Biblical Scholarship

Here’s what I’m trying to understand. Quite a lot of Christians are good, decent people. And yet, when they go to church on Sunday, up at the front of the church is a big fat book with a bunch of really disgusting, nasty stuff in it, and they revere that book.

If you ask them, they’ll tell you that the coming of Jesus sort of cancels out the nasty stuff in the Old Testament. And they sincerely believe that. But this is no more than a pathetic and transparent dodge.

In the first place, if the Old Testament has been rendered irrelevant, why is it still in their holy book? Why haven’t they ripped out those pages? None of them have ever done that. Those nasty old stories are still in every copy of the book, and the book is still in every church. So evidently they still find some value in a text that they claim has been rendered superfluous.

In the second place, they still like some parts of the Old Testament. Some of them like the Ten Commandments. Some of them feel that the story of Adam and Eve is relevant. Some of them even think the story of Noah is literally true. What’s really going on is that they’re ignoring the parts of the Old Testament that are inconvenient (such as the bit where God insists that they wring the necks of pigeons and sprinkle the blood around the altar), while cherishing the bits that they like. Yet even the bits that they’re ignoring, the bits that they will tell you quite sincerely have been rendered null and void by the coming of Jesus, are still right there in the book.

The third problem is more theological, but nonetheless it’s quite perplexing. I’m pretty sure most Christians would tell you that God is perfect and eternal, and that God is a God of love. Undercutting that idea, however, is the unmistakeable fact that the God depicted in the Old Testament is a psychotic mass murderer. There’s really no way to put a positive spin on it. When he isn’t killing millions of people (and occasionally billions of animals) himself, he’s ordering the Jews to do it for him. Sometimes he tells them to kill all the men but keep the virgin girls as slaves. Charming guy, God.

The theological problem is this: Did God change? If God is eternal and perfect, he couldn’t very well have changed. He still has to be the same psychotic killer he was 3,000 years ago. But if he has changed, then how can his faithful worshipers be certain that he won’t change back again? Would you trust a God who solemnly assures you he has reformed, and no longer maims and kills millions of innocent people?

Really, this is all nonsense. The Bible is not something that any rational human being could ever take seriously. We don’t need to parse the theological difficulties, or even waste a moment pondering them — except that there are millions of people who have been hoodwinked into taking this load of tripe seriously, and they will resort to any sort of intellectual subterfuge rather than deal with these questions in an honest and thoughtful manner. The only hope is that if they’re confronted, really confronted, with the precise nature of the stupid hole they’ve dug for themselves, maybe a few of them will have the courage to drop the whole business and start living in the real world.

Well, it would be nice to think that might happen.

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