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How (Not) To Read The Bible (Summary and Highlights)

By Nick Brzozowski

I love this book because it is so bold! Dan Kimball does a pretty decent job of tackling all the “crazing-sounding” stuff in the Scriptures (and there is a lot of it!).


Throughout history, people have become Christians through reading the Bible. But, recently, more and more people read all the cringy stuff and become Atheists. So, the question the book is seeking to answer is: “Is reading the Bible the fastest way to lose your faith?”


Here’s a few examples of the cringe:
  • Unicorns…

  • David presenting 200 foreskins…

  • Women commanded to be silent…

  • Don’t touch a dead pig (aka, no football)…

  • Slaves, obey your masters…

  • Dashing infants' heads…


In the first few chapters, Kimball offers four facts of how to and how not to read the Bible, which he later refers back to with specific instances.

  1. The Bible is a library, not a book. That means that you’ve got to pay attention to the purpose and genre of the particular book you get that verse from in order to apply it for today. It’s also critical to have an idea of what the Old Testament is during verses in the New Testament.

  2. The Bible was written for us, not to us. Don’t forget about the significance of historical context and the impact of culture. A lot of mistakes are made when we ignore the situation in which the verse finds itself.

  3. Never read a Bible verse. This is sort of a general way of saying what he already said: “read every verse in context.” Here, he is especially talking about what we call literary context.

  4. All the Bible points to Jesus. This is the most prominent theme in the Bible, so pay attention to that.

For the remainder of this article, I am going to highlight what I thought to be the most helpful insights Kimball shares into five very confusing themes in the Bible.


Outdated Old Testament Laws?


Chapter 4 starts by describing an episode from a popular TV show where the president criticizes the Bible to a Christian radio host. “The scene ends with a clear message: the Bible is foolish, primitive, and disturbing. And anyone who believes it is a fool or a hypocrite…Perhaps the Bible is crazy, outdated, and barbaric, and anyone who takes it seriously probably is crazy too” (63).


He, then, compares the Old Testament Laws to seemingly strange and pointless US laws. For instance, in Arizona, it was illegal for a donkey to sleep in a bathtub. Or in Kentucky, it was illegal to carry ice cream in your pocket. But, there was a purpose to those laws. The ice cream law was created to prevent people from stealing horses by luring them with ice cream. In the same way, knowing the context of the Hebrew laws clarifies quite a bit (67-68).


Using this logic, he lists off potential reasoning behind strange laws:

  • Why couldn’t they make clothes from two fabrics (Leviticus 19:19)? One reason could be that since the priest was given an elaborate uniform with multiple fabrics, others weren’t allowed to. It might be similar to a prohibition against wearing a police uniform if you are not a cop (72-73).

  • Why was there a law against cooking goats in goat milk (Exodus 23:19)? That was a ritual related to Canaanite religious practice. So, Israel might have been prohibited in order to distinguish them from Canaan and to keep them from worshiping other gods. There could also be a symbolic message about life and death reflected on as well (74-75).

  • Why couldn’t they touch a dead pig (Leviticus 11:7)? And does that restrict us from playing football today? Again, this could be a standard meant to give Israel a unique identity, separate from the other nations (76).

  • Are tattoos not allowed (Leviticus 19:28)? We do have evidence that tattoos were used in those times in the practice of worshiping other gods (78-79).

Pro-Slavery?


Slavery finds its way in the Old and New Testaments. Since we know that slavery is an inherent evil, why do we find verses like these in the Bible?

“Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling…” (Ephesians 6:5).
“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do” (Exodus 21:7).

With regard to the problem of slavery in the Bible, Kimball has five insights.

  1. God never created the institution of slavery. Humans did. And, the Bible does explicitly condemn slave trading (1 Timothy 1:10).

  2. Ancient slavery was not the same as slavery in our culture. In ancient culture, slavery was less severe (commonly called “servants”), was a way to escape poverty or deal with debt, was very common (30% of the population in the first century were slaves), and was not based on race.

  3. The Bible brought positive changes to slavery and even the seeds of movement away from it (Leviticus 25:43).

  4. If Jesus would have condemned slavery more directly, that may have caused the economy to collapse. Instead, it seems as though God intentionally weakened the institution of slavery enough to abolish it over time.

  5. The Bible was ultimately used to abolish it through two dominant principles. First, all people are made in the image of God. Second, all Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ.

Anti-Women


Is the Bible a misogynistic document? Here are a few cringy texts that relate to women:

“The women should keep silent…” (1 Corinthians 14:34).
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church…” (Ephesians 5:22-23).
“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12).
“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives” (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

First, Kimball challenges us to consider all the ways the Scriptures promote and elevate and honor women. Women, just like men, are created in the image of God. Several women are given remarkably significant leadership roles throughout the Old and New Testaments. And both Jesus and Paul’s ministries are filled with prominent women and messages of honor to women. It is also significant to note how counter-cultural this all is in light of the patriarchal world that makes up the context of the writings.


Second, Kimball admits that there is heavy debate on how to understand women’s roles within the church and home. However, it would be difficult to find any serious theologian today who believes that women should be “kept silent,” without condition. Some argue that the text limits a woman’s leadership in the church or is condemning a specific instance of disruption. But, Paul is clear that women are to have an active role in the church service (see 1 Corinthians 11).


The final point I’d like to draw attention to is how Kimball explains the Deuteronomy 22 text above. As modern readers, we are understandably disgusted at the thought that a woman is supposed to marry her rapist. But, if we consider a cultural context in which women have nearly zero rights and protections, this law is moving things in the right direction. It is designed for a world in which women were dependent on their husbands to make a living. It was a world in which men would refuse to marry women who were not virgins, regardless of the reason.

However appalling this text sounds to us today, it was placed there to protect women. And the very fact that we find it so despicable may actually demonstrate how the Bible has worked overtime to move our moral sentiments closer to God’s will. In other words, the fact that the law is now “outdated” shows that it really did its job — that God’s people really did follow the logical stream beneath the law.


Anti-Science


Here are just a few things I appreciated from his section on science.


Remember that Scripture was not meant to be a science book. Galileo said, “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” It was written to a pre-Scientific Revolution audience in the language they could understand.


But, was there really a talking snake, like in the Jungle Book? Kimball says that it wasn’t quite a snake, but an angel in the form of a snake.


And about the question of seven literal days of creation, Kimball presents lots of different options—his point being that you can accept the truth of the Bible and scientific evidence for an old earth.


Pro-Violence


Someone once spliced a series of partial clips from Mary Poppins to make it feel like a horror movie, Scary Mary. In the same way, we can get the wrong impression of the character of God, if we focus exclusively on the violent texts without considering the big picture (271-272). Yes, God gets angry. But, he is not anger. He is slow to anger. On the other hand, he is love.


Nonetheless, it is very difficult to make sense of God commanding Israel to wipe out the nations inhabiting the Promised Land:

“You must destroy all the peoples the Lord your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you” (Deuteronomy 7:16)
“They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys” (Joshua 6:21).

Here are some insights Kimball offers for these texts of terror:

  1. These violent verses are basically reserved for a specific time in history, not spread throughout the Biblical story.

  2. These killings were based on the occupation of land more than ethnicity.

  3. The people of the land were extremely wicked (ex: child sacrifice) and God did not want them to influence Israel.

  4. God had warned the people for hundreds of years before bringing judgment.

  5. This wasn’t a mass killing; it was a limited strategic strike with a lot of rhetoric. Kimball even offers several examples that demonstrate the exaggeration God is showing. Basically, “kill everyone” was hyperbole. God didn’t actually mean for everyone to be killed.

He ends with what might be the most shocking verse of the entire Bible:


“Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Psalm 137:9).

This was a poem written by an Israelite who had been exiled from Babylon.


“When the Babylonians finally entered the city, they killed many of the people by the sword, spear, or arrow, and a lot of gruesome deaths occurred. In battle, it was common with infants to throw them to their death as they were so small and fragile” (287).

This Psalm was not God’s words for how we are supposed to think. Rather, they were the cries of a grieving songwriter. Instead of being a message about violence, this poem shows us that we are allowed to bring our unvarnished, unfiltered brokenness, pain, and devastation before God.

 

I know that this article (and Kimball’s book) does not fully resolve all the conflicts with all the troubling passages presented. But, I think it is a good start. What do you think? Where do you think Kimball is off? What other crazy-sounding parts weren’t mentioned here?


If you'd like to dig into these types of topics more, why not join an Anchor Group? Check out more information here.

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