Golden Calf or Light Unto the Path?

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“We believe in a traditionally Christian sexual ethic: that God created human beings male and female, and that any sexual intimacy outside of a faithful, lifelong marital union of a man and woman is contrary to His plan.”

It is not important which one of the many tens of thousands of anti-LGBTQ equality websites the statement comes from. What is of utmost importance is that if you asked almost anyone on board this site: “But what about all of the men taking multiple wives in the Old Testament?” The sharpest among them would undoubtedly answer something like this: “They got that wrong… that was not God’s design.”

Yet if you asked the same men (they are almost always, exclusively men, with a few exceptions) about Deuteronomy 20’s commands for warfare: taking women and children as “booty along with livestock, and everything else in the town as spoil” or about the orderly instructions for selling your daughter as a slave in Exodus? The same men will respond: “Well, God works in mysterious ways. Who am I to question the inerrant, infallible word of God?”

If you call them on the double standard…. “Oh no! It’s not. See, God is never explicitly purported to instruct or condone multiple wives throughout the biblical texts. But some of these other things that offend our modern sensibilities are attributed directly to the mouth of God.” With a distinction between narrative and didactic texts (especially those attributed to the mouth of God) they have a loophole.

It is well passed time to call this kind of biblical interpretation into serious question. Such arguments from silence are best treated as a fallacy in serious biblical studies. A long view of scripture reveals that the Patriarch Abraham – the Patriarch of Patriarchs – twice passed his wife off as his sister to be married to another man. He also took his wife’s slave as his own wife and had a son with her. And yet he is the only man the called “a friend of God” throughout the Old and New Testament Scriptures. David had eight wives, a few concubines and possibly a lover in Jonathan (I’ll let you re-read 1 Samuel 18; 1 Samuel 20; 2 Samuel 1 and judge for yourself). What does David get for having multiple lovers? He get gets the honorary title of being a “man after God’s own heart.” Solomon purportedly had 700 wives and 300 concubines. And while the tradition does attribute his downfall to his love for foreign women and chasing after foreign gods, it also attributes the definitive book of love and romance to him: Song of Songs/Solomon. And in I Kings, Solomon gets this outstanding endorsement from God, “I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.”

Are the majority of Christians – conservative or progressive – prepared to say that God endorses polygamy? No. The history books of I and II Kings, like other books in our sacred canon – a library of various genres including the poetry of Psalms, Wisdom of Job, the prophetic voice of Amos and much more – they were are all written by errant, fallible human beings. That is why we find – and should expect to find – multiple historical, philosophical and moral discrepancies. Did Judas die by hanging himself or by taking a headlong dive and bursting wide open? Was Ahaziah 22 or 42 when he began his reign? How many pairs of clean animals did God tell Noah to take into the Ark, 2 or 7? How many women were at the empty tomb? Is good and evil rewarded in this life tit for tat like Proverbs teaches? Or is life more like Job, full of inexplicable suffering for people who don’t deserve it?

And why did the deuteronomic historian have God giving such godawful, terrible instructions for the complete annihilation of Israel’s enemies? More terrifying still, the book of Joshua seems to confirm that such things came to pass. Yet, the Old Testament witness is full of instructions to take care of the resident aliens in the land. These passages assume that complete annihilation of the various Canaanite people groups did not happen. Moreover, they command a much different kind of treatment of those who inhabited the land before the Israelites took it captive than Deuteronomy 20 does.

People get themselves into serious trouble when they start to worship the instruments of religion, indispensable as they may be: the elements used in sacred ceremonies or rights, the communal/religious identity of a people and of course the sacred text(s) that point us to our God. The goal is supposed to be worship/adoration/gratefulness towards the Divine reality these things point to. With standard edition leather covers and gilded pages of gold, has the Bible become our golden calf? Taken as a whole, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are indeed the Word of God, and do contain all things necessary to salvation! They can serve as a brilliant light unto our path! But to treat the Bible as the words of God is drastically reductionist and disrespectful to the human authors and to God (among a host of other problems). Perhaps it is time that we Christians stop making an idol of our Bibles and start using it as a guide to direct our worship toward the Triune God revealed therein.

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4 thoughts on “Golden Calf or Light Unto the Path?

  1. My, you look at the Scriptures in such a conservative Reformed way (i.e., consistent with what the Standards tell us)! 😉 And, as wise scholars have pointed out, a conservative reading of the Reformed Standards leads to socially liberal positions.

    I am prepared to concede that LGBTQ lifestyles might be inconsistent with God’s plan for Creation. On the other hand, heterosexual lifestyles as we understand and endorse them might be inconsistent with God’s plan for Creation. I don’t know the mind of God.

    One little bit of the mind of God I do know, because God works so hard to make it clear through the fallible if inerrant Scriptures, is that God calls us to love everybody. Loving is what God does with all of those people mentioned in the Bible who, one way or another, must have been getting God’s plan for Creation wrong. Loving is what God does with those people who quite probably put words into God’s mouth to justify heinous acts or thoughts. Loving is what God does with us in our mess. If we keep loving one another, no matter what, and God keeps loving us, all the rest will get sorted out.

  2. James! A conservative reformed approach to the Scriptures and a socially liberal outlook on the world… I feel like that is all I have ever wanted people to understand about me, beyond the matter that my great hope is belonging body and soul, in life and in death to Christ; that I love my wife and Kids; and that I am smitten with the art of words. That’s pretty much it. That’s me (+ a handful of obvious flaws and shortcomings).

    Thanks for not only “getting it” but seeing how this approach to Scripture and to the world fits harmoniously together.

    Now if only I could find a church that would see this, appreciate it (rather than see it as a defect). 🙂

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