Isn't the Bible Offensive?

The Bible is full of stories about immoral people who do offensive things, but its central message is found in how God saves and restores those people.

Questions for Discussion and Personal Reflection

  1. What do you think of the idea that the Bible is actually demonstrating why these offensive things are wrong?
  2. Do you find any encouragement that the Bible is full of people who mistakes—both big and small?

So, there's a lot of polygamy in the Bible, um, that's really distasteful, and God doesn't ever seem to say something about it. Um, even some of the great saints like Abraham and others had multiple wives, and God never seems to call them out for it. Robert Alter, who's a, a Jewish scholar, points out that what you need to do is instead of looking for times where God calls out this bad behavior, what you need to look for instead is the way the narrative itself subverts this behavior, that every time polygamy happens, increasingly destructive things occur. Um, and terrible things happen, and women get abused, and, and families are broken apart. And so what Robert Alter says is that the text itself subverts the things that are distasteful about the text, that the story itself is showing what is wrong with these things that human beings were doing to each other. So I think that's one thing that we need to keep in mind is that ancient literature did things a little differently than we would do them today. I think that one of the most encouraging things about the Bible is the fact that there are so many offensive things in it, which is sort of funny to say, but what I mean by that is this: look, the Bible is not full— is not a story full of moral heroes. I think a lot of times people go to the Bible thinking, "Oh, this is a book about good holy people teaching me how to be good." But in reality when you get to the Bible, you find a bunch of numb-skulls and a bunch of jerks who were doing things that are offensive, and, and I think our first reaction is to say, "What is this? This is a holy book?" I think we have to remember though that, that the Bible is not a story about good people teaching us how to be good. The story— the Bible is a story about God essentially saving bad people, saving broken people, saving people from themselves in many ways. And so it's sort of funny because I used to be really offended by that stuff but then I started thinking, "Oh my gosh. These people are just like me. Like, I am a jerk, and I do stupid things, and I need to be saved from myself." And so when I look at the Bible and I see people betraying each other and I see people, you know, sinning and I see people doing offensive things, I think, "Okay, maybe this is a God who can deal with people like me, too," because the Bible is accessible. The Bible is showing me real human beings. Um, and the Bible's ultimately pointing not to humans teaching us how to be good but about what God has done to save people by his grace who otherwise could never be saved. And so I think that's one way to think about, um, all the offensive things that we see in the Bible, is that they aren't necessarily being advocated. They're not being taught. They're not being sanctioned. If anything, God is demonstrating that these are things that we need to be saved from. These are human beings who are just like us in need of grace.