Ten Worst Verses

Satirical website, Ship of Fools, has recently been running an open forum on what the worst verses in the Bible are. From this a top ten has been produced which the Telegraph has shared for everybody.

  1. St Paul’s advice about whether women are allowed to teach men in church: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:12)
  2. In this verse, Samuel, one of the early leaders of Israel, orders genocide against a neighbouring people: “This is what the Lord Almighty says… ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” (1 Samuel 15:3)
  3. A command of Moses: “Do not allow a sorceress to live.” (Exodus 22:18)
  4. The ending of Psalm 137, a psalm which was made into a disco calypso hit by Boney M, is often omitted from readings in church: “Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” (Psalm 137:9)
  5. Another blood-curdling tale from the Book of Judges, where an Israelite man is trapped in a house by a hostile crowd, and sends out his concubine to placate them: “So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, ‘Get up; let’s go.’ But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.” (Judges 19:25-28)
  6. St Paul condemns homosexuality in the opening chapter of the Book of Romans: “In the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:27)
  7. In this story from the Book of Judges, an Israelite leader, Jephthah, makes a rash vow to God, which has to be carried out: “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.’ Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.’” (Judges 11:30-1, 34-5)
  8. The Lord is speaking to Abraham in this story where God commands him to sacrifice his son: ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ (Genesis 22:2)
  9. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)
  10. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.” (1 Peter 2:18)

What amazes me about this list is the theological naivety it displays about those who have picked some of the verses. For example, number 5 is a clear example of someone who does a wrong thing (gives his concubine over to the mob). How one leaps from a descriptive story to some how accusing the text of being uninspired because you simply don’t like the events is a real puzzle to me. The same goes for number 10 – the Scriptures are very clear (i.e. Paul’s letter to Philemon) that slavery is not to be practised by Christians, but in Peter’s letter he is talking about how we demonstrate the love and grace of God by doing good even when we are treated unfairly.

Number 7 (read in context) is clearly an object lesson in making rash vows, but also highlights the fact that it is God who makes covenants with us, not the other way round.  As for 1, 6 and 9, well most of you know where I stand on these issues.

One or two of the verses do raise interesting issues. Number 3 (not letting a sorceress live) is challenging, but must be read on the context of a Hebrew society learning what it is to follow YHWH. Number 2 is disturbing, but when you realise that we are all under a sentence of eternal death because of sin then we can see these things in the correct perspective. While with our 21st century eyes the mass murder of innocents is abhorrent, we are foolish if we disregard the lesson of 1 Samuel 15 that to disobey the Lord is a dangerous thing. Saul spares the king of the Amalekites in disobedience to what God has told him to do, and it lays the seeds of his doom. Furthermore, as the text tells us, it’s not as if the Amalekites are innocent in their dealings with the Israelites.

Equally, Psalm 137 is challenging, but verse 9 expresses the deepest pain of those who have been dispossessed of everything. The Psalm speaks of the judgement that will be exercised against Babylon because of their actions against Judah. If we reject that judgement then we simply don’t understand the holiness of God.

But the verse that really displays the utter theological ignorance of those who voted for it is the one voted number 8 – the sacrifice of Isaac. Really, I’m left completely speechless by the fact that any Christian would have an issue with this passage which is one of the most celebrated types of Christ. Abraham takes Isaac to the very same hill (Moriah) where the Temple will later be built. Abraham is prepared to give up his only son, his only son, but at the last moment the Lord substitutes, he substitutes, another. That’s not a problem. That’s the Gospel.

The real problem here is that, unlike the other verses, Ship of Fools ever thought it was worth voting on it.

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