The Bible is the bedrock of the Christian faith. It contains the record of Jesus Christ’s teachings, the history of the Jewish people, dozens of examples of how a righteous person should live their life and the list of rules that form the basis for most of Western morality. It also contains a number of unpleasant accounts of murder, acceptance of genocide, bizarre punitive measures and rationale for the continuation of slavery. Given that many Christians believe that the Bible is God’s Word and should be followed fully, such verses can cause a great deal of trouble as Christians grapple with the reality of what the text says. There are plenty of mental gymnastics a person can do to explain away or rationalize the unpleasant verses, but most Christians would prefer to act as if those verses did not exist in the first place. Here are six Bible verses Christians like to ignore whenever possible.
Genesis 3: 16“To the woman He said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
As a general rule today, most people do not take kindly to the idea that half the population is meant to be subservient to the other half because of a mistake involving a talking snake. There have been repeated attempts to explain this verse, one of which is that man and woman are meant to be equal and this punishment was God deliberately throwing the world out of whack. That said, this verse is still enough to make plenty of people look askance at Christians.
Exodus 4:21“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”
The Exodus is one of the best known stories in the Bible. The evil Pharaoh refuses to let free the Israelites from their slavery, so the Lord through Moses drops the mother of all Old Testament smiting on Egypt’s collective head in the form of 10 terrible plagues. After this series of catastrophes every firstborn in Egypt is dead, and Pharaoh agrees to free the Israelites only to try and kill them when the reach the Red Sea. Moses parts the waters, and the Israelites escape. The story is uplifting and inspiring, or it would be if not for this sneaky verse. Exodus 4:21 states that God Himself kept hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that the Egyptian king would not free the Israelites and the rest of Egypt would suffer the increasingly destructive plagues God was unleashing. Most Christians would prefer to erase this verse and leave the story of the Exodus one of God and His people facing off against oppressive tyrants, but that is not precisely what the text said happened.
Deuteronomy 20:12-18“If [a city] does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you. Thus you shall treat all the towns that are very far from you, which are not towns of the nations here. But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God.”
Warfare has always had some semblance of rules. The rules might be extremely flexible and the longer war drug on, the more likely soldiers were to ignore those rules, but people have for millennia at least tried to control the horror and chaos that is war. Deuteronomy 20:12-18 is technically a set of rules for warfare, but they are not the rules anyone today would hope armies followed. Genocide is the last thing that anyone today wants to see happening. That is, however, exactly what Deuteronomy 20:12-18 says is the proper response to defeating a people. Whether for better or worse, this was a very common belief in the ancient world. When a city was defeated, the conquered men were killed, the women raped and the children enslaved. In truth, rape and slavery were a conquered person’s best case scenario. Many an ancient ruler enjoyed torturing captives in creative ways. Simply look at the Lachish reliefs to see what the Assyrians did to captured peoples or read up on what happened to Aztec and Natchez captives. Twisted as it was, death was often a better option for someone whose city had just been conquered.
Deuteronomy 22:23-29“If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor. Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her.
If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.”
Deuteronomy is one of the books that Christians would like the most to ignore. Much of it is filled with long listings of laws and rules detailing how to deal with everything from a rape and murder to an escaped ox. Many a Christian who has tried to read the Bible in its entirety has gotten bogged down in Deuteronomy and given up. It simply neither holds a person’s attention the way the stories of Abraham, Noah and Joseph do in Genesis nor possesses the tension present in Moses’ struggles in Exodus. It is also filled with little gems like Deuteronomy 22:23-29 that suggest punishments and reactions that make modern readers balk in horror. In the case of Deuteronomy 2:23-29, the proper way to handle rape is apparently to have the woman marry her rapist. Though this verse is foul to modern eyes, it was actually an improvement in the ancient world. Mere recognition that rape was a crime at all was not universal across the ancient world, and the status of the woman as a victim in any capacity was not common either. Similarly, Deuteronomy 22:25-29 implies that a woman can and should fight back or scream for help. She does not have to simply take it. Again, to modern readers this is less than the bare minimum of understanding one should give a victim of this horrific crime, but three to four thousand years ago, it was revolutionary. The famed Code of Hammurabi never even mentions rape despite having more than a dozen laws dealing with oxen.
2 Kings 2:23-24“[Elisha] went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’ When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.”
There are many stories in the ancient world of arguments and feuds getting completely out of hand, and the Bible is not different. In this case, a prophet’s response to being insulted is to have 42 people eaten by bears. This verse is often skipped over by Christians if only because it is, to modern readers, the definition of an overreaction. The explanation for this verse actually lies in Leviticus. Leviticus 26:22-23 states that those who are unwilling to listen to a prophet will have “wild beasts” set on them and will be “bereave[d] of [their] children.” It may still feel like an enormous overreaction, but the existence of the passage in Leviticus does show that there was at least a warning of what could happen to those who insulted a prophet of God rather than punishment-by-bears simply appearing out of the ether.
Jeremiah 19:9“And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and all shall eat the flesh of their neighbors in the siege, and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them.”
Excellent. The Bible now appears to be endorsing cannibalism. No wonder many Christians would really like this verse to disappear. The verse appears to be encouraging not just cannibalism, but infanticide. That reading, however, actually takes Jeremiah 19:9 out of context. While the things suggested in Jeremiah 19:9 are enough to turn a person’s stomach, that is deliberate. The preceding verses make it clear that infanticide and cannibalism are abhorrent. As such, they are what mark Topheth as fallen as far as a city can fall and the warning that God has Jeremiah level against the people who are on the path that leads to such horrors.
The Bible is an ancient text. As such, there are things within it that modern readers struggle to comprehend. In a world where the death penalty itself is a source of fierce debate, the nearly ritualistic punishments outlined in the Bible are baffling as are statements that accept rape, slavery and genocide as normal. What many modern readers forget, however, is that such things were normal thousands of years ago. It was not until the 18th century that death itself was considered punishment enough and instruments such as the guillotine were used to grant relatively swift ends rather than making executions a drawn out and agonizing affair. Slavery was seen as the natural order until less than 200 years ago, and rape is still a part of life for many women across the world. As such, it is perhaps not a surprise that such attitudes seeped into a text as old as the Bible. Unfortunately, too many people focus on that ancient attitude and the horrors it accepts rather than seeing that the Bible actually worked to mitigate such things and allow the Israelites to live as close to a peaceful life as was possible thousands of years ago.