On the Bible's Condemnation
To the editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:
I wonít be calling upon elected officials, as Rev. Mann thinks all Christians should (Letters, Feb. 28), to define marriage as one man, one woman. Using the Bible to defend discrimination against homosexuals reminds me of times past when the Bible was used to support slavery, to justify the hanging of witches in Salem, to defend the persecution of Jews, to teach the inferiority of Blacks, to prove that the earth is the center of the universe, and to predict the time of the end of the world.
The Bible is inspired. It expresses many ideas that were unusually noble and wise considering the periods in which the Bible was written and redacted. But the inspiration of Biblical books has not, as some suppose, resulted in a Bible that is infallible, inerrant, and perfect. The Bible was written by enlightened but imperfect men, reflects the cultures in which those men lived, and contains many errors (regardless which of more than 200,000 versions you use).
Rev. Mann is offended when people call him illogical for believing all of the Bible. But consider 2 Chron. 36:9 and 2 Kings 24:8. Jehoiachin could not have been both eight years old and eighteen years old when he began his reign. There are many such inconsistencies in the Bible. How could a logical person believe two contradictory texts?
And how logical is it to ascribe greater authority to the Bible than the Biblical authors themselves claimed? Though some may argue that the authors of a few Biblical books came close, it is beyond question that most Biblical authors made no claim of either supernatural divine inspiration or inerrancy. Were the authors of those books supernaturally inspired without knowing it? Or did they simply not think it was important to say that the ideas and words were Godís? Both hypotheses seem utterly preposterous to most people.
Although Rev. Mann might be an exception, most of us would not want Biblical ideas to be controlling with regard to many social and political issues. I donít think most of us would want to employ the death penalty for unruly children (Deut. 21:18-21), adulterers (Lev. 20:10), homosexuals (Lev. 20:13), and those who pick up sticks on the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36). Most of us would not want to prohibit males with wounded testicles, or bastards and their children down to the tenth generation, from entering the congregation of the Lord (Deut. 23:1-2). Or to prohibit those with defective vision or a flat nose from approaching the altar (Lev. 21:16-23).
Most of us would not favor a law saying that, when the rapist of a young virgin girl is discovered, the rapist shall pay the father fifty shekels and the girl shall be forced to live with the rapist as long as he lives (Deut. 22:28-29). Most of us would not want to return to a time when it was okay to possess slaves, both male and female, provided they were purchased from neighboring nations (Lev. 25:44), or when a father was allowed to sell his daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7). And most of us would not want genocide to again be thought an acceptable way of acquiring land belonging to others (1 Samuel 15:3).
When it comes to social matters involving sex and gender, the Bible is especially unworthy of being deemed an infallible guide. Why? Because the Bibleís authors generally reflected two ideas prevalent in their times Ė ideas we reject - that women were inferior to men, and that women were the property of men. The first idea is seen, for example, in Leviticus 12:2-5, where women who had given birth were deemed in need of purification, and women who gave birth to girls were unclean twice as long as women who gave birth to boys.
Denying Biblical inerrancy doesnít necessarily mean that a person has a low opinion of Scripture. Similarly, denying the infallibility of church leaders, or of tradition, doesnít necessarily indicate a low opinion of those sources. Oneís opinions of all these sources can be pretty high even if one believes that none of them, alone or in combination, is infallible. An infallible source is impossible to find. Fortunately, it isnít an infallible source or authority that people need. What we need is a body of truth, and that is obtained by the use of reason to question and evaluate all sources and authorities. Human reason, although it also is fallible at times, is our most trustworthy guide. I love the Bible. However, it is not the Bible, but their human reason, that I ask our elected officials to use in making decisions that will affect us all.
February 28, 2004