On the Weird Stuff in Scripture

When you read the Bible you really do find a great deal of really, really weird stuff. Interestingly, I find weird stuff in almost everything I read whether fiction or non-fiction. For instance, the Pythagorean Theorem is super weird. It is a proven and easily provable theorem, I came up with a proof for it in high school (that’s not impressive, it had been used before) and came up with several others as a math teacher (again, upon searching all had been previously discovered). Nevertheless, it is weird. You wouldn’t intuit it by looking at a right triangle, yet it works. When I’m reading about other cultures, I regularly learn incredibly weird things. Reading about ancient history is a good way to find weird stuff. Reading in the sciences, several weird things appear. In many ways, nature is precisely counter intuitive. So, if there is a God and this God created nature and left us revelation of the path to true felicity, one might expect to find, in that revelation, a bit of weirdness. This is especially to be expected if this revelation was made to ancient peoples who possessed a mythological worldview and entertained several superstitions about the way(s) of divinity. Not only so, but the culture of the Biblical world is just different from ours, as are their idioms, expressions, and social habits. That being said, a great deal of Christians hear things like, “the Bible is a perfect revelation from God” and thus read the Bible expecting to find something that confirms their own bizarre notions of perfection. I would submit that the Bible is precisely inspired to have certain difficulties, to make a perfect system of theology impossible, and to require tremendous humility to understand because its purpose is ultimately to guide communities of people who dedicate their lives to God’s kingdom revealed in Jesus Christ. Indeed, prior to the time of Christ, the purpose of the Old Testament was, once again, meant to provide light to communities of people who dedicated themselves to YHWH, not to be immediately understandable and easily resolvable in its difficulties (Proverbs 1:1-7).

 

Joseph Butler on the Weird Stuff in Scripture

Hence, namely from analogical reasoning, Origen has with singular sagacity observed, that he who believes the scripture to have proceeded from him who is the Author of nature, may well expect to find the same sort of difficulties in it, as are found in the constitution of nature1. And in a like way of reflection it may be added, that he who denies the scripture to have been from God upon account of these difficulties, may, for the very same reason, deny the world to have been formed by him. On the other hand, if there be an analogy or likeness between that system of things and dispensation of Providence, which revelation informs us of, and that system of things and dispensation of Providence, which experience together with reason informs us of, i. e. the known course of nature; this is a presumption, that they have both the same author and cause; at least so far as to answer objections against the former’s being from God, drawn from any thing which is analogical or similar to what is in the latter, which is acknowledged to be from him; for an Author of nature is here supposed.

Joseph Butler, The Analogy of Religion: Natural and Revealed to the Constitution and Course of Nature, ed. W. E. Gladstone, vol. Vol. I, The Works of Joseph Butler (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1897), 8–9.

Similarly, Leonard Euler addresses this very issue in the context of polemics against freethinkers:

XXXIX. As for the arguments formed by these adversaries and the apparent contradictions they claim are in the Holy Scripture, it would not be useless to begin by remarking that there is no science, no matter how solid its foundation, against which one cannot make objections just as strong or even stronger. There are also apparent contradictions which, at first glance, seem impossible to resolve. But since we are in a position to return to the primary principles of these sciences, this provides the means by which to destroy these arguments. However, when they are not seen through to the end, these sciences lose nothing of their certainty. Why would such similar reasons be enough to remove all authority from the Holy Scripture?

XL. Mathematics is regarded as a science in which nothing is assumed that cannot be derived in the most distinct way from the primary principles of our knowledge. Nevertheless, there have been people far above average who have believed to have found great problems in mathematics, whose solutions are impossible; by this they imagined themselves to have deprived this science of all its certainty. Indeed, this reasoning that they propose is so deceptively attractive that much effort and insight is required to refute them precisely. However, mathematics is not lessened in the eyes of sensible people, even when it does not clear up these problems entirely. So then what right do freethinkers unwaveringly think they have to reject the Holy Scripture because of a few nuisances which mostly are not nearly as considerable as the ones in mathematics?

XLI. In mathematics, one also encounters rigorously demonstrated propositions that, when not examined with the highest degree of attention, seem to contradict one another. I could produce several examples here if their complexity did not require a deeper knowledge of mathematics than I suppose most readers to have. But I can at least say with assurance that these apparent contradictions are much more significant than those that are supposedly found in the Holy Scripture. Despite this, no one suggests dismissing the certainty of mathematics. This doubt does not even exist in those who do not have the capacity required to refute these contradictions and to demonstrate that they do not hold.

Euler, A Defense of the Revelation Against the Objections of Freethinkers.

Soame Jenyns on the Rationale of Difficult Revelation

MY second Proposition is not so simple, but, I think, not less undeniable than the former, and is this, that from this book may be extracted a system of religion intirely new, both with regard to the object and the doctrines, not only infinitely superior to, but totally unlike, every thing which had ever before entered into the mind of man; I say extracted, because all the doctrines of this religion having been delivered at various times, and on various occasions, and here only historically recorded, no uniform or regular system oftheology is here to be found; and better perhaps it had been, if less labour had been employed by the learned, to bend and twist these divine materials into the polished forms of human systems, to which they never will submit, and for which they were never intended by their great author. Why he chose not to leave any such behind him we know not, but it might possibly be, because he knew, that the imperfection of man was incapable of receiving such a system, and that we are more properly and more safely conducted by the distant and scattered rays, than by the too powerful sunshine of Divine illumination; “If I have told you earthly things,” says he, “and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?”1 that is, if my instructions, concerning your behaviour in the present, as relative to a future life, are so difficult to be understood, that you can scarcely believe me, how than you believe, if I endeavoured to explain to you the nature of celestial beings, the designs of Providence, and the mysteries of his dispensations; subjects which you have neither ideas to comprehend, nor language to express? Jenyns, A View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion.

 

Conclusion

Of course the Bible has weird stuff it is authored by human beings and it is allegedly inspired by the God who made the whole weird cosmos. Every religious, historical, fictional, scientific, and mathematical masterpiece has weird stuff in it because nature is weird, people are weird, and apparently God is weird.

 


 

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