I think it was back in 2009 that the Ship of Fools website reported on its poll to find the ‘worst’ (that is to say, the most unpopular) verses of the Bible.
For a supposedly satirical website, the SoF had a surprisingly po faced aim. They wanted, apparently, to rescue the Bible both from its enemies, who think that it’s a complete pile of rubbish, and some of its friends, who suppose that it’s a ‘textbook of infallible information and unbreakable laws’. The Bible, they claim, can still be ‘God’s book’ without us having to rush to either of these extremes.
And the top ten worst Bible passages? Here we go:-
- “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:12)
- “This is what the Lord Almighty says… ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'” (1 Samuel 15:3)
- “Do not allow a sorceress to live.” (Exodus 22:18)
- “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:9)
- “So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.” (Judges 19:25)
- “In the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:27)
- “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.'” (Judges 11:30-1)
- “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” (Genesis 22:2)
- “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)
- “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.” (1 Peter 2:18)
OK, so there are some deeply unsettling passages here. But do we, as Christians, just shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, what do you expect in an ancient book like the Bible? Obviously, it contains some things that we can accept as ‘the word of God’ and other things that common sense and modern enlightenment show us to be unacceptable. Welcome the good, reject the bad.”
But to take such an attitude neglects a number of vital things:-
Firstly, the bits of the Bible many of us seem to find so offensive don’t seem to have bothered Christ.
Secondly, some of the really ‘offensive’ stuff came from the lips of Christ himself. Hellfire, for example. But maybe our sensible, middle-of the-road Christians are too polite to nominate of any Jesus’ teaching as belonging among thew ‘worst verses of the Bible.’ Or maybe they do a side-shuffle, and say, “Well we don’t like it, so probably the real Jesus didn’t say such things at all. Blame it on Paul, or someone like that.”
Thirdly, do those who nominate these verses ever think? Do they ever try to read a Bible passage in context? I’m not going to claim that all ten passage can be dealt with easily, but at least two can be eliminated from the ‘hateful’ list after just one moment’s thought. These are Judges 11:30-1, and Judges 19:25. In both cases, the error committed by those who complain about them is to assume that the Bible approves of everything it records. If you can’t see just how horrified the author of these passages was, and how they exemplify his theme of ‘everyone did right in his own eyes’, then you must be sitting in a darkened room, wearing a blindfold, with your eyes closed.
Fourthly, we balk at Bible teaching that says that the God of heaven and earth has the right to judge, both in this life and at the end of the age, then we are missing a vital element in God’s self-revelation. It is indeed ‘a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ I, for one, am not prepared to cut and trim the word of God so that I end up believing the bits that I like, and rejecting all the rest. The bits that I like are easy to deal with; it’s the difficult bits that challenge me to better thinking and better obedience.
For the rest, I’m not going to claim that there are easy answers. But I have linked the reference above to my Bible Study Notes, where I have tried to engage with some of these troublesome passages in a thoughtful way.