Interpretation of biblical atrocities?

I was looking through some of the most used Bible verses that are used when debating against Christianity and there are a couple that are a bit hard to swallow. I have looked at some of these in my own Bible just to make sure that these are lining up and so far they have as to some of the objections mentioned in the link I posted below.

Am I missing some context here with the verses presented, is there any common misconceptions with these verses?

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First of all, I’m glad you are asking these questions! They reveal a truthful and conscientious person.

Well, there are a lot of really hard verses in the Bible. I agree!

I like Greg Boyd’s “Cross Vision,” in which he gives a relatively plausible explanation about the OT view (that it was an immature view of God, better shown in Christ); and also Randal Rauser’s “Jesus Loves Canaanites,” and “Conversations With My Inner Atheist,” where he lets his inner atheist ask hard questions.

While some of the verses mentioned here are terrible, many are out of context–good for you in that question, as well. The OT does an interesting job of recording some awful things without pronouncing judgment on them. So, sleeping with your dad or brother are not approved of in the Bible. The key is that the context does not show God approving of or ordering these things. The scene of the women who ate the child was an example of how terrible things had become–and recorded it. To lose one’s children was considered the greatest misfortune to happen to anyone. That’s one of the reasons, I think, that God was portrayed as destroying children for the father’s sake (which Ezekiel expressly condemns, by the way)–because that’s the worst way to harm someone in that culture.

Praying in private was Jesus’ way, as I understand it, of trying to make us real in talking to God–in contrast to those who got secondary gain as some of the temple rulers (sort of like televangelists, I think). It’s ok to pray in the open–but Jesus was using hyperbole, as He does often.

I think that you would like these books. Boyd is well known, and trained under Bruce Metzger, and knew Bart Ehmann in the same school at Princeton. He’s got good reasoning for his proposal, though I have trouble accepting all of it (likely because I don’t have a doctorate from Princeton) Cross Vision - How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence - Greg Boyd - ReKnew
Jesus Loves Canaanites - Randal Rauser
Conversations with My Inner Atheist - Randal Rauser

Keep it up! I would not want my Christlike sense of outrage at violence and what is wrong to be dampened by how I read the Bible.


5. Divorce akin to debauchery: “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.” (Luke 16:18)

Without even looking at a fuller context, I mean, what is the complaint with this one? Is the author actually trying to argue divorce is a good thing? :man_facepalming:

I could be wrong but I think the authors issue is that according to what he has read, is that the Bible is saying that divorce and debauchery are the same thing or at least very similar, at least that is what I think they have an issue with in regards to this specific verse.

I understand recording things so that others may not repeat the same offenses, but why mention it in a text without saying something like “this is bad so don’t do it” after giving said example, I mean I feel like it would have at least been considered that people might look at it and take it at face value and say something like “oh this is suppose to be the word of God therefore laying with your dad or brother is OK because it is the word of God”, ok maybe not exactly like that but the point is people take things like this at face value qlot of the time and whatever it says on the page must be what it means at first glance.

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That is true that it is confusing if we read it with Western eyes, but the key is to read it with ancient near Eastern context. Walton’s books on Genesis etc are really helpful. It is said the Bible was written for us, but not to us. We see that in YEC etc as well… I don’t think that account was intended to be a scientific explanation…at least, what I have read about it. An NIV study Bible is also good for the context, if you like. It can be frustrating but rewarding. Others likely know more than I, but a good Jewish or Christian commentary helps.

Some of the recording was just recording…with a purpose, but not necessarily to teach that moral lesson. I remember reading that some of it was accounting of what people suffered through… People really did starve in that time. It may have caused cohesiveness and national identity. Many areas in the OT condemn such behavior explicitly, but there are different writing genres. Bible Project is something we use frequently to learn from as a family. ( Thanks.

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The greatest misconception is that Love has anything to do with it and can be distorted to fit it.

Divorce and remarriage. It’s a package deal. Jesus is very much opposed to frivolous divorce or not taking marriage seriously. Let no one separate what God has joined… Could divorce be warranted in extreme cases? Possibly. Either way it’s not a good thing and divorce and remarriage leads to adultery. They aren’t the same exact thing but the combination leads to sin. I honestly laugh if the author thinks this is one of the “top 14” bad Bible verse. I think the Bible is inspired and my first response is “hold my beer” if you want to see 14 really bad verses. #5 isn’t a good one. Jesus is correct that divorce and remarriage is a bad thing though this does not mean there are never exceptions to the rule.

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He wasn’t addressing us, unless the cap fits. The WEIRD world doesn’t have quite so much utterly one-sided patriarchy. Divorce for domestic abuse and other breaking of marriage (gambling, indolence, addiction, abandonment, infidelity, personality disorder) is just legal formalization of what is already over and what was usually doomed from the start.

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Great question. I’m answering as the only person in my family who did not have formal biblical training (except maybe my mom), so take this with a grain of salt. However, what I understand is that Jesus (and many others) discussed things with a tendency to hyperbole. I have even heard it called “Jewish hyperbole”; maybe because it was a common tactic among rabbis–I don’t know. Hyperbole and Divorce in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:31-32) - Marg Mowczko

. So, if he said, “You have heard it said,” then he made an even stronger point in the opposite direction, 'But I say to you…" [ if your hand or eye causes you to sin, get rid of them!]. The point is that we are responsible for our own actions, not that we should get rid of our hands or eyes. Also, if we really love God, then we try to change our own souls and lives to be like him–so that in our hearts, if we lust or hate someone, we are figuratively committing adultery or murdering someone.

You can see elsewhere in the NT. For example, in reference to those who tried to make the law too important and tell Gentile converts to Judaism to be circumcised, Paul also said, “I wish [those folks who recommend circumcision] would just emasculate themselves!” --so, not really, but we get the point, Paul.

Regarding divorce, my understanding is there were 2 major schools of thought, among others, in rabbinic law; and one said you could divorce your wife for another just because of burning your food, by saying three times, “I divorce you.” That’s a terrible thing to have happen in the ancient Near East, because even compared to today, there was no safety net. Women didn’t have much to live on, and were dependent on men–forced to starvation, menial labor, perhaps even prostitution to survive, I imagine. So, Jesus was calling out the men who took advantage of their powerful situation and broke the family unit to abuse their helpless wives. He pointed out that they were committing adultery if they did that. He’s using hyperbole to show what God’s kingdom is. Frequently, he shows we should look for the spirit of the law, not the letter of the law.

Thanks. Blessings! Randy


What is the evidence these two schools actually go back to the time of Jesus?

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Great question. From what I know, from NIV Study Bible and Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge? ), Hillel and Shammai were from the first century BC and late 1st century BCE and early 1st center CE. If I recall correctly, the “greatest commandment” of “love your God and then your neighbor as yourself” was also attributed to Hillel, but believe that Hillel also supported the summary divorce, so Jesus didn’t follow Hillel there. I have to read more on that but here are some notes

You far outstrip me in reading on the Bible, so I look forward to your thoughts.

What Jesus Said Concerning Marriage And Divorce – Robert Clifton Robinson
Houses of Hillel and Shammai - Wikipedia


With a lot of these, I can take any newspaper and do the same thing adding words like “this is cool” or “this is ok.” Never mind that such words are not in the text, the point is to mock and ridicule what we do not even want to understand. Such a context does not deserve an answer… its too much like “when did you stop beating your wife.”

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Understandable but I try to ignore the mocking part of the article and focus solely on the verses mentioned, mainly because I haven’t touched my Bible till very recently and I never took the time to cover some of the more hard to swallow verses, rather I would just ignore them all together when I was younger. Now I am trying to fix that by going over things that I do not understand in the text and I figured I’d start with the more harsh ones.


Basically I would like to break these seemingly harsh and often misunderstood verses down enough as to what they mean when they say something in relation to topics that one may assume that the Bible is inferring such horrible acts to be ok so that I may have a better understanding.


Well done. Good idea.

This is Josephus AJ 4,8,23 “He that desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause whatsoever, [and many such causes happen among men,] let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife any more; for by this means she may be at liberty to marry another husband, although before this bill of divorce be given, she is not to be permitted so to do: but if she be misused by him also, or if, when he is dead, her first husband would marry her again, it shall not be lawful for her to return to him. ” Excerpt From: Josephus. “Complete Works of Josephus.” Apple Books.

Though Josephus just earlier in the same section listed one case where the man couldn’t put a woman away unless under great suspicion and absolute proof of something. If he had previously accused her of not being a virgin but a judgment was rendered in her favor. “If the damsel obtain a sentence in her favor, that she had not been guilty, let her live with her husband that accused her; and let him not have any further power at all to put her away, unless she give him very great occasions of suspicion, and such as can be no way contradicted. But for him that brings an accusation and calumny against his wife in an impudent and rash manner, let him be punished by receiving forty stripes save one, and let him pay fifty shekels to her father: but if the damsel be convicted, as having been corrupted, and is one of the common people, let her be stoned, because she did not preserve her virginity till she were lawfully married; but if she were the daughter of a priest, let her be burnt alive. ”

Nice guy that Josephus eh? At any rate, Philo also reports the “for any reason” whatsoever when commenting on the same passage in Deuteronomy as Josephus. Meier writes, “Still, an important difference must be noted between the “whatever reason” approach of Philo and Josephus on the one hand and the view of the House of Hillel on the other. Philo and Josephus give no indication that they are combating any other view current in mainstream Judaism concerning the sufficient reason for a divorce—for example, a view that might be more restrictive. In contrast, in m. Giṭṭin , the latitudinarian approach of the House of Hillel is pointedly opposed to the narrower view of the House of Shammai: the wife must have done something shameful, for example, adultery. We will return to this difference later.”

Meier also writes: “The most remarkable point about this final passage in m. Giṭṭin is some- thing that is often missed by commentators on the NT: only when we get to the Mishna do we have, for the first time in Palestinian Judaism, clear documentation of a scholarly dispute over what precisely constitutes sufficient grounds for divorce. As far as datable documents are concerned, this is something startlingly new in Judaism. What is found prior to this in Palestinian Judaism is (1) first of all and predominately, the near-absolute right of the husband to divorce his wife (Deuteronomy, Philo, Josephus); (2) secondarily, a sectarian attack on polygyny that may also imply (at least in the view of some scholars) an attack on divorce when it is followed by re- marriage (the Damascus Document ); and (3) finally and marginally, a total prohibition of divorce (Jesus). Nowhere in pre-70 Judaism is there any clear attestation of a detailed discussion or debate on which grounds for divorce are deemed sufficient. Therefore, despite the almost universal tendency on the part of NT exegetes to explain Jesus’ prohibition of divorce against the “background” of the debate between the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel, this tendency may actually be a prime example of the anachronis- tic use of later texts to explain earlier ones.81 That is, a text written down for the first time at the beginning of the 3d century a.d. (the Mishna) is called upon to elucidate a teaching of Jesus reaching back to the early part of the 1st century a.d., with written attestation in the 50s by Paul and ca. 70 by Mark. Considering the dearth of any clear attestation of the dispute over the grounds of divorce between the Houses in the pre-70 period,82 we would do well, as least initially, to explain Jesus’ teaching on divorce solely in light of what is truly prior to and contemporary with the Palestinian Judaism of the early 1st century a.d.”

Its not that I disagree with the point you are making about what Jesus is doing. Jesus is talking about a package deal involving divorce AND remairriage but given Philo and Josephus are both 1st century references continuing a tradition established by Deuteronomy, there is no evidence of any sort of debate on this issue or schools of thought during the time of Jesus. It was simply taken for granted that men could divorce their wives for whatever reason. But when we use Shammai and Hillel we are just uncritically assuming these texts we find this material in that that come a couple hundred years after Jesus describe two schools that actually existed in Jesus day. There is no real evidence for this and Philo and Josephus don’t seem to be aware of any.

The article you cited writes this:

That looks like imaginative fiction to me that gives Jesus no credit whatsoever. It’s much simpler just to think Jesus flatly rejected conventional thought on divorce. Jesus was already condemned for being a friend of tax collectors and sinners given his table fellowship. He has had run ins with Jesus leaders and scribes repeatedly. Jesus wasn’t worried about being labeled “morally permissive.” If one thing is clear, he was unique in a lot of ways, flouted convention and beat to his own drum.

It also says:

Since when is Moses no longer relaying the commands of God in the Torah? That is all the Pharisees would have had to respond with. Josephus, Philo, apparently Shammai and Hillel are all just offering the most common interpretation of divorce that began in Deut 24. To me Jesus’ statement is even more radical because he is rejected something the Torah clearly regulates and permits. It is not Moses vs God as most Jews thought the Torah represented God’s Law delivered through Moses. Its Jesus vs a lot more here. This isn’t rabbinic alteration. It is literally in the Torah itself as plain as day.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4: Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house 2 and goes off to become another man’s wife. 3 Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); 4 her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.

It doesn’t even skip a beat at a man divorcing his wife for any reason. This all starts in the Torah and Jesus erases it all. Meier again:

Too many exegetes bring the thoughts attributed to Shammai and Hillel back to the time of Jesus without any proper historical justification for doing so.

edited to add…and we don’t have a lot of data points about what everyone believed about divorce ca 30CE. We just have a few texts that may or may not support larger inferences…


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They are only misunderstood when they are denied as harsh (‘They didn’t really men it, it’s allegory’) or justified as Love, and claimed to be true historically. They were written by Iron Age men. The fouler the older usually, showing evolution in their Bronze Age source material and in themselves. The utter vileness of the Heresy of Peor - regressive by remarkably timeless, humane Babylonian standards that Jesus got back to after nearly two millennia - does not compare with the sublime beauty of Jonah.

After a lifetime of reading and studying the Bible (I am now in my 70s) I have reached the conclusion that at least 98% of the Old Testament can safely be ignored in a literal sense. This includes all the evils supposedly committed by the Hebrew Yhwh. It is supported by 3 axioms. 1. The Bible writers assigned virtually everything to Yhwh whether it was good, bad or indifferent. This was a literary device rather than any form of inspiration as it occurs over and over in all the OT books 2. All the OT stories contain exaggerations, impossibilities and miracles. This is again a literary device as it was good for the story and the reader/ listener as the story would be remembered. It was also good for Yhwh and the worship of Yhwh as he would be praised more than if the event was just an everyday occurrence 3. The writer of the Gospel of John ( not actually ‘John’) makes it fairly plain that Yeshua/Jesus was identical to Yhwh as he did and said everything his father told him to do and say…… e.g. John 5.19. Coupled with the possible pre-existence of Yeshua “before Abraham was I am” this makes Yeshua equally responsible for all the evils in the OT as well. As this last statement cannot possibly be true we are obliged to ignore the evils and violence of the Old Testament as sent literally from Yhwh. The evils and violence still exist but that is a totally different topic.


Interesting points. The third one is problematic because we can also ignore the literal sense of Jesus claiming to be Yhwh in John. Most critical scholars will tell you Jesus talked about the kingdom of God (synoptics) not himself( John). The fourth Gospel is recasting ancient traditions after a very long time reflecting on Easter. Yes, it does put Jesus on par with God and we need to theologically reckon with that, but equating responsibility onto Jesus here just presses the details too literally. Just as we need to deal in the OT with what you call “literary devices,” the NT is in the same boat.


I can understand why someone would ask that question in this forum: What I wonder, though, is what response(s) the question has gotten from Jews, the folks who had the original form of the Bible first?

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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