No Christian today practices animal sacrifice, nor do we stone wayward sons to death, nor do we consider it sinful to wear clothing made of two different kinds of fibers, nor do we condone slavery (as Paul did). Conservative Christians who insist that homosexuality is evil and sinful, but who say that many other laws and teachings given in the Bible no longer apply to Christians, are being inconsistent and hypocritical in their reading of the Bible.

      For the full version on homosexuality please do read the main article linked above. You may also be interested in this article, which deals with the common conservative Christian fallacy that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because their men were homosexuals (which they were not):
      What is the Sin of Sodom?

      • Annie Howell says:

        thankyou for your reply. your posts and answers to my questions really does help me and your a god send to me and i’m sure a lot of other people who have found your posts.

  10. Annie Howell says:

    A christian friend told me recently that its a christian fact that the husband has to look after the wife because the husband is head of the house. i thought that was sexist and very outdated but it is clearly stated in the bible. for me i believe in equal partnership and i find it hard to accept/believe in parts of the bible as a young woman. – Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. i was really surprised to be told by a christian pastor Women think more with emotions while men think more with logics. Man is the head of the family by nature and its god who said man rules over woman. And it also says “your desire shall be for your husband, and he will rule over you. i’ve also known people say if people are turned off of Christianity because of something that is directly from the scriptures, then the problem is not with God’s word. The problem is with that person needing to conform to the truth. trying to believe parts of the bible can be very hard but denying it makes me wonder can i still be a christian. i love god and believe in jesus and the higher power but cant accept parts that people say you have to accept

    • Lee says:

      Hi Annie,

      People read the statements in the Bible about men and women from the perspective of particular cultural gender roles and expectations. They therefore tend to make the Bible say things it doesn’t actually say.

      For example, Paul didn’t say man should be the head of woman, but that man is the head of woman. In other words, he was referencing a social reality of his time, not making a prescription for how things ought to be. If you read his words in the context of his culture, he wasn’t saying what conservative Christians today think he was saying. For more on that, please see:

      “Wives, submit to your husbands.”

      At the end of this article there are links to several other articles about gender roles and the Bible. The first two articles linked there also take up the issue of God saying in Genesis 3 that man will rule over women. If you read it in context, this is not how God originally intended the relationship between man and woman to work, but a description of what happens when we humans depart radically from God’s plan.

      I hope you will find these articles helpful. I stand by them, and they are also modern-career-wife-approved. 😀

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

Lee & Annette Woofenden

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