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Milt Hankins: Some Bible stories simply are not true

Sep. 23, 2013 @ 09:15 AM

The other day someone said to me, "How can anyone accept stories of the New Testament as parables ("or didn't actually happen"), while believing factual the most outrageous stories of the Old Testament?" The question is worthy of consideration.

The earliest Old Testament stories were passed orally from generation to generation. They were eventually written down and became a part of the Old Testament literature. Studies of the books of Ruth, Job, Jonah and Esther are fine examples, raising provocative questions concerning their genuineness and historicity.

"The Tower of Babel," "Noah's Ark" and "The Fate of Sodom and Gomorrah" were likely passed down to subsequent generations by their elders to explain the development of language, divine punishment for sin and the importance of hospitality to strangers. They are, broadly speaking, analogous to New Testament parables.

Elements of these stories are clearly fanciful. In Job, God enters into a contest with Satan to test the faithfulness of a righteous man. "The Tower of Babel" explains how languages developed even though diverse languages were already in existence beyond the borders of early Palestine, i.e. Egyptian Arabic and Babylonian Akkadian.

Stories about Jesus are widely accepted as truth, while other New Testament stories are presented as parables (teaching stories). Some events purportedly occurring during the lifetime of Jesus are highly questionable, with not a single one of them being written down until decades following his death. The earliest, the gospel of Mark, dates from 65 to 75 AD. Paul's writings to the churches were penned before the gospels and make scant reference to them.

These allegations being true, of what consequence are they? Do they really matter? As to the reality of, or basis for, our faith -- not so much! The Bible is, in the final analysis, a book of faith. "Believers" are encouraged to read the scriptures and decide for themselves what resonates as truth for them. Only in the most conservative and/or fundamentalist churches are believers taught that every word of the Bible is inerrant and infallible and must be accepted prima facie.

When various denominations or religious persuasions accept as fact questionable stories "because they are in the Bible," and use those incidents (which may only be the equivalent of parables or myths) as cudgels with which to assault people who do not believe as they do, it matters a great deal!

For example, teaching as fact that Jonah survived in the belly of "a great fish" for three days is ludicrous. Accepting that it was appropriate behavior for Lot to offer up his daughters to the men of Sodom to "do to them whatever you like" is more than preposterous. The story suggests egregious behavior for the time and encourages grossly immoral attitudes toward women.

When studying the Bible, we must be careful to regard context, social mores and use common sense. It is never acceptable to support a faulty interpretation, asserting something is right or true merely "because it's in the Bible!"

Milt Hankins of Ashland, Ky., is a retired minister, theologian and freelance writer.

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