are we reading the Bible wrong??

First of all: Some background.

I just finished reading two books (Book 1, Book 2) that rocked my world. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been pondering many of the topics in these books for the past few years. Sometimes with much fear & trepidation. If I take just one step in the wrong direction, will my faith come crumbling down all around me? If I choose to change my opinion/belief on something in God’s Word, am I a loosey-goosey prodigal-liberal walking away from Jesus? After decades of being 100% secure in what I believe, am I heading down the dreaded slippery slope??

Second of all: Three disclaimers.

Disclaimer #1:
This post is neither exhaustive nor definitive. I am not giving answers so much as raising questions. And, friends, I don’t think we have to be afraid of asking questions. About God, about the Bible, about our faith. Questions are good. Questions are normal. Questions are healthy, even biblical. Questions do not make you less of a Christian or a bad Christian or a weak Christian.

Disclaimer #2:
I believe the Bible is 1.) true and 2.) timeless. My faith in God is solid and strong. These books I’m reading have done nothing but draw me closer to God and made me all the more eager to spend time digging into his Word.

Disclaimer #3:
Too bad I have a couple more things going on in my life right now than just reading books about the Bible and our interpretation of it based on our cultural experience. (such as: learning a new language, adjusting to a new culture, taking care of my family, writing/editing, & raising up a team of supporters) This is important to me, so I’ll blog about it as I’m able, but I can’t make it my full-time job, so be patient with me.

And Now Let’s Chat About This:
So, in the midst of my busyness in the past week, I read The Bible Tells Me So and Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes in about three days’ time. Did I agree with everything I read? No. Did I agree with a lot of it? Yes. Did it open up my eyes to my own cultural blinders and make me want to delve into big-time study of cultural context and make sure I’m getting this Bible-reading thing right? Absolutely.

I feel a little bit giddy actually.

And I want all of you to read these books so we can discuss. (And I don’t expect us to see eye to eye to eye on everything. Not at all. Being respectful and gracious to each other would be awesome though.)

For this first post, I’m just going to pull out some random ideas from both books and see if anyone has anything to say about them. Just some thoughts to get us started thinking/dialoguing about this whole idea of “Are we absolutely sure we aren’t reading our Bibles through 21st-century American eyes and thereby messing some things up (maybe even some really important things)?

Topic #1:
Did the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) describe events exactly as they happened, or did they take some storyteller’s liberties, so to speak?

“To do their thing, storytellers ‘shape’ the past. They decide what to include, what order to put things in, how to compress or combine scenes to save time and get to the money shot, and so on. They also invent dialogue and scenes to knit the narrative together. They have to, since much of the past is inaccessible to storytellers–they themselves weren’t there to see and hear what happened.” (The Bible Tells Me So)

Do we believe the Gospel writers wrote things down word-for-word or no? If we say no, does that mean the Gospels aren’t completely true? How do we account for different tellings of the stories of Jesus’ life (and events being put in different orders)?

The authors of the books have some ideas, but I’m wondering what you think.

Topic #2:
How do we explain all the times in the Bible when God ordered the slaughter of men, women, and children? When he commanded murder, sent plagues, drowned people, etc?

Sadly, I’ve never really questioned this one very much over the years. I just figured God is God, and he can do what he wants. If he commits genocide (including the murder of thousands of babies), he must have a good reason, right?

I won’t tell you what the author of The Bible Tells Me So believes (it’s an explanation I had never considered, and I don’t quite know what to think about it). I want to know what you think. How do we explain/justify this?

Topic #3:
Do you believe we have a tendency to make the Bible all about me, me, me (even when something might not be specifically written for me)?

For example. And, I’m sorry if you love this verse and have it on your wall, but this makes me giggle.

Are we aware of the fact that Jeremiah 29:11 (For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…) is not about our future career options? “Israelite children were not on their way to the university for the first time… At one level, our culture’s tendency to hijack this promise for high school grads is a symptom of our tendency to take the Bible out of context.” (Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes)

Do we see a problem with claiming promises out of context? Or not really? Does it matter to us that this promise was given to the Israelites in captivity and, yes, God did prosper them, etc, but only after SEVENTY MORE YEARS of captivity? And before that long-time-coming happy-ending was lots and lots (and LOTS) of suffering and killing and pillaging and ripped-apart families and heartache?

“Western Christians tend to read every Scriptural promise, every blessing, as if it necessarily applies to us–to each of us and all of us individually. We… think the universe centers around us.” (MSWWE)

Is this claiming promises and making them mean what we want a harmless thing? Or does it suggest a deeper, more pervasive problem than we’re willing to admit?

I think that’s good for now. If you have any thoughts/questions/concerns/insights, I’d love to hear them. And, if you’ve read either book and want me to discuss a certain topic, let me know!

41 thoughts on “are we reading the Bible wrong??

  1. Hysed777

    As far as genocide goes and the murder of babies I think there’s a lot we don’t know. But if these babies were going to grow up and do many evil things and if they were coded with DNA from fallen angels through Noah’s sons’ wives (i.e. besides being giants possibly what other mutations did they have?) then I don’t have much of a problem with it anymore. I could see genocide as an act of mercy at least for the rest of us if not for them too.

  2. Elizabeth

    Marla! I’m so excited to read this post of yours. I am in full agreement with your saying that questions are important and healthy! I have been asking lots of questions these last six months or so and am finding some very interesting answers – or just more questions beyond the initial questions!
    I found Rob Bell’s Tumbler series great some time back ( as it helped me to start thinking about the Bible differently. I mention him as Peter Enns is one of his friends! 🙂
    I am so excited by all I’m learning and it’s turning everything I’ve inherited in the church upside down! I’ve been realizing that God is much bigger and more amazing than I ever thought. I feel like the church has put God into a little box and that we’ve been guilty of making Him in our own image. I’m rethinking almost everything and yet at the same time I sense His wonderful presence and the knowledge that He is with me on my search for deeper understanding.
    And the message I’m getting from all sorts of directions is that God is love and we are to be love too!!
    So exciting to read your journey and to see you and your family being love in action. Looking forward to sharing in your journey.

  3. Charise

    Imagine the discussion if we actually all read the books you started this with?! The cultural element is huge and is not just an “American” perspective or “Western” but there are all sorts of biases to be thought through when I read the verses: gender, political, personal, regional… I have sat in church, read the verses the pastor is going to speak on and then been completely dumb-founded by the interpretation. What is up “doubting” Thomas? He asked some good questions!

    There is also translations issue…Greek, KJV, etc

    As for your “bigger” questions– God allowing evil (e.g. children suffering). I just don’t know. I know I believe in God and that faith is unshakeable. I don’t think God interferes in free will and it really sucks that other people’s free will means they will hurt children (or me). But I also believe in God who can act super-naturally so what is up with that?? Swoop in with some lightning bolts!

    As for the Bible, I do not believe it is infallible. I’m sorry. I’m not a heretic. I promise. I believe pieces were written and translated. I believe stories were written down from oral traditions. I believe men picked and chose what to have in and what to leave out (not necessarily the authors- the men who got together and decided what letters and “chapters” would be kept or “in” as one document called the Bible). However, I believe it is sacred. Holy. And is an important pillar we have to turn for Truth and Light (along with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit).

    I agree with some of the other commenters that we have to look at context and the big picture to make our best determinations. For example, if I hear God asking me to kill my son I am seeking meds because I do not believe in the context of the Bible God asks that of us. I actually think Jesus came to say, “Excuse me, but some of you have been getting this wrong so let me clarify…”

    What if the lesson isn’t God killed babies, but look at what these fools did in the name of God and let’s not keep that up, okay?

    “Love God, love your neighbor as yourself” is my litmus test.

  4. Jonna Watson

    I have not yet read these books and only skimmed the comments (time is short around here!) but I have a few thoughts.

    1. I think this is really an important conversation, not because I don’t trust the Bible, I do. Mostly because I have been asked VERY, VERY specific questions about the Bible in recent years by unbelieving friends or Christians who have turned from the faith. If we do not have a perspective on this we will not get very far with anyone. This generation is a thinking generation. Faith is always the ingredient, the problem is there are some things in the Bible that if we did them today, our behavior would be highly questionable (in some cases thrown in jail).

    Here they are: Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22). That raises ALOT of questions. Obviously the send home message is that we should be willing to give up anything to God. I think the problem that people speak of is that if anyone actually did that now, tried to sacrifice their child because God asked them to, people would think they were insane and say it was not from God. They would be put in jail. In that time though, from what I understand other gods required human sacrifice and this may have been God’s way of saying, no, I’m different. But he apparently still asked and that is highly problematic for this culture that we live in. (The bigger questions obviously being “Did God change? Does God ask trick questions? “Does God ask us to kill people and if so why is there a commandment against it?”) My own thoughts on this is that God condescends…he meets a culture where they are…Personally, I think that Abraham’s response may not have even been the correct one in the Lord’s eyes (or maybe that either response was correct–withholding nothing from the Lord as he did OR an understanding/acknowledgement that He was different from other gods). I think that it may have been God saying, “Do you know who I am? I don’t require human sacrifice, but I do require your whole heart.” Abraham was righteous…but he lived in a culture and didn’t understand who God was. The Bible even says that this was a test (Genesis 22:1)…but perhaps not in the way that we usually think of it. Yes, there are parallels that tie to the New Testament with Jesus…but a truth needs to be true for all of time. And God asking us to literally sacrifice our children is not a timeless truth. Is it a heart truth? Absolutely.

    2. Slaughtering whole people groups at the Battle of Jericho in Joshua 6:20-24 (i.e., genocide). I do think God uses his wrath, but having others carry out wrath and specifically commanding killings? This is also highly problematic in the age of diplomacy that we live in. Especially in light of “jihad” that is being waged. Again, my thoughts on this are that God condescends and meets the culture where they were. I think that people were much more barbaric in the sense that war was the way that they understood the world. Do I really think that “dedicate the city to the Lord” required that they kill everything in the city? No. Do I think that destroying people groups is a timeless truth? Of course not. Did Joshua get this wrong? What’s going on with this story? Again, I don’t really have a problem with the discipline or wrath part of God, what I have a problem with is when people are used to carry out wrath (kill). That’s a problem, isn’t it? Doesn’t it go against God’s 10 commandments?

    Finally, the last passage that comes to mind is 1 Samuel 16:14 where it refers to an ” evil spirit from the Lord” (KJV). Perhaps this is a translation issue? I don’t have a background in biblical languages, but others have brought this verse to my attention and I have had no answer to this. I had no idea that there were evil spirits from the Lord. Anyone have insight on this?

    There are disturbing passages in scripture, no doubt. I would truly appreciate others’ perspective because I want to know how to respond to these questions of this younger generation (wow, I sound so old. 🙂 This is a super long post. Sorry, I hardly ever read blogs but this one caught my attention because it has come up so often with people in my life.

    Also, I’ve understood the God’s discipline perspective much better since becoming a parent. (which I believe is much of the story of the Israelites). I didn’t used to like the Old Testament very much. I didn’t see the grace that is so blatantly apparent in the New Testament. My perspective on this now…is that Revelation (another topic no one really talks about) seems very much like the Old Testament: plagues, judgments, wrath…but these are also it’s actually grace. It’s God being patient. This may be controversial…but I think we actually may be living in the end times. Or very close to them…who knows, maybe I’m wrong but when I look at the things going on in the world and the tragedies I actually think it’s sort of like the Old Testament God giving chance after chance after chance for people to turn to him. He has warned us in His Word. Why He chooses certain people, certain lands, I have no clue. But I do believe it’s actually grace, wrath too, but grace because He has given us these prophecies and He’s saying “I’m here, I’m real, and I’m coming back.” There are quite a few prophecies I believe are being fulfilled right now. I believe that this generation of unbelief (requiring such proof of God, rather than just the Bible and Holy Spirit being sufficient for so many generations before) is not unlike the Israelites were and that is why God is actually so similar right now to the way that things were in the Old Testament. So…instead of arguing, having answers, or debating, prophecies that are happening in our world are a good way to point others to the Bible in a time that people WILL require this for their faith. And as unbelievable as I used to think it was that despite prophecy and miracles the Israelites still didn’t believe, it will be the same before Jesus returns. Seeing it now, it really does seem to be unfolding. Just my 2 cents.

  5. kim

    Read this by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason years ago and it’s been quite helpful. Now when I quote a verse it’s because of my understanding in context (even tho for shorthand I don’t give the whole passage).

    For example…as people are discussing how their hearts are grieved by the beheadings, attacks in Kenya, etc. and saying “this must be stopped!” I find myself asking “why?” Yes, I am horrified by the evil deeds of men BUT if it’s true that “BLESSED are the persecuted” and to “live is Christ but to die is GAIN”, why are we not praising God and expressing gratitude? Is He glorified in this? Is His name lifted up? Is it not an honor to be martyred for Christ? Then why should we mourn as those who have no hope?

    The account of the Focus on the Family counselors who went to help the families of the beheaded Christians cope were taken aback by the lack of need for their services. Those families of the martyrs take Scripture to heart–they know we exist solely for God’s glory and that their loved ones glorified God in their faithfulness to Him. That’d be cause for praise, not mourning! Why do we love this life and the shallow, selfish pursuits in it so much that we can’t see God’s purposes, sovereignty and will? “Love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you; pray for those who spitefully use you.”

    I don’t know if that came out all wrong….I’m certainly not speaking glibly from my safe western life–I’ve been wrestling with this for many years because God gave me a daughter 18 years ago with this whisper to my heart: “You will have a child, Moriah. You will lay her on the altar and ‘I will provide'”. That was the name of the mountain where Abraham obediently took Isaac to be sacrificed (talk about your difficult passages!) At 5, she declared she wanted to be a missionary and since then she’s been looking for “A Chance to Die” as Elisabeth Elliot’s book about Amy Carmichael is called. At age 10 she was in Kenya doing missions work with her dad just weeks before the fires and machete attacks of internal unrest during the elections of 2007. I have to be ready to give my precious, beautiful baby to Him for HIS purposes, even if that means martyrdom.

    Sorry for the long comment….I don’t have a blog in which to expound so you get my ramblings from time to time!

    1. Melinda

      Loved this – thank you. I hadn’t read re: FOTF’s experiences re: families impacted by ISIS. And in our Bible – centric American Evangelicalism, how interesting to read of of the ways largely illiterate people respond to the terror of ISIS. They humbled me. Which brings up another issue: Are Westerners willing to learn from largely illiterate and informally churched Christians around the globe? Or do we know it all? #pride

      1. Marla Taviano Post author

        Mmmm… great question!! I’m afraid we do (think) we know it all. And we also seem to be “addicted to certainty” to quote a friend of mine who was quoting someone else.

  6. Cheryl Pickett

    Making sure and questioning what you are being/have been taught is a good thing. That’s why I would say again that understanding how the Bible is all interrelated is so very important. For example, the Jewish faith does not see that the O.T. points to Jesus all the way through, but understanding that is key to fully understanding Jesus life, ministry and our salvation.
    Whatever is being taught or interpreted has to have solid foundation both theologically and linguistically. I have not heard the assertion about modest being regarding wealth for example. So how would I go about determining if that is a good interpretation or not? Talk to someone who knows if the cultural reference is accurate, but also that the reading of the Greek is actually accurate or if that assertion is being made mainly on culture only. If cultural only, sorry, no go.

    With regard to the bad things happening, that’s a whole other conversation of course, but a nutshell answer is sin will exist until Jesus comes again, as long as man has free will, lots of awful stuff can and will happen. Why didn’t God choose to take His children home after the flood, or when the early Christians were being persecuted or any other of the myriads of possibilities? Again, we don’t know. But what we do know is that when this is all over, whenever that is, we can know the promise of the Gospel with certainty and that is where our hope and strength is and must be until then.

  7. Shannah

    Not sure if you’d consider it a pat answer, but for me, the “God-breathed” thing is similar to Jesus being “fully God, fully human.” Somehow, his Godness didn’t lessen his humanity, and his humanity didn’t lessen his Godness. I don’t understand how the two things were entwined, but God did it. And he did the same thing with his Word. He put himself into the men as they wrote, letting who they were and how they saw the world give life to what he wanted communicated, but protecting his Word from being diluted by their limitations.

    And I’d say he used lots of different people from lots of different times, combining His breath with their imperfections and time-bound realities, precisely because of what you pointed out. Your Cambodian friends would interpret some things way differently than you or me. That’s okay. We see the world differently; we all bring a slightly different perception of God to the table, and by seeing all the different facets of God’s word – and it’s over-arching Truth – we understand it all better. And the fact that the Bible was produced in many times and by many people to show that it applies to everyone, everywhere. From an argumentation standpoint, if only one person had been used to craft the Bible, its reliability would be MUCH more suspect. Any critics would have only one person to discredit, thus undoing the entire point with one fell swoop. And it would be couched in only one time and place, thus making it easier for people to simply ignore it as not applicable to their time and their place. By using lots of people who all, in their own way, said the same things over and over, He makes it much more difficult to attack or ignore.

    Just some other thoughts… 🙂

  8. Rhonda

    2 Timothy 3:16
    All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,

  9. Bethany

    Ezekiel 18 is a good chapter dealing with Topic #2.

    Verse 21-23: “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?”

    and verse 32: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

    When Jubilee died, I read a book called “Safe in the Arms of God” by John MacArthur. He pointed out that in Jeremiah 19:4, God referred to children who were sacrificed to Baal as “innocents”. He used other Scripture references to defend his case that children go to heaven when they die. He suggested that God killing babies and children of heathen nations was actually an act of mercy so that they wouldn’t suffer the consequences of their parents’ sins, and instead would spend eternity with Jesus. I am still working through that possibility, but I think it’s worth looking into.

    When I read passages I don’t understand, I think of Isaiah 55:8,9 and trust that God’s judgment, knowledge and understanding of what’s actually going on precedes my limited understanding and that He will do what is right and just and good. The Bible only contains what God has chosen to reveal to us. We only know a small piece of every story.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Thanks, Bethy. I definitely look to the Isaiah 55 passage when I’m not sure what to think. I think my bigger question right now is: Are we interpreting everything correctly? Not why did God do such and such? I guess God’s mercy could maybe explain his killing babies and children, but… I don’t know. Why doesn’t he keep doing it now? Did his mercy run out? And why do so many babies of godly parents die? And why are so many children suffering daily horrors in Cambodia? And why would God kill so many evil people anyway, when he could give them a chance to repent? He gave the Israelites plenty of chances. So many questions. xoxoxo

      1. Bethany

        Stew was talking to his co-workers at work recently about many of your above questions and he had the same struggling thoughts as you. I worked through a lot of this again when Jubilee died. I believe that when we have questions, we should keep talking to God about it (persistent widow) and be in our Bibles constantly and He will make Himself known to you. Keep seeking Him!

        “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

        Hebrews 6:13 “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

      2. Bethany

        After reading some of the info on Amazon about the books, your biggest question isn’t, “Are we interpreting everything correctly?” Your ultimate question is, “Is the Bible 100% true?” Am I right?

        1. Marla Taviano Post author

          Mmmm… not exactly. I’m still working through how to articulate this and feel like I need a whole blog post (or more), but I’ll try to answer. I think what I’m asking is actually, “What does GOD-BREATHED mean?” For whatever reason, God chose to use a LOT of different authors to make up the entire Bible. And they are all very different. They saw things differently, wrote differently, recorded the same events in different ways. And I know we say, “God gave them all the words to say,” but if he put words in their mouths, why did he bother using them at all? Why didn’t he just write the Bible himself? I’m wondering if he chose them for their specific personalities and outlooks on things. And, if so, did he let any of their humanness come through? I think we’re afraid to say that’s possible. But I don’t think it would make the Bible UNTRUE.

          It’s not like God makes things super clear throughout the Bible (or we wouldn’t have hundreds of denominations and all kinds of theological positions). He had no problem leaving a million of our questions unanswered. (And he’s God. He can do that.) And I’m wondering if he gave the authors more freedom than we think.

          And there’s a second part of it. When I talk about misreading Scripture with Western eyes, here’s one small example. When Paul talks about dressing “modestly,” we assume he means no tight, short clothes and no cleavage, right? That’s what we tell all the youth group girls. But the women in the Bible would’ve NEVER shown skin. He was talking about economic modesty. Don’t flaunt your wealth (expensive clothes and jewelry) when your fellow Christians are poor. That doesn’t go over as well though. Especially at Easter with all our new clothes.

          And then things like “homosexuality is unnatural” which means it’s a sin. But then it says “long hair on a man and short hair on a woman is unnatural.” Same words? (maybe not in the Greek–I don’t know) How do we pick and choose what still goes today?

          And I have lots of questions about the roles of women. Does everything Paul wrote about women still go today? (No talking in church; no teaching; submission.) If it does, we probably also shouldn’t be doing things like wearing jeans and voting.

          Does that make sense?

          I don’t feel like I’m having a crisis of faith. I just want to seek and explore and know more than I do. I want to know the culture of the people who wrote the Bible, why they said the things they did, what it really meant to them, and what it means to me now. I don’t want someone to hand me “pat Bible answers” and that be the end of it. I’m not sure I trust all the people who are telling me how things should be interpreted.

          I also believe the Bible is for ALL people. My Cambodian friends would interpret some things WAY differently than me. We say we’re not reading our cultural experience into it, but we absolutely are. We know no other way.

          I also want to learn/study about how people chose which 66 books got to be in the Bible and which didn’t, but that’s another whole thing.

          This whole thing is causing me a lot of angst. The people pleaser in me doesn’t want anyone (especially people I love) to think that I’m on the verge of walking away from my faith (I’m not–in fact, I feel closer to God than ever). I don’t have the time and energy to process everything and write it out (this comment is as long as a blog post).

          I missed the whole “love the poor and God cares about justice” thing for 30+ years. What else am I missing?

          Love you. xoxoxo

          1. Bethany

            You said, “I’m not sure I trust all the people who are telling me how things should be interpreted.”

            I think that is the key here. I think it’s important for all Christians to read the Bible on our own and let God speak for Himself. God gave us the Bible and His Holy Spirit. We don’t need others to interpret the Bible for us. Yes, they can give us helpful insight, but if all the spiritual food we are eating is regurgitated instead of straight from the source, then we will have numerous problems. I have my own conclusions for all of your above questions, but that has come from my own personal study of God’s Word, praying, wrestling, seeking–not from someone telling me what to believe.

          2. Bethany

            I love you Marla! I am praying for you as God works in your heart and mind and draws you closer to Himself.

          3. Bethany

            And just to clarify–my conclusions are sometimes, um, inconclusive. But I want to know that I have at least made some effort to investigate and search for truth and understanding on my own and not just accepted someone else’s conclusion.

            We are all in this together. None of us have it completely figured out. I think humility is what I want to have when doing all of this. Not being afraid to admit I was wrong in my understanding. And not being arrogant when I come to a conclusion or get a more accurate understanding and look down on or criticize those who might be “getting it wrong”, you know? I tend to get consumed with things like this and then I neglect obeying God in the areas I know He has called me to. I want to have the right balance and that is difficult for me.

      3. Darius T

        Many have made good comments, so I won’t add much. I would only say that the question of why does God allow babies to die (either now or in the OT) is the wrong question. Jesus replied to a similar question with, in short, “Don’t wonder why they die… wonder why you survive.”

        In other words, if we have a proper view of sinful man, and a correspondingly right view of a holy and just God, we know that not one is righteous, everyone is deserving of IMMEDIATE and eternal death. We also know that it is not for the pot to question how it is treated by the Potter (Romans 9). We also know that God is GOOD, JUST, LOVE, WRATH, MERCY, etc. All according to His standards of those, not ours. It is out of his immense mercy that we are not consumed.

        Take, for example, the slaughter of whole tribes in Canaan. God says he didn’t do that quickly, telling Israel that he was holding off for many generations because their sin “was not yet full.” But eventually, according to God’s righteous ledger, the scales finally tipped after decades of child sacrifice and other evils. And as a message to Israel and all other tribes of just how much he despises sin, he used Israel to wipe those idolaters off the map, including children. We would not know just how much wrath he has for our sin if he had not done that. It was a stepping stone along the path to the New Covenant, where his wrath is quenched in his own Son.

        There’s a very good book, actually, that I’ve read on the subject. Find it here:

        Blessings to you all in Asia!

  10. Bethany

    (Topic #1) These are 2 good passages dealing with how the Scriptures were written:

    2 Peter 1:16-21 (specifically verses 20-21) “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

    John 14:25-26 (Jesus talking to his disciples before he died) “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

  11. Cheryl Pickett

    With regard to point #1 and following comments:
    There are Christians who believe the Bible contains the word of God and others, like myself, who believe the Bible IS the word of God. Doesn’t sound like a difference, or mere semantics, but the view you hold on this effects everything.
    God-breathed, inerrant, etc. means just that, that what’s there is what God intended to be there. Paul did not override God as to what to leave in or out. And no, many of the writers did not at all witness what they wrote about, some books were written decades after the events that happened if not longer. That’s why it is important to know that it was God who put the words in their hands/minds to write.
    If one believes the “story-tellers” did this or that to help things along, you are giving man control over the content. Some stuff is God’s, some not so much. Makes it a lot easier to pick and choose doesn’t it?

    With regard to point #3, yes, in America maybe especially, we apply verses to situations and circumstances where they do not belong. I’ve recently started learning more about this issue though I’ve been a lifelong Christian.

    It’s easy to do, we want to give comfort to someone so we apply any random verse that sounds comforting or something like that. The heart is in the right place, but if you start quoting verses that don’t mean what they mean, it starts messing up the true understanding of what they do mean, who they were written for etc.

    In my comment on you FB wall, I said scripture interprets scripture. Yes, people have to read it and apply it, but when in doubt, we have to turn to the context, often a really big picture idea, sometimes looking to the Old to understand the New Testament.

    The Bible does not contain only one type of language: some is poetry, some is direct command meant to be timeless, some though were laws that were meant for a particular time and society (a lot of the O.T. stuff for cleanliness and other ritual for example), some is prophetic for the people of Israel specifically, some points to Jesus and His role of Savior. It should not and cannot all be read as speaking to us in the same way.
    The big important thing is though, we have to be very very careful about how we decide which language is which. That is where Scripture interprets Scripture really comes in. It cannot be the culture reading it, it cannot be a single church leader, it is the other words surrounding, reflecting, coming before and after that must be the lens that is used first and foremost.
    Has this been done correctly all the time? Sadly no. That’s why we have so many denominations, that’s why we had the Crusades, that’s why people hurl Bible verses in anger and hate when they absolutely should not be used that way.
    The only way to deal with those situations is for Christians to know the Bible, to know apologetics, to be able to soundly back up what you say with scriptural proof, in context. We’ll never be perfect at it, and add to that that God does not tell us everything in black and white down to the finest detail, (which would reeally be nice sometimes) but that is what we have to strive for.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Thanks, Cheryl. I think one of my questions would be: If God told each writer exactly what to say, why bother having so many different authors? Why not just pick one guy (or girl!) to say everything God wanted to say?

      1. Cheryl Pickett

        My answer to that would be it’s another thing we do not know this side of Heaven. Potentially so that there are more people/different voices to relate to, but it does not say anywhere, so we cannot know.

        The important part is still believing that God directed and inspired what was said and what is in there is what He wants in there (that is clear). Otherwise, if you don’t know what parts to believe, (that is different than what applies to whom) you can also say the Gospel may or may not be accurate as well and the whole point of the Christian faith is then gone.

  12. James veldt

    Marla, thank you for asking honest important questions. You are right, we should not be afraid of questions. If we aren’t willing to question long held assumptions and traditions for their truth and validity we can’t grow and strengthen our faith. Now for my answers to your topics
    1. All scripture is God breathed, every word of it is truth and useful. That being said God used humans to write His word and used them and their differing personalities to emphasize different points and give different points of view. Just as several witnesses to any event may remember or emphasize different things about some thing they were a part of they can all be giving truthful accounts but notice some different parts or have a doesn’t vantage point. They were also writing to different audiences and the changing of format or structure doesn’t necessarily change the truth. That being said, I don’t believe they “invent dialogue or scenes.”

    2. This is indeed hard, but it comes down to who you believe God is and who you believe we are. If God is indeed holy and just, and if we are sinful from from our conception and all basically sinful people then that sin demands payment before a holy, just God. We know from scripture that the punishment for sin is death (both in this life and eternity). If a huge segment of society are living in sin, a righteous judge had no choice but to demand the punishment. In some cases that punishment is swifter than others, but does it really matter what means God uses to exact His just judgement and punishment? He may take care of it Himself by limiting their natural life or natural disasters, or add was the case in some old testament situations through the hands of other people. Sometimes He withholds judgement longer, sometimes less. No matter the means of leaving this world each person will then give account of their life and either stand before God having their debt paid in full through the sacrifice of Christ, or continue to attempt to defy Him and be cast away from His presence.

    3.yes, we are often self centered and take things out of context. Some promises are general to all of God’s people and some were specific to specific situations. Continued study is the only way to determine which case applies.

    I know I didn’t explain all this as well as it has been explained to me through preaching and reading, but I hope I was somewhat effective in sharing what I believe to be truth from what I have studied.

    1. James veldt

      For number 1 per what “god breathed” means. No I don’t believe that an all powerful, all knowing God used people to write his truths to his people (and the world), but let them screw it up. Though he let their different personalities come through in their writing, I don’t believe He would allow anyone to be more harsh/or lenient than what He wanted to communicate with His beloved church.

  13. M

    Is it a typo in the quote that says “here” instead of “hear” or is that typo in the source book?
    ‘they themselves weren’t there to see and here what happened.” (The Bible Tells Me So)’

    As for topic 1, the “money shot” quote seems to me like a flippant and offensive characterization of the disciples of Christ, painting them as motivated by notoriety/fame instead of the gospel truth. Luke, in particular, notes that many have undertaken to compile an account of things that have been fulfilled among us, like the accounts passed on on to us by those who were eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning. So it would seem that scripture claims to be reporting a curated summary of eyewitness stories.
    A key element here is whether someone believes that all scripture is God-breathed and trustworthy because of God’s influence instead of because of man’s writing. Saying something along the lines of “well, clearly the dialogue is not always word for word because the sermon on the mount appears to be a synopsis, so therefore, God did not really tell the people of Israel to do such and so” indicates a clearly man-centered approach to what is claimed to be the word of God.

    Topic 2. God DOES have a good reason: sin. All humanity is under a death sentence that is up to God’s discretion on when and where.

    Topic 3. I don’t think the solution to the “me-centered Bible promises” is to change to the “me-centered-canon choosing” or the “archeology-centered-revised promises” or the “paleo-diet-ancient-tribal-culture-bless-their-hearts” approach but to change to the “God-creator-sustainer-architect of all history-working-to-reveal-himself-to-humanity-over-thousands-of-years-in-different-ways-promises” approach.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Thanks, M, for your reply. Yes, that was a typo (I fixed it–thanks!).

      As far as the “money shot” goes, I didn’t do a good job of setting up the context of the quote. The author was talking about storytelling in general, not the gospel writers. He sets up a whole scenario of storytelling and then says that the Bible isn’t an exact re-telling either, for many of those same reasons (not the $ part–as far as I know, Matthew didn’t get royalties from his gospel).

      I can discuss this more, but as far as “God-breathed” goes, I do wonder what that means exactly. Did God remove most of their humanness as they told the story? Did he take away their character flaws and make all the writers pretty much the same? (Clearly not, because the different books sound so different from each other.) I just wonder if sometimes God might think, “Hey, Paul, that sounded a little harsh. I might’ve been a little gentler there, but I’m going to leave it in, so people know you’re human.” Or, “Hey, James, you’re being a little lenient there, but I’ll let it slide, because it doesn’t really make that much difference in the scheme of things. There’s freedom in Christ.”

      In other words, how much “breathing” did God do? How can we know?

      And I’ll have to ponder your thoughts on topic 3. I’m not sure I follow you completely.

      Thanks for sharing! (and for using your real email address, so I know who you are) 🙂

      1. M

        Re: me-centered-promise-claiming

        Hopefully this will help explain my position:
        One of the great mysteries of God’s interaction with humanity has been the revelation of the Church (Paul goes to some length to discuss this in his letter to the Ephesians 3) and the long-hinted, now fulfilled expansion of God’s salvation to the Gentiles (the prophets speak of how God’s salvation is too great, that it will extend to all peoples). One great blessing of this Church age is the Holy Spirit has been given as a downpayment, and we need no intermediary to approach God. However, this individual relationship is an aspect of faith that (particularly protestant) believers have found to be very attractive/compatible with individualistic Western culture. I think that this is a significant part of how the me-centered reading happens. I had a few other options listed, each prioritizing a choice by the reader to disregard some other aspect of the scriptures: selective agreement, we know better now, etc. It is my opinion that they are all branches of self-centered approaches, with the best of intentions.

        For the alternative, my proposed solution, as I read the word of God, I see a Creator who is using all of history to demonstrate who he is. People sometimes ask “why didn’t God just make it perfect in the Garden of Eden and keep it that way?” to which a common reply is that God did not want robots. But there’s more to it than that. The Bible tells us that God will have a new heaven and a new earth, and that Christ will wed His bride, the Church. Why not just start there? I believe it is because God is using all of history to show who he is to his creation. If there were no opportunity for sin, how would God demonstrate his forgiveness? I think God is playing the long game, a bigger picture than one lifetime. He demonstrates multiple times in different ways that He chooses people not based on their merits. He shows multiple times in different ways that Judgement can be both swift, and can be delayed. Certainly God uses stories; Jesus spoke in parables, Nathan was sent to David with an allegory. But, I believe these are pretty easily indicated. I think the more powerful story is that of his actions, promises, foresight and interactions throughout all of history. I have found it easier to have a smaller view of myself when approaching scripture from this viewpoint.

  14. Missy Robinson


    I think there is so much that needs to be considered here – way to go addressing some challenging topics! I have not read the specific books that you reference, but from many years ago I learned how narrowly I/we have received scripture. Because I’m open to discussion, I’ll share my initial thoughts on your topics:

    1 – I cannot combine the word “liberties” with the texts written by the gospel writers because to me that implies human origin and possible error. And yet I do not believe each writer documented every word, action and event to which he was a witness. I do believe that they wrote from their own perspectives and I’m not even sure that they were aware of the impact their words would have in future generations. I do believe they wrote what God felt was necessary to us. In our desire for all the answers, we sometimes (often) want more explanation. Part of my faith, is believing that He has given me enough.

    2 – This is one of the most challenging aspects of Scripture, personally. Like you, I have mostly assumed that He is God and it is his ability to do as He chooses. In this matter, I can only believe that He knows more than I am able to comprehend and there are times when He chooses not to extend mercy and grace. He is not obligated to do so, which makes me even more grateful for the gifts He has given to me, including the heritage of faith that makes it natural for me to believe. It seems to be that He is willing to sacrifice for the greater good. He did not spare his own Son, so I can trust He is working even in desolation.

    3 – YES! So many make the Bible very me-centric! I am grateful that I was trained by professors to shun this habit, but sometimes I would like to take it back on. Mostly, I feel we can read through the lens of knowing what God has done, knowing the final outcome and then apply the principles to His character and my own role in the story. Sometimes I pray that He will do for me like he did for — situation in the Bible —. Sometimes I note the difference and do not require the same standards of myself (case in point might be the killing of non-Israelites as noted above. I am not Jewish and so I can only rely on His grace and mercy). This is where the phenomenon of the “rhema” of the word versus the “logos” of scripture becomes necessary. I believe only an individual and the Holy Spirit can collaborate to know how the specifics will be applied in life. This does not imply “to each his own,” because I don’t think proper application will ever, ever contradict scripture, but it leaves much room for individual application.

    Thank you for opening the conversation. I welcome respectful discussion!

  15. Cyndee

    Hi Marla! I’m only going to address the Jeremiah part of this post for now because I have limited time this morning and I’m a bit sensitive about this one! I have been hearing and seeing almost exactly what you wrote for many years and I’m a little confused by it. When did God ever address (specifically) modern-day Christians? Isn’t most of what we read in the bible said to a different people-group but can still be applicable to us today? I DO always include verses 12 and 13 when I quote Jeremiah 29:11, because I think they are very important to the context. (God is specifically addressing the Israelites, but generally addressing “His” people, and speaking of what happens when we come to him and pray. That is how I read that verse.) I have always seen that verse as encouragement that when everything seems to be falling apart around us, God still has our good in His plans. (Even if we don’t get to see it for 70 years, or EVER until glory!) My husband and I were just talking about how some things in the bible were definitely cultural (head coverings, for example) and other things are timeless – meant for all generations. Grabbing snippets out of context to further our agenda, or justify our sins is definitely dangerous, but assuming things aren’t meant for us because we aren’t the specific people-group being addressed seems wrong, too. Interesting discussion. I hope I get to read one or both of those books eventually.

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Thanks so much for this, Cyndee. I only clipped the tip of the iceberg with this one by giving a “classic” example (like you said, you’ve heard it a lot). I will definitely talk about this more, but for now, I think of it kind of like this. We are (generally) so, so quick to claim all the good promises and dismiss/ignore the ones that say things like, “life will be hard,” or “you’ll be persecuted,” or what have you. I can’t really say for sure if it’s okay to claim any/all promises given to someone else or not, but I do think it’s a little fishy if we pick out the promises & blessings and leave behind anything uncomfortable or too radical. Does that make sense? (I really appreciate you taking the time to comment!)

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