This morning when I came into the office, I listened to a segment of The O’Reilly Factor, where he was characterizing Christians as “Bible thumpers.” I began to think about the long procession of political pundits and public personalities who are now raising doubts in the minds of multiplied millions regarding the reliability of the Bible. The reason I want to bring it to your attention is that as Christians in this milieu we must be ready to give an answer with respect to the reliability of the most significant literary work in the annals of recorded history. When the Bible is being denigrated, mocked, disdained, as sarcasm drip from the lips of political pundits and public personalities, we must take a stand, because the lives of multiplied millions literally hang in the balance.
Now I want to give you an example by letting you listen to a clip (or read transcript below), and as you listen to this clip you will hear MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell mock the Bible. And I want you to listen very carefully because as he does so, he makes myriad mistakes. In other words, as he’s mocking not only the Bible but others, he himself gets tripped up in his own words. See if you can figure this out:
Why hasn’t your party, the Republican “Bible-thumping” party defended Todd Akin on legitimate rape? The Bible says there is such a thing as legitimate rape. Yes it does in Deuteronomy 23:23-26 [sic],
If there be a damsel that is a virgin betrothed unto a husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them to death with stones; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbor’s wife: so thou shalt put away the evil from the midst of thee. But [but, but] if the man find the damsel that is betrothed in the field, and the man force her, and lie with her; then the man only that lay with her shall die: but unto the damsel thou shalt do nothing [American Standard Version].
So, you get what the Bible is saying here. The Bible is saying that the first rape victim in the story has to be put to death because she did not cry out for help during her rape and she was in the city where cries for help would be heard, therefore it was not a legitimate rape, according to THE BIBLE. So the woman deserves the same penalty she would get for adultery—death! But the damsel who gets raped out in the field where no one can hear her—she is under no obligation to cry for help. The Bible doesn’t want to put her through that futile exercise. So, according to THE BIBLE, getting raped, and not calling out for help, if you’re out in the field where no one can hear you, is legitimate rape. Todd Akin would understand that completely. “But the Bible-Thumping” Party isn’t using that passage to help defend Todd Akin’s comments about legitimate rape because the Bible thumping party doesn’t actually READ the Bible, they just thump it. They don’t quote the Bible. They just thump it. They just swear that they live by it. But like every sane person in the world today they do not live by the Bible. They take some guidance from the Bible, some of it, and reject vast, vast tracks of it—the homicidal parts of the Bible, the death penalty parts of the Bible.
Now one of the things I want everybody to note is if in fact you take all of the Bible as the infallible repository of redemptive revelation, according to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, you are quite literally insane.
Of course, O’Donnell launches a bit of a diatribe against Todd Akin, the Republican Representative of Missouri, and certainly Todd Akin misspoke. You may recall that Akin had referred to forcible rape by the moniker “legitimate rape”—his point was that reasonable people agree that pregnancy can result from forcible rape but that there is scientific disagreement on how likely that is. Although Todd Akin may have misspoken; Lawrence O’Donnell also misspoke. In fact if you listen to the Bible Answer Man broadcast enough you’ll hear me misspeak. We’re fallible human beings. Now O’Donnell’s referring to a passage, in fact reading a passage, and describing its address as that of a different passage. He’s reading Deuteronomy 22 and suggesting its Deuteronomy 23. But let’s not quibble about that. What he’s doing is far more serious than that. Because the first case (Deut. 22:23–24) that he is making a mockery of is not rape at all. A simple reading by a fifth grader could have determined that. It’s consensual adultery, which is why the woman does not cry out. Of course, biblically, adultery is a very serious crime against marital fidelity, and as such is rendered under Mosaic Law a capital offense.
Now in the second case (Deut. 22:25–26), the woman is obviously an innocent victim. She’s not a willful adulteress and the rapist alone, therefore, deserves punishment and is put to death. So in the first case it’s not really about rape at all, it is, however, in the second case about rape. But that, of course, was lost on Lawrence O’Donnell. He’s too busy mocking the notion of death penalty for rape. My question: Is he minimizing rape as a crime? Does he not think that rape is a serious matter? Maybe his superiors should look closely at his own worldview all the while he is mocking the biblical worldview?
And not only that, among the 16 or so crimes that incurred the death penalty under Mosaic Law, only the case of premeditated murder did not allow judges the latitude of assessing other penalties. For example, there is biblical precedent for a judge to spare the life of a rapist for the sake of a woman’s security. As such, the rapist was compelled to provide for the rape victim for as long as he lived.
In any case, neither then nor now is there a perfect resolution for a woman who has been violated through the horror of rape. Indeed, if we are completely satisfied by any earthly solution—even the death penalty—our moral sensibilities are seriously skewed. Ultimately, only eternity will make all wrongs right.
In reality, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell is himself a “thumper;” a “thumper” who has taken the Bible out of context and used it as a pretext for his own idiosyncratic brand of fundamentalism. To anachronistically rip a narrative out of its Ancient Near Eastern context and then use it as a demonstration of the superiority of modern pluralist assumptions, I think is at best misguided. And to read anachronistic modern meanings into an Ancient Near Eastern context is hardly enlightened. Instead of reading anachronistic prejudices into the text of the Bible, O’Donnell would have been well-served to read the Bible synergistically. One can no more read New World realities into Ancient Near Eastern legalities than read Torah legalities into New Covenant realities. He cannot comprehend the Bible as a whole without comprehending its individual passages. And He cannot comprehend its individual passages apart from, well, comprehending the Bible as a whole.
Lawrence O’Donnell’s bigotry has done a grave injustice to the majesty of the most significant book in the history of Western civilization. If indeed, O’Donnell had an adequate understanding of the rich tradition of biblical Judaism, he would not have been so cavalier in his diatribe against Old Testament Jewish jurisprudence. Because complex codes regarding the propriety of human relationships are hardly reducible to superficial sound bites like those emanating from his mouth.
Now I would be remiss if I did not note that the denigration of Christianity and the Bible is not an isolated issue. Rush Limbaugh just the other day expressed his disdain for Bill O’Reilly’s suggestion that Christians who oppose the concept of same-sex-marriage are little more than Bible thumpers. In fact, here’s what O’Reilly had to say:
The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. That’s where the compelling argument is. Where America is. “We just want to be treated like everybody else.” That’s a compelling argument. And to deny that you got to have a very strong argument on the other side. And the other side hasn’t been able to do anything but thump the Bible.
And that’s just dead wrong. The other side certainly has been able to do more than “thump the Bible.” Talk about the “spin stops here”—O’Reilly’s spinning! Christians recognize that everything from the ethos, the mores, the civil liberties, art, language, science, to the jurisprudence of Western civilization is inextricably linked to what is no doubt the most significant book in the history of human civilization. And Christians have, in fact, pointed beyond Scripture to cross-cultural sociological studies, which show that children are far better served by a father/mother coupling than by father/father or mother/mother coupling. They have likewise underscored the reality that marriage redefinition erodes the rational basis for rejecting aberrations ranging from polygamy to incest. I’ve personally commented on this issue on numerous occasions and I’ve had Jay Richards on the air as well on several occasions, and I have recommended Jay’s article in defense of traditional marriage over against same-sex marriage that we published in the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL.
So while I see the Bible as the North Star by which I set my sail, I’ve also pointed to sociological studies. I’ve also pointed to the reality of what happens when you redefine marriage. So it’s not just about thumping the Bible. At the end of the day, it is learning to read the Bible for all its worth. Evidently, Bill O’Reilly can’t do that and Lawrence O’Donnell can’t do that. Why? Because they are pointing at snippets, they’re not reading the Bible within its intended context. And we as believers can curse the darkness or we can build a lighthouse in the midst of the gathering storm by demonstrating that the Bible is indeed the infallible repository of redemptive revelation.— Hank Hanegraaff