I open an e-mail titled “Difficult Passages” from a faithful congregant and read the question, “What in the world do I do with this passage?” It’s 2 Kings 2: 23-24:
23 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!” 24 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.
Imagine the awkwardness of hearing this read on a Sunday morning and saying, “This is the Word of the Lord? Thanks be to God?”
There are a lot of difficult passages in scripture and some of them have a lesson or a nugget of truth we can take away. And some passages just do not. For instance, two she-bears mauling 42 boys.
The Interpreters Bible commentary says this about 2 Kings 2: 23-24:
“This story of the small boys who were rude to the prophet has been subjected to various explanations by commentators who have hoped to make it acceptable to proper standards of justice and fairness. It is merely an example of premoral exhortation to respect the prophets as the holy men of God. The story compares most unfavorably with N.T. teaching, and indeed will not stand examination from any moral point of view.”
I love the directness of that last line, “And indeed will not stand examination from any moral point of view.” Oh Bible. So, if a verse like this serves no purpose – or actually goes against the character of the God we know – why is it there? Why don’t we just edit it out? “The Holy Bible 2.0 – LCE (Less Crazy Edition)”
Thomas Jefferson famously created his own Bible in his later years – The Jefferson Bible – where he literally cut and pasted together his version of the Bible – omitting all of the miracles and things with which he didn’t agree. There are plenty of stories that different ideologies would argue should be edited out – besides just fitting the “too crazy” category. However, it is fundamentally wrong to got Thomas Jefferson on the Bible – God’s authoritative witness to us.
There was a story in the New York Times recently about how sports has a record of infamously cutting out it’s corrupt history and then pretending it never happened – like an authoritarian government. Joe Paterno’s statue, Reggie Bush and O.J. Simpson’s Heisman Wins, and the Fab Five’s banners and trophies are just a few examples. When I read this story my mind immediately went to these difficult Bible passages (logically) and I began to think of our history as followers of God and followers of Christ. The Bible has history and verses that do not fit in our modern theology or our personal ideologies; however, they are a part of our history. So, I teach the Bible – unedited – and when I come to a difficult or crazy passage – I ask for God’s guidance, present the historical and cultural setting, and then remind everyone that God gave us brains and expects us to use them – especially when faithfully reading God’s Word.
So, how do you respond to difficult passages? What questions are important to ask?