The Bible is a treasury of humanity’s highest ideals and yet the Bible is brutally realistic about human evil. The clash between those ideals and human reality gives the Bible great dramatic power.
The Bible is blamed for virtually every evil under the sun. Here is a summary of the rap sheet: Slavery and racism began with Noah’s curse on his son Ham. The Crusades, Western imperialism, Islamic jihad, and even Nazi genocide were all inspired by biblical holy war. The degradation of nature, cruelty to animals, and overpopulation are all endorsed by God when he commands Adam to subdue the Earth. God’s election of Israel as his chosen people led to three thousand years of conflict in the Middle East. When God tells Eve “your husband shall rule over you” we see the origin of all the horrors of patriarchy, from polygamy to wife-beating. As for child abuse, think of Abraham’s appalling plan to make a burnt offering of his son, Isaac. Biblical condemnations of sodomy gave us centuries of cruel persecution of homosexuals. It would appear that the Bible has a lot to answer for.
At the same time, many champions of human equality, the emancipation of slaves, the liberation of women, vegetarianism, pacifism, respect for nature, the rights of children, and the abolition of the death penalty also claim to be inspired by the Bible. After all, the Bible does insist that God created every human being in his own image, male and female alike, and that in Paradise we shall see war no more, nor killing of any kind. What could be a more ringing endorsement of human equality than the biblical assertion: “there is no longer slave or free, Jew or Greek; there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one”? As the most revered and reviled book in history, the Bible is routinely blamed for our evils and credited for our ideals.
In one dramatic biblical scene, Jesus debates Satan and both support their arguments by quoting verbatim from the Bible. Notoriously, the Bible can be quoted to defend contradictory positions about virtually all moral controversies. Whatever your opinion about slavery, gay marriage, divorce, capital punishment, polygamy, patriarchy, corporal punishment, race, sacrifice, war, or socialism, you’ll find support in the Bible. How could there be a coherent biblical ethics when the Bible is deployed as a weapon by all sides on every issue—when even the devil quotes Scripture?