Does the Bible Really Say That?

A friend posted the following picture on their facebook wall:

I commented that it was a beautiful example of a Straw Man argument. Someone then questioned how it was a Straw Man argument. Since I rather like my friend I decided to post my response here on my blog and simply link to it rather than use his facebook wall.

Be forewarned: this is a really long post. 

First let me say on the subject of gay marriage that my personal jury is still out. This may shock many of my friends and family since I am an ordained, and currently serving, Baptist minister.  Yes, I do believe that homosexuality is a sin.  But so is gluttony and when was that last time you heard an overweight preacher address that? The preacher who overeats is caught in a lifestyle of sin just like the practicing homosexual.

Personally I see the issue of homosexual marriage as a problem of definition. What do we mean when we say “Marriage”? The problem, as I see it, is that while we are using the same word, we are not meaning the same thing. This is not limited to same sex marriage but includes any secular marriage compared to a “Biblical” definition.  I’ll post on that another day.

This post is not intended to denigrate anyone, except perhaps people who use fallacious arguments based on spurious information. Enough of that, let’s get to the meme.

I claimed it was a Straw Man Argument: an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.

According to the Bible… marriage must be in the same faith.  Okay I’ll concede that one.  In both the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and New Testament God commands his followers not to marry those outside their faith as doing so would cause them to fall away from worshipping him. The New Testament does add that in the case where one spouse becomes a Christian while the other does not that the two should remain together as long as the unbelieving spouse desires (i.e. the Christian spouse should not divorce their unbelieving partner on religious grounds – Deuteronomy 7:3-4; 2 Corinthians 6:14-15; 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 to list a few).

One of the best examples of someone marrying outside their faith and through this being led astray is that of Solomon.  The wisest man in the world (according to Scripture) created political alliances through marriage which led him to engage in pagan worship (1 Kings 11:1-8). For this (among other offenses) the kingdom was split after his death.

According to the Bible… not only should a woman be subordinate (Ephesians 5:22), but she must prove her virginity lest she be stoned (Deuteronomy 22:20-21).  Both passages are taken out of context here in order to support an argument (classic Straw Man).  Each instance could be a chapter in it’s own right but I don’t have the time and you probably don’t care that much. Suffice it to say that God has some pretty specific ideas regarding purity. We must be careful not to judge past cultures by our standards. Read the entire passage in Deuteronomy. Do some research and discover what the surrounding cultures were like. Judge Hebrew culture, and this passage in relationship to it’s cultural milieu.  Even so, at no time did Christians (New Testament) hold to the Old Testament societal laws of stoning. The message Christ and his Apostles preached was repentance leading to forgiveness.

Let’s address the Ephesians 5 bit.  First, Verse 21 is an introduction to verses 22-33, not a conclusion to the previous arc (again a post in itself for another time). It starts by saying “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Submit means to accept or yield to the authority or will of another.  Both spouses ought not to think only or even first of themselves, but to yield to the other.  How ought this look in the culture of 1st century Rome? Read the entirety of Ephesians 5:21-33.  Wives were to submit (yield to the authority of their husbands), not subordinate (have lesser rank, position, or importance). And how were husbands to behave?  They were to sacrifice themselves for their wives. Put her thought, will, desire, needs, etc. before his own. Notice also there are nine verses addressing the husbands responsibility and only four addressing the wife’s.

According to the Bible… marriages should be arranged. Um, nowhere in scripture does it say marriages should be arranged. In the Hebrew Scriptures it describes how marriages were arranged, but does not say that ought to be the norm.  When reading any religious text it is imperative that we distinguish between the descriptive and prescriptive.  Prescriptive is when the text is telling us we ought to or must do thus and such.  Descriptive is when a text simply informs us of something that transpired.  Much religious confusion (regardless of religion) is a result of people failing to make this distinction.

According to the Bible… if a woman’s husband dies without having had a son she must marry his brother and have intercourse with him until they have a son (Mark 12:18-27). Three issues: One the passage cited in Mark is not prescriptive (see above) but descriptive (and that of a hypothetical situation on top of it all). Jesus was actually being challenged on the existence of an after life… Any decent study Bible could have immediately told whoever put this meme together that the religious guys were referring to Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Reading the entire passage reveals this was a command for the men, not the women which leads to the second issue: as mentioned above we must be careful to judge a text in relationship to it’s own cultural milieu. This command was given in order to provide for widows, not to subordinate them.  Issue three: The Christian church developed a different method of caring for widows and didn’t rely on the Hebrew societal law (which highlights the misleading nature of this meme in general and this point in particular).

According to the Bible… many of the “men of God” were not only married but had at least one concubine. Again the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. Please make sure you understand the difference. One of the unique features of both Old and New Testaments is that it doesn’t sugar coat it’s heros.  David is revealed to be a murderer and adulterer.  Simon Peter denies Christ three times during his time of greatest need.  The amazing thing about the Bible is not the awesomeness of the heroes, but their brokenness.  In fact the hero of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is not a human at all: It’s God who redeems imperfect, broken people.

According to the Bible… God frequently blessed polygamists (Esau, Jacob, Gideon, David, Solomon, Belshazzarr) Oh, I love this one.  Again, descriptive vs. prescriptive.  Again with the judging out of context.  What I really like is the misinformation.  God did not bless Esau.  Belshazzarr (misspelled) was a Babylonian prince who was cursed by God for profaning the utensils Nebuchadnezzar had plundered from the Temple in Jerusalem (Daniel 5). As for the others, yea they were messed up.  Again, the hero of the story is God who redeems and works through foolish, stupid, broken people.

So forgive me if I’m not interested in your “Traditional Family Values”. Wait a minute, I’m confused. Since when did we start talking about traditional family values?  For that matter, what tradition are we objecting to? Okay, technically no argument is being made so perhaps it’s a not a Straw Man. It’s simply a bald faced misrepresentation of two different (yet related) belief systems followed by a rejections of a position which may or may not have any relation to the afore mentioned belief systems.  Traditional Family Values have little to do with Biblical Family Values (this is another error committed by folk on different sides of the fence). That’s another lesson from the New Testament. We’re broken and we need God to fix us … and our families.

Look, I’m always open to honest discussion. What chaps my hide is misrepresentation (okay, one of the things). I will never make an argument for a social position in the secular world based upon scripture. That is likewise a logical fallacy because not everyone agrees to the authority of the scripture being cited. But please don’t twist and misrepresent the scriptures I ascribe to in order to make your point.  It will convince me no more than my beating you upside the head with a forty pound King James would convince you.

3 thoughts on “Does the Bible Really Say That?

  1. There is a huge disconnect between what your beliefs are about Christianity and what an overwhelming majority of those members of the Christian Right, which, regardless of what you may wish, are in the driver’s seat of the movement. For instance, I find it hard to believe that most right wing thinkers would agree that you need to take God’s law ‘in context of culture’. God’s word is timeless and immutable, at least that is what I was taught. If cultural standards shifted so that killing someone for his KitKat Bar was total justifiable by that culture, it seems a bit ridiculous that someone who killed for a KitKat Bar 300 years previously should be doing time in hell. Also, most Christians use Descriptive portions of text from the Bible all the time to support their beliefs, most notably where it concerns abortion.

    Almost all Right-Wing Christians will point to Leviticus where it concerns homosexuality and they will not put it ‘in context of culture.’ It says so in the bible. That string of words are in the bible. My pastor said so. That’s good enough for me. THAT is the reality. What the meme is pointing out is that if you are going to point to a religious law from an ancient time period and demand that we apply that to the modern secular U.S., why would you reject the other laws and standards from that time period? It is cherry-picking the bible to suit your own agenda.

    Another thing that the meme is making fun of is that a common talking point used all the time by religious right politicians and celebrities is that the reason why they oppose same sex marriage is that they believe that marriage is ‘biblically defined as between a man and woman’. But if you go to the bible for a definition of marriage, it really doesn’t give one. Not one that really resembles the one of modern standards. The information presented in the meme is a sampling of what you will find.

    In a specific point, you make the point that the bible is just ‘reporting’ that men kept concubines. I assume the reason for this is that you want to state that it doesn’t condone it. I would also like to point out that neither does it condemn it.

    I think it is reasonable for you to think that this meme is a misrepresentation of YOUR arguments. However, I think the meme is not misrepresenting the arguments of the political movement with which you may or may not be aligned.

  2. It seems there’s a lot more going on under the surface here. If there’s been some serious burn in the past, I’m truly sorry.

    Sin is sin whether it’s 3,000 years ago or today. The difference is not in what God finds acceptabel but in how we respond to it. Under the New Covenant, followers of God through is Son, Jesus Christ are to respond as He did: by gently showing the way and sacrificing ourselves if necessary.

    I’m not a fan of anyone misapplying scripture to their own ends. It is true that many who claim the title of Christian do not live according His teaching, but live as if they were part of the Old Covenant living under the theocracy of the Mosaic Law. It is not the way a follower of Christ ought to be.

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