By Sarah Miller
I grew up attending an Evangelical church that I loved. I learned all about the bible, and my faith remained foundational beliefs for a long time. I was taught the bible was the literal word of God, spoken to man, and then written down. I saw the bible as my answer book. Having friendship trouble? Check out the handy dandy subject index in the back of the bible and see over twenty verses related to friendship. Bam. All problems could be answered by using the bible as our guide.
I was certain about everything. Until I started to ask questions. Dinosaurs? The ark fitting EVERY animal? What about science related to evolution and the creation story? I was told to “have faith” and that asking questions was a “slippery slope.” I was a rule follower (mostly) so I took the word of people older and smarter than me. I trusted their knowledge and had blind faith.
Even though I stood firm in my beliefs, I felt unfulfilled in my faith journey. I didn’t feel the spirit of God in me and I certainly didn’t hear his voice telling me how to live. I felt like I didn’t live up to what others were experiencing. Why didn’t I hear his voice or know what he was telling me to do?
Fast forward to 2020.
After many life changing events, I decided I really wanted to put priority on my faith. A friend invited me to read the bible in a year with her in an online bible study. I was VERY excited to dive in because I hadn’t read much of the bible. I knew the bible stories, the gospels, and that’s about it. I was excited to feel a closeness to God I hadn’t felt before. I was looking forward to feeling my faith strengthened by reading God’s word.
Things haven’t gone as planned. We started with Genesis and just finished Judges. Instead of feeling more grounded in my faith, I feel like it’s all crumbling beneath my feet. My mouth drops constantly as I read about another atrocity committed by his “chosen people” in the name of God. I reread these passages because the bible can’t say what I think it says. But it does. It literally does.
The Isrealites engage in polyamy, rape, incest, slavery, genicide, and many other brutalities, all in the name of the Lord. And we just read over it and say things like, “Oh well, that’s the Old Testament. Then Jesus came and everything changed.” Or, we chalk it up to the culture being different back then.
I’m sorry. But, no. That doesn’t sit well with me. There are too many things that we gloss over.
For example, the mass murder of entire cities to gain access to the Promised Land (Genesis 19, Deuteronomy 20, Joshua 2). It almost sounds like the early colonists from England that claimed the land in the current United States as their own, even though it was already inhabited. What right did the colonists have to slaughter the Native Americans and take their land? About the same rights that the Isrealists had to take the land of so many nations in the name of God.
The population of Jericho was killed, including every animal, except Rahab and her family. What about Moses ordering his people to murder their own people who have turned away from God, by building and worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32)? What about the fiery destruction of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah? I suppose many believe that the city was sinful and God was punishing them. But, how does the “God of Love” sanction these actions? How does He carry out these actions? I have a hard time believing and supporting this.
Almost anything related to women in the bible causes a roaring rage in my stomach. The law that a woman must marry her rapist absolutely disgusts me (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). It’s almost written like the guy is doing her a favor by marrying her because she’s been “defiled.” How about female captives? When the entire population of a city is destroyed, but females are spared, they get to be “married” to some Isrealite soldier. The women’s lives are only spared of course, if they are virgins. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 gives the rules for how the men obtain their new sexual slave. Women have no worth aside from their virginity and beauty in these biblical times.
Honestly, I could go on and on about the shocking things I’ve been reading in the Bible. It seems like every few chapters has some ridiculous law or horrific story that abuses power and harms people.
Another aspect that I’m discovering is that the bible was not spoken to “man” and then written down. Many times the stories were told for generations and then written. Think about how much a story changes when a few people retell it. What about if hundreds of people are telling and retelling the same story for fifty years? How much of the original story remains? How much of the red lettering was actually spoken by Jesus?
Parts of the bible were written by many different people in a span of more than 1400 years. After it was written down it was then copied by hand for years before the printing press was created in 1439. The idea that humans didn’t change things (by mistake or choice) does not seem possible to me. There is evidence that some passages were added to several books at a later time. Mark 16 is one of the most common passages mentioned. How do we know for sure what really happened?
How can I know for sure? How can I know what I’m reading is true? How do I know if it was translated correctly? Many Christians look at each verse as if each and every word is true. Now, I question it all. Who wrote what book and when? Why did they write it? What was the purpose? The context? It all matters. All of those questions matter.
I am no longer reading the bible as my rule book for life. I do not take each word as truth, but a piece of history and culture passed down from a tradition of faith. I’m reading it for inspiration. I’m reading it to understand humanity. I’m reading it to continually challenge myself to question. I no longer see the Bible as my answer book, but as a way to question everything I’ve ever known.
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Sarah Miller is an overly optimistic, conflict-avoidant, newly queer educator and mom of two. She finds joy in writing, sunshine, good salsa, and coffee with too much creamer. She believes everyone has a story that’s worthy of being told.
“This life is mine alone. So I’ve stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been.” -Glennon Doyle