This was known for many centuries and no one made much of an effort to cover it up until very recently, specifically the turn of the 20th century, when some rather grumpy old killjoys decided that the whole Bible needed to be “inerrant” (something about teaching evolution in schools).
Until then, many Jews and Christians knew full well that there was no uniform biblical doctrine of everything.
Paul thought James was wrong about the need for good works in addition to faith in order to be saved. James thought Paul was wrong about faith without good works being any faith at all.
Job thinks that pretty much the whole worldview of Deuteronomy through 2 Kings is wrong for saying that any suffering we experience is deserved, the punishment for unrighteous living.
The whole story of Jonah was written to contradict the idea that Israel’s God would have nothing to do with the Gentiles.
Peter is surprised to find out that a Roman centurion, a “devout man who feared God,” had already been living faithfully and intermingling with the Holy Spirit since long before any representative of the church had come out to officially baptize him (Acts 10).
The Syro-Phoenician woman thinks Jesus is wrong for saying he had only come to feed the children of Israel, and Jesus decides that she is right (Mark 7:24-30).
Abraham thinks that God is wrong for wanting to destroy Sodom, and God decides that Abraham is right (Genesis 18:16-33).
In fact, God himself can’t seem to decide if he is the type to “keep steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” or (in the very next line) the type who will “by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children” (Exodus 34:6-7)—such is how it goes when you’re committed to a relationship with someone who can always be counted on to hurt you, I suppose.
In fact, “he” can’t seem to decide if he is a he or a she or both (off the top of my head, see Isaiah 66:13, Proverbs 8, anytime God is called El Shaddai in Hebrew, meaning “the breasted one” or “the one of the womb” as in Genesis 35:11 or Gen. 49:25, or any of the thousands of times that God is referred to as Spirit which translates from the feminine ruach in Hebrew and pneuma in Greek).
And would someone please tell me whether Ahaziah was 22 years old (II Kings 8:26) or 42 years old (II Chronicles 22:2) when he began his reign? I haven’t slept for weeks thinking about it.
And that’s just to name a few. So if you came to the Bible like a milk sipping grade-school student hoping for simple, one-dimensional decrees on this topic or that, you should probably look elsewhere.
But if you want to put your big boy or girl pants on and intelligently join in on a lively debate between our faithful but flawed ancestors, all of whom believed themselves to be interacting with, if not totally understanding, an acting subject, who, lets face it, sometimes just gets very emotional and needs to be talked down a bit; who over and over comes down on the side of grace in the end but not without some mental back-and-forth, sometimes with devastating personal consequences; a heart-on-the-sleeve God who behaves like a spurned lover at the beginning of Hosea but is as mature and forbearing as a parent by the end; a strange God whose wisdom is not revealed in being right all the time but sometimes in admitting to being wrong; who is never greater than when lying down to eat the same dirt pie that his/her infinitely lesser creatures all have to eat at some point; in short, if you’re looking for a tough sirloin adult conversation not about a dead doctrine but a living God, who breathes and moves and remembers and forgives and is tougher to pin down than the theological math problems of the simple-minded—then you’ve come to the right place.
Cheers and Peace,
Jared Witt (Twitter: @realjaredwitt) is a pastor in the ELCA and, along with Aaron Schmalzle, is a Founding Director of Castle Church Brewing Community and Castle Church Faith Community. Checkout this blog weekly for reflections and updates or subscribe to our newsletter so that you never miss a thing.