This is a continuation from my recent post, “Make Sure Your Kids Know the Bible is Pretty Weird: Part I” (Part I contained 5 of 10 reasons the Bible is weird). If you didn’t read the first part already, be sure to do so for context! Today I’m picking up with reason number 6…
6. The Bible is not a history book. (This is a huge one!)
The Bible is historical in nature, but it is not a history book by primary objective. The primary concern of the Bible is theological (a study of God). It was common regional practice in the time period of the Old Testament that kings kept separate historical and theological writings. Historical writings were intended to be precise and thorough in detail (or at least as thorough as the conventions of the day). Theological writings only contained portions of historical detail that were pertinent to the theological message being conveyed. Theological writings were, therefore, typically not historically precise nor thorough in historical detail.
The Bible falls into the category of theological writings. You can see traces of this distinction in notes such as this (1 Kings 14:19): “The other events of Jeroboam’s reign…are written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel.” Annals were what the historical materials of kings were typically called. In other words, this verse is basically saying, “If you want the historical detail, go find this other book.” It is clear the Bible was not intended to be a history book, by its own implied admissions in verses such as this.
(Click here for several other examples of historical source materials mentioned in the Bible that we don’t have today.)
There are all kinds of apparent problems with names, ages, dates and numbers in the Bible. While there are usually several possible explanations, these problems are often cited by Bible critics as evidence that the Bible is inaccurate historically (and therefore theologically). Because the Bible wasn’t intended to be a precise and thorough historical document, many key “facts” (i.e., names, ages, dates and numbers) do not line up the way we would like. This is only a problem, however, when we place an inappropriate expectation of historical precision on the Bible. (Click here for a good sampling of related issues.)
7. The Bible uses a lot of symbolism.
Symbolism is everywhere in the Bible, but it’s often not always obvious what is literal and what is symbolic. In fact, one of the reasons that numbers don’t always add up (see number 5 above) is that we assume they are literal, when they were known by the original audience to be symbolic.
Genesis 50:26 says that Joseph died at the age of 110. Given the rest of the information about his life events, this literal age would be unlikely. Bible skeptics point to this as a problem, but they are missing the symbolism: 110 was a symbolic number to the Egyptians, indicating an ideal age. While it’s possible Joseph really did die at 110, it is more likely a symbolic statement about the quality of his life.
8. The Bible speaks of an unobservable and unprovable spiritual realm.
In our modern world, we tend to dismiss anything that is not either directly observable by our senses or provable by scientific methods. There is no way to observe or scientifically prove/disprove God’s existence, or for that matter, most of what is theologically claimed by the Bible. Since skeptics tend to challenge the Bible in areas that are supposedly verifiable (e.g., history), the things that are not verifiable are dismissed out of hand as simply a weird belief system.
I’m currently reading Billy Graham’s book, “Angels.” It’s a comprehensive study of all the Bible says on the topic. While reading it, however, I’ve been reminded of how much weirdness surrounds the topic of angels alone. If angels reside in a perfect heaven, how could Satan, as an angel, have succumbed to sin? How is it that an angel was actually delayed in his travels in Daniel 10? These things are simply outside of our tangible and explainable experience, so they will, by nature, be weird to us.
9. The Bible describes things that don’t happen today.
When was the last time that God appeared to someone in a burning bush? That someone was raised from the dead? That people in a fire didn’t burn? Unfortunately, we who live today do not experience God working in such clear and visible ways. These events seem strange until we accept the (reasonable) hypothesis that the Biblical time period was a unique one in which God interacted differently with people to lay the foundation for the rest of earthly history.
I don’t need to elaborate on sample issues here, since the majority of the Bible focuses on events and Godly interactions that don’t happen today!)
10. There are things that are simply not explainable.
We just don’t have an explanation for every strange thing we encounter in the Bible. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should discredit hundreds of pages of other writings simply because we can’t make sense of individual stories or events.
Two words: Talking donkey (Numbers 22:28). When I asked my husband what first comes to mind about the Bible being weird, this was his immediate answer. I don’t even have a category for it. It’s just something we can’t explain and that will probably always remain weird.
Do your kids a favor…acknowledge that the Bible is indeed weird. Have a fun conversation about it, and ask what they find most weird! It’s a great opportunity to make the Bible more approachable.
Weird doesn’t mean bad. It means out of the ordinary. If God has a book, I certainly would expect it to recount things that are unusual. If it didn’t, that would be weird.