The Bible has a lot of weirdness in it.
I’m not being irreverent. Really. The definition of weird is simply “out of the ordinary; unusual or striking; differing from the normal.” Most people would concur that much of the Bible, by its very nature, is weird by that definition.
There is a problem with weirdness. It’s jarring. When we encounter the abnormal, we tend to question its reality because it is outside of our own typical experience.
Why should you care? Well, the Bible gets torn apart by non-believers over its weirdness. I recently read a book written by an ex-Christian, now atheist, who provided all of his purported evidence for why the Bible can’t possibly be the inspired word of God. If you really analyze it, the author basically worked to debunk the credibility of the Bible by pointing to its many examples of weirdness and appealed to people’s association that weird means wrong or impossible.
It was eye opening to see all the weirdness of the Bible presented together in about 250 pages. It also reminded me just how wrong we can get what the Bible says if we 1) read it on a cursory level and 2) have the expectation that it shouldn’t be weird, as this author clearly did.
So why should we expect the Bible to be weird? Here are 10 big reasons for discussion with your kids. This is a really important topic. It’s a guarantee that your kids will eventually encounter non-believers making uninformed attacks on the Bible. It’s much simpler to attack weirdness than to defend it, so be sure to ground your kids in these points!
Due to the length of this post, I am breaking it into two parts. Here are the first 5 reasons.
1. The Bible is not one long book.
Sure, most people know that the Bible has many “books” in it, but for some reason many view the books more like chapters in an overall story and demand they demonstrate precise harmony. Anything that falls outside of precise harmony is treated as a problem.
In reality, each book is vastly different. The Bible was written by more than 40 authors over 1600 years! Aside from the widely varying perspectives of authors represented by that fact, there is a widely varying audience implied in it as well. Perfect unity is unrealistic.
The four gospels each record something different for what the sign over Jesus’ head on the cross said (Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, Matthew 27:37, John 19:19).
The four gospels were written by four different writers, each with a different audience focus and a different perspective. There are many things that differ between the gospels, this example being just one. It’s analogous to four witnesses to a crime who all report the same event, but with a different emphasis and recollection. Each account is valuable and variability should be expected, not considered to be weird. In fact, historians look for variability between historical accounts as an indication of credibility (if everything matches 100%, it is clear it was edited)!
2. The Bible has cultural references we can’t immediately appreciate.
The Old Testament is full of instruction that, on the surface, seems to conflict with our modern understanding of what God’s character should be; people point to this as weird and problematic. In reality, however, there is a much deeper cultural context that is lost without knowledge of the external environment.
The Bible’s passages on slavery are commonly pointed to as evidence that the Bible is steeped in ancient thought that wouldn’t be inspired by a perfect God who created people equally (e.g., Ephesians 6:5-6). However, the Bible repeatedly shows that God works with humans where they are in history. He didn’t swoop down and wipe out all cultural conventions. He revealed Himself over hundreds of years in the midst of the cultural environment. Slavery was a pervasive institution. The Bible doesn’t condone it, but it does give laws for dealing with a cultural reality at the time.
For a good book on these issues, see Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”
3. The Bible has cultural references even scholars don’t understand.
In my last point, I addressed the cultural references that require a significant knowledge of external context to fully understand. But there are some very weird cultural references that even scholars can’t figure out.
In case you haven’t read Deuteronomy lately, let me draw your attention to this helpful direction from chapter 14, verse 21: “…Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”
The Bible provides no guidance on the significance of this. It was a direction to people who lived more than 3,000 years ago. The relevance is lost on us today. Though some scholars have speculated on the meaning, the consensus is that we just don’t know what it’s about. It simply remains a weird statement – but that’s OK, as long as you understand it’s there as a relic from its ancient sources and was never intended to be direction for people of all time!
4. Much of the Bible is descriptive, NOT prescriptive.
The vast majority of the Bible is descriptive in nature (describing what happened) rather than prescriptive (telling us what to do). Once again, the weird factor here is because the Bible is describing some aspect of ancient culture, but that description in no way suggests that God condoned the behavior OR caused the event.
- The kings of Israel had many wives (the Bible describes this fact). People incorrectly point to this as justification that God supports polygamy (the Bible does not prescribe polygamy, as is clear from the passages that are prescriptive about marital relationships).
- Jacob put striped rods in front of his sheep so they would give birth to spotted offspring (Genesis 30:25-43). Non-believers point to this as evidence that the authors (incorrectly) believed God was responsible for the outcomes of ancient superstitions. However, the Bible simply describes what Jacob did. It does not prescribe his behavior for others or suggest that God wanted him to use this method.
5. The Bible recounts events that don’t make “sense” outside of a theological meaning.
If you look at the Bible through a strictly secular view, there are many events that don’t make sense. The Bible is a book that tells God’s story, and much of it can only be understood from a theological perspective. It simply can’t be boiled down to what makes secular sense.
God asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son, Isaac (Genesis 22). Many non-believers point to this as evidence that the God of the Bible is cruel and inconsistent in nature, and that the Bible condones child sacrifice.
It would be hard as a Christian to say that, at face value, this event is not weird (or at the very least hard to understand). With a deeper theological understanding of the Bible, however, the significance of the event becomes clear. God had promised Abraham offspring through Isaac as part of the covenant that became the foundation for all of Israel’s history. Abraham had to demonstrate complete faith in God’s promise in order to take the step toward sacrificing his only offspring through whom the descendants were supposed to come. It was the ultimate demonstration of faith (for extensive treatment of this topic, click here: http://christianthinktank.com/qkilisak.html).
To be continued with Part 2…
What in the Bible is “weirdest” to you?