In a recent blog post at the National Catholic Reporter, Thomas L. McDonald claims that the Skeptic's Annotated Bible and other internet scoffers "pile ignorant derision" on "the difficult parts of the Bible." He then provides the correct explanations for "five hard Bible passages."
Amputation for Touching a Man’s Genitals (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: 25:12 Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her. Deuteronomy 25:11-12This passage seems simple enough: If two men fight and the wife of one grabs the "secrets" of the other, then you must cut off her hand without showing her the slightest pity.
But according to Mr. McDonald it's more complicated that that. It may mean that the woman should be fined whatever her hand is worth; or that her hand should be cut off while she is trying to touch the other man's genitals (not after); or that we should do whatever it takes to stop an attacker (including cut off a hand); or that just one or two fingers should be cut off; or that we should cut off the woman's palm, foot, or hip socket (rather than her hand); or maybe the woman should be cut off from her husband.
What is clear to Mr. McDonald, though, is this: "Certainly, the act of grabbing a man’s genitals in the midst of a fight is immodest." It's just that the Bible got a bit carried away with the punishment.
What Jesus Knows (Mark 13:32)
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Mark 13:32This one is simple as well. Jesus was God, so he knew everything. But he was also a man who didn't know everything. So whenever he didn't know something, he was a man; and whenever he knew everything, he was God. Since he was always both man and God, he always knew and didn't know everything at the same time and always knew what he didn't know. Or something like that.
Lot Offers His Daughters For Rape (Genesis 19:8)
Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof. Genesis 19:8Mr. McDonald sums this one up this way: "We don’t have to believe that Lot is in the right to understand the point of the story."
But he's wrong about that, if you believe the Bible anyway.
[God] delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.) 2 Peter 2:7-8Lot was a just and righteous man; the only one in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah that was righteous enough for God to save.
That is "the point of the story" (if this nasty story has a point).
Children Eaten By Bears (2 Kings 2:23-24)
As he [Elisha] was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. 2 Kings 2:25-26
Here are Mr. McDonald's simple explanations (select whichever one works for you): The story was made up to encourage children to respect their elders; the story is true, but the "little children" were young men who tried to stone Elisha (not just make fun of his bald head); 42 is a "symbolic number" that means "a lot."; God sent the bears to kill the 42 children as payment for the sacrifice of Balak; the children weren't making fun of Elisha's bald head, but his shaved head.
But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them ... as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee. Deuteronomy 20:16-17Mr. McDonald explains this one this way: "Jesus speaks with the same voice as Yahweh." It's just that Jesus flipped Yahweh's approach on its head. Yahweh commanded us to commit genocide; Jesus commands us to love everyone. They speak with the same voice; they just say completely different things.
And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword. Joshua 6:21
Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. 1 Samuel 15:3