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This is the 2nd of a 5 part blog series. You can read the first one, which covers 1-7 here. I introduced this series in that blog as follows:

Recently, I had a friend tag me on Facebook to an article that had been shared on a public page asking me my thoughts on it. The article was listed on FB as “22 Weird Things You Never Noticed in the Bible” but when I clicked on the link, the article title is “Things You Won’t Believe in the Bible” while the webpage heading in the browser is “22 Controversial Bible Verses That Lead to Much Debate”. After I replied to my friend’s tag, addressing each item, I thought that it would also make a great series of blog posts, so here goes.

Some of these actually aren’t controversial and some of these are arguments that atheists or skeptics use. The 22 points of the article are:

1. Unicorns Are Mentioned Not Once, but Many Times Throughout the Bible
2. Eve’s Apple Incident Wasn’t Why She and Adam Were Kicked Out of Eden
3. Many of the Names in Gensis Incorporate the Ancient Hebrew Name for ‘God’
4. The Bible Revealed That the Earth Is Round Thousands of Years Ago
5. Your Mental Image of God May Actually Be of an Ancient Canaanite Storm Deity
6. Christ Probably Couldn’t Have Even Pronounced the Name “Jesus”
7. The Bible May Not Be as Sexist as It Seems
8. “Biblical Marriage” May Not Mean What You Think
9. Certain Divination and Fortune-Telling Techniques Are Actually Condoned in the Bible
10. The Magi May Have Had a Much Longer Journey Than You’d Think
11. “Ye Shall Not Add Unto the Word Which I Command You.”
12. God Never Actually Promised Not to Give Us More Than We Can Handle
13. Not Every Part of the Bible Was Intended for Everyone
14. Sodom May Not Have Been Destroyed for the Reasons You Think
15. God Had to Re-Do the Ten Commandments After Moses Broke the First Drafts
16. Many Biblical Heroes Weren’t Exactly Upstanding Citizens
17. There are Two Different Creation Stories in Genesis
18. The Bible Hates Judgey People Just as Much as You Do
19. None of the Ways We Imagine the Devil Are Biblical
20. Noah Was Old. Like Really Old.
21. Jesus Christ Had Nothing at All to Say Against Homosexuality
22. Before You Condemn Islam As Violent…

Some of these aren’t really controversial while others are actually taken out of context or don’t tell the full story. To cover all 22 and keep each blog within my self-imposed blog length, this will take 5 posts to cover. Today’s blog will cover 8 and 9.

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8. “Biblical Marriage” May Not Mean What You Think
 Screenshot from 2018-07-01 10-33-09

It’s ironic that the term “biblical marriage” is thrown around so much these days, because it appears to have been coined by folks who may or may not have actually read the Bible.

Taken literally, the term far from specifies the marriage of one man and one woman, as you’ll see in the list of marriages above – all of which are both mentioned and condoned in the Bible. Biblically speaking, God actually seemed surprisingly open to working with various cultures’ ideas of what marriage should be.

And now we get to a truly controversial topic, not because of the message from the Bible, but the implications given in the original article. To coin a phrase from the description, it is ironic that people make accusations against what the Bible teaches these days, because it appears to have been coined by folks who may or may not have actually read to learn the Bible.

As I said to a friend of mine who once tried to make the case that the Bible teaches polygamy, just because the Bible records something does not mean that it endorses something. In Matthew 19, some Pharisees came to Jesus to test him on the topic of marriage, and I think Jesus’ response is pretty blunt (emphasis mine):

Matt 19:3-9
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

In Jesus’ own words, marriage is between a man and a woman. Nothing more. Nothing less.

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9. Certain Divination and Fortune-Telling Techniques Are Actually Condoned in the Bible

Though many modern Christian churches shun mysticism, fortune-telling, and magic of any sort, these things were all alive and well in Biblical times. Though the Bible does condemn dark magic, it doesn’t seem to forbid magical arts outright, as seen in the following instances:

– The use of divination stones called Urim and Thummin, were regularly used by Jewish high priests to obtain oracles and signs from God. (Exodus 28:30, 1 Samuel 28:6)

–  “Lots,” which were stones or sticks bearing symbols (similar to Runes), were often cast in order to determine the will of God. (Proverbs 16:33)

– Daniel, of Daniel and the Lion’s Den fame, was not only a renowned magician and  interpreter of dreams, but was “made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers” by the King of Babylon. (Daniel 5:11) 

– At the command of God, Moses engaged in what more or less amounted to a wizard’s dule with the magicians of Egypt. (Exodus 7: 9-12)

– The three “wise men” who came to visit Baby Jesus are believed by many scholars to have been Babylonian magicians who were alerted to Jesus’ birth by God via the use of astrology. (Matthew 2: 1-2 )

So far, this may be the trickiest and most complex to answer. It’s also the one that seems to be the most off base. Off the bat, it is quite the stretch to say that this justifies magic in any form. It is also quite the stretch to say that the use of casting lots is divination. Divination is “the practice of seeking knowledge of the future or the unknown by supernatural means.” As in the previous point, just because the Bible records something does not mean that it endorses something. 

Of the Urim and Thummim, the reality is, no one knows what they were. They weren’t used to tell the future, only to try and determine the will of God, which is different. They were even different from casting lots. This article, Is casting Lots to be used today? What of a Fleece and the Urim and Thumim? seems to give a better description of this topic. It goes into some detail about the Urim and Thummim, as well as discusses casting lots, which was more of helping to decide a decision. Again, not seeking the future, so not divination, nor fortune telling, nor magic.

The author of the 22 Controversial Verses seems to be equating all of this as the same, which it is far from it. The casting of lots that Israel used would be closer to flipping a coin than casting Runes, as this author implies.

On Daniel, while the book of Daniel does say that he was an interpreter of dreams, there is nowhere in the text that it says that he was a magician. The author of this article refers to Daniel 5:11, and should have read the very next verse (emphasis mine):

11 There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. 12 He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.”
Dan 5:11-12

So Daniel was made chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners not because he practiced any of those things, but because he was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Even of the groups that he was made chief over, it doesn’t appear that the each of the 4 groups cross-pollinated into the other groups since they are specifically named separately.

So let’s talk about the accusation of Moses partaking in a Wizard’s duel. As someone who grew up reading fantasy novels and playing Dungeons and Dragons, I actually had to chuckle when I first read this. But D&D is just a game. In reality, this seems like a stretch.

In the commentary on Exodus 7:9-10, the commentary in the Apologetics Study Bible says this:

Did the Egyptians really turn their rods into serpents (see v. 12)? Another translation of the Hebrew word rendered “by their occult practices” (v. 11) is “by their flames.” The Egyptian sorcerers, like modern magicians, seem to have used a bright distraction to conceal their substitution of serpents for sticks.

And the Archaeological Study Bible, in an article entitled The Egyptian Priests and Their Snakes on pg 96, says this in regards to Exodus 7:

The Bible frequently records particular events without explaining how they happened. Exodus 7, for example, reveals that Egyptian magicians mimicked Moses’ changing of his staff into a snake “by their secret arts” (v. 11). This could mean that they employed supernatural power and actually changed staffs into snakes. The Bible, however, does not explicitly state whether or not supernatural agents, either divine (Nu 22:21ff) or demonic (Dt 18:10; Job 2:7), were involved.

The majority of scholars believe that the Egyptians used mere trickery on this occasion. Through the ancient world pagan priests regularly deceived gullible people (e.g., a priest would hide in a large, hollowed-out idol and speak for the god). So the Egyptians could have used sleight of hand (anagalous to modern stage magicians performing tricks with animals). Evidence also reveals that Egyptians regularly practiced a method of snake charming that allowed them to put snakes into a kind of catalepsy, whereby they would remain as stiff as a rod until awakened. This trick is still practiced in Egypt today.

It is helpful to recognize that the purpose of this Biblical text was not to debunk Egyptian magic but to show that the power of Israel’s God was greater than any power Egypt possessed. When Moses’ snake swallowed the Egyptians’ snakes, the event predicted disaster for the pharoah. A representative snake from Israel’s God had defeated one of Egypt’s national symbols – the serpent – an animal considered sacred in Lower Egypt where Moses’ confrontation with the pharoah was taking place.

As far as the 3 wise men, it’s not really controversial and is actually spot on. But I would add 2 things:

1. Again, just because the Bible records something, does not mean that it endorses it.

2. The Apologetics Study Bible, in the commentary on Matthew 2:1-2, says this:

Wise men (sometimes translated as “magi”) were originally a religious class in Media and the Persian Empire, but the word magi came to describe any student of astrology and lore. These men had probably been studying Jewish texts such as Nm 24:17 in order to correlate their astronomical observations with the birth of a Jewish King.

I think I’ve said enough about this topic. The next blog will cover points 10 through 15, which you can read here.

 

 

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