CES Reply: Scriptural Weirdness

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnells “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

Scriptures Concerns & Questions:

To believe in the scriptures, I have to believe in a god who endorsed murder, genocide, infanticide, rape, slavery, selling daughters into sex slavery, polygamy, child abuse, stoning disobedient children, pillage, plunder, sexism, racism, human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, killing people who work on the Sabbath, death penalty for those who mix cotton with polyester, and so on.

No, you have to believe that ancient scripture is hard to understand to modern audiences, that it includes a mix of literal and figurative that we aren’t fully capable of discerning, and that human error can get in the way of correctly interpreting God. Also, you have to believe that Mormonism doesn’t believe in inerrant scripture.

Aside from scientifically discredited stories mentioned earlier, the following scriptures are some among many which make it hard for me believe the scriptures literally and that the scriptures hold any credibility:

Those are two very different things. Many scriptures aren’t intended to be interpreted literally, which means they’re designed to lack scientific credibility. That doesn’t mean they necessarily lack spiritual credibility.

1. D&C 132:

I’m supposed to believe in a god who issued an FLDS style revelation that states stuff like: the only form of polygamy permitted is a union with a virgin

We’ve talked about this. In context here, “virgin” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

after first giving the opportunity to the first wife to consent to the marriage. If the first wife doesn’t consent, the husband is exempt and may still take an additional wife, but the first wife must at least have the opportunity to consent. In case the first wife doesn’t consent, she will be “destroyed.”

“Destroyed” doesn’t mean what you think it means, either. You’ve already said all this.

  1. Also, the new wife must be a virgin before the marriage and be completely monogamous after the marriage or she will be destroyed.

Again, “virgin” and “destroyed” mean “sexually pure” and “left without posterity in the marriage.” Context helps. So does avoiding reading scripture using narrow, legalistic interpretations.

  1. Numbers 31:

This is truly despicable behavior from God and Moses.  Under God’s direction, Moses’ army defeats the Midianites. They kill all the adult males, but take the women and children captive. When Moses learns that they left some alive, he angrily says: “Have you saved all the women alive? Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” So they went back and did as Moses – the Lord’s prophet – commanded, killing everyone except for the virgins. In this way, they got 32,000 virgins. This is the same prophet that Joseph Smith claimed to have appeared to him and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836 for the “gathering of Israel.”

Nice little maneuver to tie Joseph and Oliver to ancient genocide for which they were not even remotely responsible. Did you know that Gwyneth Paltrow named her son Moses – after the prophet who killed the Midianites and gathered up their virgins? What is she, Hitler?

Look, you can find apologetic explanations of this story from any number of sources, most of them non-Mormon, and scholars who understand these ancient cultures can provide context that neither of us understand. From my non-scholarly Webelos-leader perspective, the bottom line is that the Old Testament is a record of a time and culture wholly displaced from our own, and it’s written with a mixture of figurative stories and historical reality. It’s never easy for even the smartest or most inspired minds to know which is which.

When you bump into a wacky story like this, you have to recognize that there’s huge chunks of info that we just don’t have, and that Mormons, unlike many orthodox Christians, teach that the Bible contains errors, and some of them are real doozies. Just know that if Mormons or anyone try to use these passages to justify modern genocide and rape, I’m going to run as fast and far as I can in the opposite direction.

4.1 Nephi 4:

The Lord commands Nephi to murder (decapitate) Laban for the brass plates.  Never mind that Laban was drunk and defenseless.  The argument that Laban would send his servants after Nephi and his brothers is ridiculous considering that the same God who had no problem lighting stones and taming swarms of bees (Ether 2-3) for the Brother of Jared can also preserve Nephi.  This story has been used as a defense in killings by religious people.

No doubt God could preserve Nephi. No doubt God could have teleported the plates from Laban’s study into Lehi’s lap. In fact, God has the capacity to end world hunger, enforce world peace, and rid the world of Donald Trump. But in doing so, he would defeat the whole purpose of mortality, where we are each called upon to exercise our agency and walk by faith. That means that God doesn’t use his Deus Ex Machina very often, if at all. Nephi had a difficult moral decision to make, and such decisions always involve competition between two righteous values.

John Welch’s discussion of the legality of Nephi’s actions is an interesting perspective on this, too.

5.Exodus 12:12:

God kills all the firstborn children in Egypt except for those who put blood on their doors? What kind of a god is this? Like the flood, what kind of a loving god would kill innocent children for the actions of others?

Does the Book of Exodus provide a specific body count? How much of this is Old Testament hyperbole? How historically and scientifically accurate should we assume this, or any other Old Testament story, to be?

As for “what kind of a loving god would kill innocent children for the actions of others,” the answer is a god who would sacrifice his perfectly innocent Only Begotten Son for your sins and mine. This story is dripping with messianic symbolism, which suggests that a figurative rather than a literal interpretation of this story is a wiser approach.

6.Deuteronomy 21:18-21:

Got a rebellious kid who doesn’t listen?  Take him to the elders and to the end of the gates and stone him to death!

Verse 21 ends with the phrase, “and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” This reads to me like it’s a scare tactic rather than an actual thing that people did. After all, how many parents, even with rebellious kids, would voluntarily have their own children killed?

7.Exodus 35:1-2:

God commands death penalty for those who work on the Sabbath trying to support their families.

Again, does Exodus provide hard data about how often these laws were enforced? The Law of Moses was still in effect during Christ’s day, and there are several exchanges between the Pharisees and the Savior where Jesus refuses to enforce these kind of gruesome provisions and suffers no negative repercussions for doing so. When he counsels the Pharisees that the sinless should cast the first stone at the adulterous woman, the Pharisees simply walk away, leaving the ancient law unenforced. These laws sure sound scary, but in practice, it seems likely that they were largely empty threats.

8.Number 21:5-9:

God doesn’t like to hear whining and ingratitude so he sends out a bunch of snakes to kill the people.  When the people had enough of the snakes, they ask Moses to tell God to quit it.  God decides Moses is persuasive and tells Moses to put a snake on a pole and tell the people to look at the pole and they won’t die.  So, the pole is built, the people look at it  and they don’t die.  The moral of the story?  Don’t whine or God will send in the snakes.

No, the moral of the story is “look to God and live.” This can be found repeatedly in the Book of Mormon:

“Yea, did he not [Moses] bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.

And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal.” (Helaman 8:14-15)

Lots of important symbolism here, and getting caught up in a strict literal interpretation of the story probably isn’t helpful.

9. Judges 19:22-29:

After picking up his concubine from his father-in-law’s house, a certain Levite settles in Gibeah for the night. The men of the city attempt to sodomize him, but end up raping the concubine until her death. As a response, the Levite dismembers his wife’s corpse and sends her body parts throughout the land of Israel.   Who needs R or X-rated movies when you got scripture like this?

A gruesome story, surely, but neither God nor his prophets have anything to do with it. Were you expecting a PG-13-rated Bible?

As a believing Mormon, I tried to rationalize some of the craziness by saying, “Oh, this is in the crazy Old Testament when the Law of Moses was in force. Christ came and fulfilled the Law of Moses.”

The problem with this is that the crazy god of the Old Testament was Jehovah.  Who’s Jehovah? The premortal Jesus Christ.  So, Christ is the crazy god of the Old Testament.

And everything Christ does or has ever done has been done with the full approval of the Father. Did you think Jehovah was going rogue back in the old days?

The Christ of the Old Testament and the Christ of the New Testament are light years different. 

No, the culture of the Old Testament and the culture of the New Testament are light years different. Understanding the Old Testament in its proper context requires a great deal of additional information, much of which we no longer have.

Again, I’m asked to believe in not only a part-time racist god and a part-time polygamous god but a part-time psychopathic schizophrenic one as well.

No, you’re asked to believe that a perfect God is working with imperfect children in a fallen world, many of whom represent their interaction with God in imperfect ways.

CES Reply: Science!
The Many and the One

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