The Bible scares me. Can I be honest about that?
Sometimes when I read devotions with my wife at night, we hit a passage that makes me cringe. It’s an involuntary reaction to years of spiritual violence being done to me with that passage. I’ve chronicled a few of my absolute least favorite passages here.
The Bible scares me because my dad used to use it as a tool to keep my siblings and me in line.
The first ten here are from my dad. I still twitch when somebody reads them in church. Then I get ready to make a run for it.
#1 – Children Obey Your Parents
Certain verses still make me cringe, especially Ephesians 6:1 (hold your mouse over the verse for the verse pop-up). If you’re on mobile, it’s “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” I distinctly remember around the time I was fifteen or so realizing that anything could be a sin against God if my dad gave me instructions otherwise. It was awful. Sin was completely arbitrary and at the whim of my dad. He had the power to make anything a sin if he didn’t like it. Nobody should have that kind of power.
#2 – Foolishness is Bound in The Heart of a Child
I really hate the verse that says “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” Usually it meant that my dad was about to use “the rod of correction” on me. It was a board, not a rod, but I got spanked pretty much every day, sometimes more than once. I heard that verse so often that the only reason I had to look it up now was to get the reference (Proverbs 22:15).
That’s an awful verse, by the way, especially if it’s your primary philosophy of child-rearing. What about innocence? Delight? Joy? Wonder? All of these other things are in the heart of a child, but if you grow up being told that the only thing bound up in your heart is foolishness, that’s going to be hugely damaging. Also, you’ll lose foolishness which, in our world, is very much needed. “The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men” anyway.
#3 – Finally Brothers, Whatever Is…
Another one that I strongly dislike is Philippians 4:8. My dad quoted that one every time I wanted to do something that he didn’t think was profitable – usually read a fictional book. He usually only quoted “Finally, brethren, whatever is true” (emphasis his). My dad only ever wanted me to read two kinds of books:
- the Bible, and
- biographies of great Christians.
He made exceptions for the World Book Encyclopedia and other non-fiction books, but it drove him nuts when I read the entire Hardy Boys Mystery Series. (Seriously. Every one that he had, and every one that the library had.)
#4 – Redeeming the Time, Because the Days are Evil
I also got “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16) quoted at me regularly. Dad always wanted me doing something productive. I never felt safe sitting down when he was around, because there was always something that I’d left undone or that I could be doing. “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
#5 – Go to the Ant, Thou Sluggard
My dad loved Proverbs 6:6-11. Like a lot. He had no tolerance for any sort of laziness. See #6 for a story about not feeling safe when he was around.
#6 – A Wise Son Accepts His Father’s Discipline
My dad used Proverbs 13:1 to cow my siblings and me into listening to him. Dad wanted us to be like he was when he was our age. He was doomed to disappointment, and thank God.
#7 – A Wise Son Makes a Father Glad
Proverbs 15:20 made our wisdom dependent upon our father’s happiness. If he was happy with us, it meant that we were wise. If he wasn’t happy, it was because we weren’t wise. It couldn’t have anything to do with his mood at the time, of course.
#8 – Doers of the Word
He was a big fan of James 1:22 – “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, who delude themselves.” This, of course, got quoted if he felt that his children weren’t doing what he thought God wanted them to do, which was all the time. It frustrated my dad to no end that no matter how much he read us the Bible or made us read the Bible, it could never make us little versions of him (a doer of the word, and not merely a hearer). He wanted to control us with the Bible. I think he thought that if we would only be doers of the word, then we would do everything he told us to without any argument. From teenagers. Why? See #1.
#9 – Be Ye Holy
I Peter 1:16 was the same thing. For us, “Holy” meant “different.” Holy meant that dad could arbitrarily define holiness as whatever he wanted and if we didn’t do it, we were disobeying God. Even worse was
#10 – Be Ye Perfect
Matthew 5:48 allowed my dad to set an absolutely impossible standard. “Be perfect, therefore, as your father in heaven is perfect”? Jesus said to do it, so it must not be impossible.
Some of the verses I dislike aren’t because of my dad.
(Most of the strongest ones are, though). I learned to hate most of the rest of these verses because of pastors – pastors who abused scripture just like my dad did. Some of them were worse, even. A few were from my reading.
#11 – The Proverbs 7 Woman
That’s not a typo. Proverbs 7 describes a woman who lures a man into having sex with her. “Suddenly he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool.” (From memory). It’s like the poor idiot is just tricked by this devious Mrs. Robinson character, like he didn’t have a choice. It’s a case of blame-the-woman. Because she was asking for it by wearing that outfit.
#12 – Ask in Faith, Never Doubting
This came from the faith healing community. My little sister had crohns disease. We were told that James 1:6-7 meant that the reason God wasn’t performing supernatural healing was a lack of faith. Lack of faith anywhere could stop an all-powerful God from performing a miracle. She suffered in the hospital for weeks while we waited for God to perform that miracle. The miracle finally came: My dad gave in and let the doctor perform the surgery that the doctor had been begging to do for weeks. My sister’s crohns been in remission for over ten years now.
#13 – Let God Be True and Every Man a Liar
I heard that in a church my family visited one Sunday and was furious. I always did everything I could to be as honest as I could. Romans 3:4’s “Every man a liar” meant that I was a liar, and I would be damned if I was a liar. (No, literally, Revelation 21:8). For someone like me, who valued truth above all else, that Bible verse was a slap in the face. One of my friends innocently put that verse up recently because he had found comfort in it (I can’t imagine how) and I nearly bit his head off. I apologized when I found out why he had posted it.
#14 – Lust = Adultery
Matthew 5:28 has been misused to hurt men and women, always with the conviction that the person misusing it has the best of intentions. They just want people to obey God (and not commit adultery). It makes men and women alike ashamed of natural, God-given automatic reactions. Jason Staples has a wonderful (if a bit technical) article explaining how this has been misinterpreted.
#15 – The Narrow Gate
Too many times, Matthew 7:13-14 was used to trick uncertain underage Christians into being uncertain that God was going to save them, or “doubt their salvation,” as the expression goes. The road is narrow, and few enter it. Are you sure that you’re going to? I think if I heard a pastor say this today, my commitment to nonviolence would wane.
#16 – Well done, good and faithful servant
If I’ve heard someone say that they hope God will tell them “Well done, good and faithful servant” one, I’ve heard it a hundred times. Matthew 25:23 is the parable of the talents. I hate this verse because it’s been misused to make Christianity about doing. So many people are jerks because they’re hoping that God will reward their meanness that they confuse with faithfulness in part because of this verse.
#17 – Depart from Me into the Eternal Fire
Matthew 25:41 freaks me out. There are arguments that “eternal” is either a mistranslation or a misunderstanding, but I really don’t want to believe in a god who burns his enemies forever. I really want to see this as hyperbole, and I do, but it would be a lot easier if this wasn’t in the Bible.
#18 – Go Ye Into All the World and Make Disciples
I memorized Matthew 28:19-20 in Vacation Bible School when I was twelve. It convinced me that every Christian was supposed to become a pastor or preacher or missionary. It took me a very long time to get over that. I waited for a long, long time for God to call me into ministry (because that was how it worked). The call never came. Or maybe it did when I started blogging, who knows.
#19 – They devoted themselves to the Apostle’s Teaching…
I want this verse to go away. I’ve seen some absolutely psychotic churches that take Acts 2:42 and pretend that they want to follow it precisely. They somehow manage to ignore the next verse about signs and wonders, and the following verse endorsing church-sponsored communism, and the one after that about being together in the temple every day.
Acts 2:42 is not a model for the modern church. It’s just not. Well, maybe it is. But not the way I’ve seen way too many churches pretend to do it.
#20 – Degrading Passions
Romans 1:26-27 is the only one of the anti-gay clobber passages that my research hasn’t totally demolished as being against same-sex… sex. I still don’t think being gay and acting on it is sinful, but that’s because I’ve changed how I read the Bible. I read it through Jesus now. Still, I’d like this one to go away.
#21 – If My People, Who Are Called by my Name
II Chronicles 7:14 doesn’t mean what way too many pastors pretend it means. It has absolutely nothing to do with America. There is no pestilence (except maybe global warming), and verse 13 makes it clear that “heal their land” has nothing to do with stopping abortions.
#22 – Seek Ye First
This came to mean that we must put God first in our lives. God must be first above everything else. I rode an emotional roller coaster about seven years ago because of this verse. I get what Jesus is saying, I do, but I’d still like it to go away.
This is the part where most bloggers would fix it.
This is the part where many evangelical bloggers would say that it doesn’t matter if we like these words or not; they’re God’s word and we have to submit to them. Some would say “Suck it up and deal.” I can’t. Or I won’t. Or both.
I’m not going to say that these verses are fine and dandy just because they happen to be in the Bible. I still don’t like them.
My wife and I now attend a Presbyterian (PCUSA) church in Colorado Springs. Sometimes those verses come up. I still get a little nervous, but our minister always finds a way to preach on those passages in a way that reframes them for me. I’ve come to peace with many of these passages and found ways to read them that are profound and beautiful – and that don’t make me twitchy. But I still get nervous when I walk into an evangelical church anyway, so when any of those verses come up, it’s strike two.
Thank God I haven’t had to walk into many evangelical churches lately.
I know these passages come from sacred scripture. I know that much of the church considers them to be (at the very least) part of God’s word to man. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like them. I think that God is okay with me being upset about how these passages have been misused. I don’t think God would begrudge me disliking some words because they were used to hurt me – even if God inspired those words. I think maybe God is a little heartbroken over that, honestly. I don’t think God will mind if I don’t like some passages that were used to hurt me. And I’m still growing. Maybe one day I will come to see real truth and beauty in some of these passages. Some of them.
What verses would you add to this list?
Have you found any alternative ways of reading some of these passages that make them beautiful?
Peace be with you.