Tag Archives: Bible

“Literal Interpretation” is still “Pick and Choose”

16 Jun

The pastor of the Stedfast Baptist Church got a lot of press recently by saying the government should execute all gay people. This is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible… but is it? The answer is yes AND no.

First off, by giving this pastor any press, you have a) not discouraged him and b) gained him followers. From their Facebook page, they look like they may have fifty families, tops, attending this Fort Worth, Texas church. No one knew who the hell (pun intended) this guy was before Twitter blew up.

Second, his interpretation of the Bible is based on the King James Version. “Version” = interpretation, in this case “literally” from ancient Hebrew and Greek. This pastor doesn’t expect his followers to read the original languages, but the interpretation that is closest (in his opinion) to God’s will to His people.

Okay, let’s just take that at face value. So in that case, he’s right – Leviticus 18:22 calls homosexuality an abdomination. But verse 6 says not to uncover the nakedness of your family; so no swimming pool? Or next chapter, 19:19, no clothes made of two different materials… Where do you find all wool shirts? Do you wear them in a humid Texas summer? And you better not have any tattoos.

Also, better say goodbye to eating pork or shellfish. Or putting cheese on ANYTHING. Oh, but wait, there’s a line in Acts 10:15 that says, “What God has made clean, let no man call unclean.” Okay, that gets you off the hook for eating kosher, but then you have to ask yourself… Did God make a mistake in the Old Testament? Why would He say to do one thing and then change his mind a thousand years later? Isn’t Christ the same “yesterday, today, and forever?”

A journalist by the name of AJ Jacobs captured this problem best in the book “The Year of Living Biblically.” For a year, he tried a strict interpretation of the Bible. He never cut his beard, wore an all wool robe (with fringes), never ate pork, and at one point, got to “stone” an infidel (with pebbles and with their permission).

As you can imagine, that’s really hard, and completely incompatible with modern American life. So if you choose NOT to live like a Hasidic Jew, you’re picking and choosing what to follow in the Bible. Now it’s perfectly fair to say this is the “correct” or “best” interpretation, but it is by no means “strict.”

But why should I make the argument when others have done it better? Martin Sheen? Take it away…

Not Today, Satan!

29 May

So I’m walking into work and I pass a guy with a t-shirt that loudly proclaimed, “Not Today Satan!” That got me thinking two things: 1) That sentence needs a comma and 2) isn’t blaming Satan for the evil in the world a bit of a cop out?

Satan as a concept seems almost sacrilegious. If I want to be pretentious, I’d say it’s Manichaean or dualist; it has a Zoroastrian flair to it. The idea of an equal and opposite power to God weakens the power of the Almighty. The Christian and Islamic traditions would say that Satan/Shaitain is far weaker. but why would God allow a force of evil to exist in the world?

Satan is named explicitly in the Gospels and the Letters of the New Testament, as well as the Quran, but when it’s mentioned in the Tanakh (Old Testament), Satan is “the snake” (Genesis 2) or “the adversary.” (Job 1) Job was the first written of the Biblical texts; the language is far more archaic than the Torah or certainly any of the Histories or Prophets. Anyway, in that book:

6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.

And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought 10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. 11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

12 And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.

Job 1: 6-12 (KJV)

Satan is simply one of the angels (although the text uses “sons of God”); not only is he welcomed at the heavenly court, he’s listened to. He sounds a lot like God’s “no man” in his entourage. God needs someone to point out the flaws in the plan. But this sets up the purpose of devils in scripture. Devils never attack you directly, they whisper in your ear. They suggest. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert, suggests a whole bunch of things, and as a good Jewish boy, he can quote scriptural reasons back at him… never directly touches him. Heck, even God “hardens the heart of Pharaoh” (Exodus 8:19) but God didn’t force the man to make that decision, just suggested it.

Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) divides everything into the Sitra D’Kedushah (the side of holiness) or Sitra Achra (the side of impurity). I frequently hear the Sitra Achra defined as the “evil intention.” It’s easy to imagine your dark side as a “still small voice” whispering dark thoughts into your ear. But I think that’s too easy; the pure and the impure exist within all of us.

So the fault does not lie in Satan, but in ourselves; if it helps you to believe there is a devil on your shoulder, but it convinces you to do the right thing, is that so wrong? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! Then check out one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too steep for your wallet, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

The Silent Scripture

16 Jan

Those who care about such things like to point out there’s a lack of women in the Bible… or least, named women. After all, why does Zerubbabel get a mention, but not Z’s wife? The reasons given for this are… rather surprising.

I was inspired by reading another blogger going through a man and a woman from the bible every day and giving a little blurb on it. My first thought was, “Gee, he’s going to run out of women soon,” but that got me thinking, “Why are there fewer women mentioned in the Bible?” There are several theories.

Women are Busy with Real Jobs

Serach, wife of Zerubbabel, is too busy taking care of Z’s four sons and three daughters to bother going out into the desert to listen to angels. The founder of Chassidism, the Baal Shem Tov, was able to run around 18th Century Poland with his pack of disciple rabbis because his wife was running the inn and raising the kids. The Prophet Mohammad (Praise Be Upon Him) married a rich older woman, which gave him the time to devote to listening to the Angel Gabriel.

Or to give a better example, I read a fictionalization about the white mother of Naduah, the last principal chief of the Comanches. Two ladies were talking about a man giving himself a new name of power after going on a vision quest. The main character asks her friend, “Why haven’t you changed your name?” To which she bawks, “What would I need a new name? Oh, spirit, give me the power to sew better!” Then she breaks out laughing at the idea.

In this theory, we don’t read about Serach taking care of Z’s kids and household because it doesn’t make the headlines.

The Bible Doesn’t Waste Space

The reason given for why there are endless genealogies in the Bible is because they are important to letting us know where we come from. So even if Zerubbabel shows up for only one line, it’s important to indicate how his descendants relate to him and his ancestors. You’d think if they bothered to add “and he had many sons and daughters,” they could bother to add Serach’s name as well.

Those third/fourth wave feminists who feel the need to call it “hxstory” or “herstory” (even those “history” is a Greek word, dummy) would point out the marginalization of women, and they have some argument. After all, when the Hebrews walk through the Red Sea, the “Song at the Sea” (Exodus 15) is most of the chapter. Miriam is specifically mentioned for two verses (Ex 15:20-22) of this rather poetic retelling of what just happened, so I don’t buy this argument. However, if I wanted to defend the theory, I could say, “Miriam just said it better and shorter.” Which gets to the answer I prefer…

Later Editors Excised Women’s Stories

What people often forget is that like most pieces of ancient literature, such as Homer’s Iliad, the Bible was only passed down through oral tradition. It wasn’t written down. So when King Josiah comes to power, and his decides to cause a reformation of the religion, the new king’s eager priest supporters want a standardized text. The problem is that… doesn’t exist. So they start this stuff down, and if you believe the German critics, there are three different stories being told–the Priests (P), those who called God “Yahweh” (J–because Germans don’t have a Y in their alphabet), and those who call God “Elohim” (E). Then Deuteronomy is all one author (D) because it was “found” during Josiah’s reign and has a lot of stuff regarding kings. Fancy that.

This is just one example–even when you have a standardized text, the simple act of rewriting it again and again leads to a lot of mistakes. Any modern translation of the New Testament has many footnotes that say “some texts say X.” The Koran also was an oral history, and if you believe it was originally written down by the Prophet’s scribe Zayd ibn Thabit, it still had to be codified during the reign of the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, twenty years after the Prophet’s death.

So you’re a priest who is trying to avoid hand cramp, you’ve got this Song at the Sea you’re writing down, and now you’re trying to figure out how to cram in Miriam’s song. You can’t leave it out–too many people know it. So you just combine them, but because you’re a guy, you don’t think it’s THAT important. This theory implies that women’s stories were far more common before codification and they just got left out… or the ones we have radically shortened.

Okay, I’ve bloviated on as much as I should on this topic–some people have dedicated their whole lives to studying this. What do you think? Do you like one of my theories or do you have a better one? Let me know in the comments below!

Is Gambling a Sin?

25 Sep

Contrary to popular belief, gambling is not listed explicitly as a sin in the Bible… whichever Bible you use. Not that that’s my favorite sin, but it did occur to me, that it wasn’t a commandment. So where do we get this idea from?

I didn’t mean to get into a Bible study, just textual analysis, because it’s something I’m curious about. The simple answer is it’s a variation on greed. Oh, Greed is one of the seven deadly sins — which is NOT in the Bible, that was Pope Gregory I in the 7th Century. However, if you’re a Christian, Paul gets into the works of the flesh and works of the spirit in Galatians:

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21 KJV

So by this definition, it’s a revel, and we’ve covered hatred, emulations, and strife. Besides, I’ve rarely seen a poker table without drunkenness and seditions. So it’s pretty sinful and Paul makes sure to add “this isn’t a complete list.” But keeping in the Christian canon, let’s get to the root of the issue:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

1 Timothy 6: 9-10

Ah! It’s not so much the gambling that’s the problem, it’s the money. This may be why we gamble for chocolate on Hanukkah. Speaking of which, we should try for more Tanakh (Old Testament) quotes:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Exodus 20:17

Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 5:10

Gambling is all about trying to get more than you have. Since the Lord gives you all you need, asking for more is the sin involved. In Islam, this is made very clear:

O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, dedication of stones, and divination by arrows, are an abomination of Satan’s handwork. Eschew such abomination, that you may prosper… Satan’s plan is to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer. Will you not then abstain?

Quran 5:90-91

In Buddhism, it seems that it’s not explicitly forbidden, but most teachers will tell you that you it’s discouraged. You are putting up a stake, expending positive karma to gain more, which means you’re gonna pay for it later. I could be talking out my backside on this one, so I’m paraphrasing this article about it.

So in the end, regardless of what you believe, the “sin” in gambling is not the joy of winning or the sadness in losing, it’s the consequences of that action. If you’re doing it for fun, without expectation of winning or concern of losing, then you’re fine. But how often does that happen? That’s how you can have Catholic rectory bingo or card tournaments, because in the end, you might win something, but not enough to endanger your soul.

So like smoking, drinking, or dancing, gambling is something you shouldn’t do unless you’re doing it for the right reasons. Implied sin, not explicit, because it’s so easy to abuse. But what do you think? Am I missing something? Do I not go far enough? Let me know in the comments below!

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