In his article, “Picking and Choosing Our Religious Beliefs is
Fun” Andy Weakland asks his readers for advice about the Bible. The Bible can be a difficult book to understand and there are many great resources for guidance about understanding the Bible, but let me give you some of mine. The first piece of advice I have for Mr. Weakland is to take a more macro approach when reading the Bible. If you take a myopic examination of one verse it is sometimes difficult to grasp what the verse is conveying and can lead to misunderstandings. For example, when reading some verses in Leviticus (Leviticus 25:44 and 21:7 were the ones referenced in the article) it may, at first glance, sound like the Bible is sanctioning slavery. However if you read the surrounding text it will become clear that these verses: 1) never condone or compel slavery. Words like “if” are important. 2) Leviticus is not talking about slavery as we know it. It is basically talking about a form of indentured servitude. In this period of time people who had no money would sell themselves into slavery in return for essentially room and board. Later in the New Testament (which was not referenced in your article) the Bible clearly condemns the practice of slavery and specifically slave traders (1
Timothy 8-11). In regards to your question about killing your neighbor if he does not observe the Sabbath, you will notice that many crimes in the Old Testament world were punished by death. What you touched on here is one of the most important aspects of the Bible. Basically, “the wages of sin is death.”
Therefore, when someone broke the code of God (sin) in the Old Testament times, many times, death was the way to hold them accountable for their sin. Luckily, in the New Testament God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of the world. Because of the death of Jesus Christ, our wages of sin had already been atoned for. So, sin no longer necessitated human death. Furthermore, most biblical scholars still contend that the Bible should be taken literally as often as possible, unless it is clearly a metaphor or in many cases a parable.
In the verses you quoted, it would be hard to derive a metaphor or a parable from them so they should be taken literally. Most of this talk about not taking the Bible literally is in reference to biblical prophecy, however more often than not the moral teachings of the Bible are clearly stated. Finally, religious leaders did not hand pick scripture to give to the masses as it were. The “church councils” were convened to assess the viability of a book to be the written word of God. One of the most important factors they took into consideration was the access the author had to Jesus Christ himself. Was he an apostle or the protZgZ of an apostle? The Gospel of Thomas (which I assume is one of the “left out” scriptures you are referring to) for example was not written by anyone who was associated with Jesus in anyway; therefore, it was excluded, largely for reasons of unreliability, although it is also more Gnostic than the other Gospels. The scriptures are also very clear that the Bible should not be used to condemn people as no human being has the power to do this, this is a point that I agree with you on. Nevertheless, it is important to Christians that the Bible not be misconstrued, especially in the mass media, and it is a central doctrine to Christianity that the Bible is the infallible word of God that clearly sets apart right from wrong.