And More on the Topic of Biblical Scholars

Dear Reader,

[This relates to my previous post on knowing the Bible. Read it here.]

Here is another article from the Boston Globe: Sex and the Scriptures. This is the sort of thing one doesn’t even know where to start with. If you were ever tempted to be impressed with someone because of their degrees and seeming knowledge of the Bible, don’t start here! Obviously, Mr. Coogan does not take the Bible as we (evangelical or reformed Christians) would. He sees it as an evolving document not to be taken literally. Now, I would agree with him that the Bible was not written all at once. It had many human authors who contributed to it over millenia. However, I do believe that the whole thing is “God-breathed.” However many people were involved in its writing, God worked through all of them. And as it stands now we are to take it as God’s Word, the only infallible rule for faith and life as they say. So Mr. Coogan and I approach the text in very different ways.

Mr. Coogan says in his answer to the first question, “[The] Ten Commandments themselves contain values we no longer accept. They presume the existence of slavery — and if God is the author of the Ten Commandments, then God approves of slavery.” The only way the 10 Commandments refer to slavery is in the command not to covet another’s slave. This does acknowledge the existence of slavery. That does not mean it condones slavery, especially slavery as it was practiced in the American south. There are commands about slavery later in Exodus. The picture they give is very different from the kind of slavery we tend to think of based on what happened in our own country.

In response to the second question, on sex in the 10 commandments, Coogan replies, ” All they say is thou shalt not commit adultery….It doesn’t say anything about prostitution, premarital sex, birth control, abortion.” Well, nobody ever said the 10 commandments did address these issues. The 10 commandments may be one summary of the law of God but they are not the whole thing. Their silence on these issues means nothing.

Coogan goes on to say that many biblical heroes sinned. He cites in particular David’s sin with Bathsheba. He does not mention that this sin was condemned by God in the Bible and that David also acknowledged his sin and repented of it. The Bible does not hold up even its “heroes” as examples to be followed unequivocally. If anything, the Bible is constantly acknowledging the faults of its protagonists.

Coogan is right that the issue of polygamy is harder to discern in the Bible. It does not always seem to be condemned in the early narratives particularly. Though it does seem that the problems that arise in a family with more than one wife are played out quite clearly from early days.

Again, Coogan is right that the Bible does not directly address abortion. It does, however, say children are a blessing (and I don’t think this is just as workers in an agrarian society as Coogan implies). It also talks of God’s forming us in the womb.

On the issue of homosexuality, Coogan is dismissive of the commands against it in Leviticus. His argument that mixing two men in homosexuality is akin to mixing two kinds of cloth in a garment (also forbidden) is funny to me. Wouldn’t the two men thing actually be mixing two of the same, not two different items? And if God is so concerned that men not be feminized, doesn’t this again speak of His design for men and women and argue against homosexuality? Neither does Coogan address homosexuality’s condemnation in the New Testament.

Coogan is not the first to compare the Bible to the Constitution. I have heard that Constitutional law is a lot like biblical interpretation in that they both seek to interpret a fixed text, and often to get at the intent of the original authors (though that depends on your view of how the document should be interpreted). But they are not the same. The Bible is inspired, the Constitution is not. The latter can be amended. The former cannot.

Lastly, Coogan says that we are all selective in what parts of the Bible we accept. I do not think he is completely wrong here. But he is dismissive of this as though Christians had no good reason for not obeying the levitical law. On the contrary, there are reasons behind which parts we no longer follow. The civil law was for the nation of Israel which no longer exists as God’s chosen nation. The sacrificial law was for a time before Jesus came. It has been fulfilled and therefore made obsolete by Him. The moral law is still in effect.

I hope for Mr. Coogan’s sake that the Globe took a lot of his comments out of context. I am shocked not so much that he disagrees with my positions or that he has a different basis from which to interpret Scripture (viewing it not as God’s Word but as an imperfect human document). I am used to these things. What shocks me is that he seems to have so little understanding or recognition of what those who do view the Bible as authoritative actually believe.



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