How much longer do we have to pretend that it matters when we hear people justify their prejudices by claiming: “The Bible says”? It’s such an easy excuse for sanctifying any position, that people who’ve never even opened the Bible use it.
It’s saying something like: “The books in the library say,” for the Bible is historically a collection of stories composed by different authors from different cultures in three different languages written over thousands of years. Yet the claim is commonly brandished about and indicates that the person who touts it has already decided what the whole collection must say.
There are religious assumptions, of course, to justify doing this. There are those who believe that their god was the dictating author of all of those books, and therefore they must somehow — no matter how hard it is to make the variety of its claims sync — make it all agree.
It’s why no one takes all of what’s there literally. They instead come up with some inventive methods to interpret passages that don’t literally agree with their beliefs — and over which they continually argue among themselves. No wonder there are hundreds of different denominations and non-denominational churches fighting with each other over who’s finally getting the Bible right.
Of course, different sects and theologians have been arguing over their choice verses for millennia. And many of today’s arguments between the current combatants are still the same old ones, only with updated vocabularies. There even seems to be a real psychological need for them to argue about it.
It’s notable that the idea that anyone, no matter how wrong, can quote scripture is, frankly, just taken for granted in the Bible itself.
In a Gospel of Matthew (4:5-7) story, Jesus, it says, is taken aside by “the Devil” (toū diabolou) to experience temptations that sound like an oral final exam before he heads out on a “real world” ministry. That the Devil during the exam quotes the Bible, as he does, isn’t even a main point of that passage though.
It’s just casually assumed that people would know, without the writer seeming to be surprised at all, that part of the temptation includes the Devil quoting Psalm 91:11-12 to argue his point: “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike even your foot against a stone.’ ”
So yes, using “the Bible says” is something even Satan does according to the very “Bible” people who also use it are referencing. The Matthew tale clearly assumes the idea that “the Bible” can be a tool of the Devil.
Shakespeare in Act One, Scene III of The Merchant of Venice indicates that he also understands that quoting “the Bible” can be a meaningless façade covering rotten ideas:
Mark you this, Bassanio, the devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly apple rotten at the heart.
There’s so much in that huge Biblical collection that is never highlighted by those who quote it. It’s hidden away, and when people ask about those passages that they’d rather not face, “Bible believers” use mental gymnastics to get back to the point they want it to endorse as quickly as possible — if they even know how to respond.
This includes all the violence, commands to do violence, killing, raping, and plundering by both its god and his followers. Take one example Psalm 137:9 – “How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock” – among hundreds of other violent verses.
“The Bible.” for example, says nothing as a whole about slavery. There are parts that clearly support such owning of others as property. For example, I Peter 2:18 (NIV):
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.
On the other hand, though there’s never a call in the New Testament to free the slaves, there are passages by other Biblical authors that provide a basis for doing so if people who want to choose to use them, such as:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 5:28)
There’s a passage in Leviticus that tells priests how and when to use abortion as a test of a pregnant woman’s faithfulness to her husband that’s explained away with difficulty by those against women’s control of their own bodies: Numbers 5:11-31. But there’s no passage in the whole collection literally against abortion no matter what they say “the Bible” says.
There’s a passage in Genesis that says that God performed the first transgender surgery by taking a man’s rib and turning it into a woman: Genesis 2:21-23.
There are passages in Matthew and Luke where Jesus not only heals a Roman centurion’s male lover but highly praises the centurion’s faith for asking.
One could go on and on, but the reality is that because the collection of books that is now officially included in “the Bible” is so diverse, “the Bible” is like a smorgasbord of options to choose from. One can pick and choose whatever suits ones fancy, and that picking and choosing has been used down through history to justify the prejudices and cruelties LGBTQ people and others have suffered.
But prejudiced people also need “the Bible” to speak for them so they can act as if what is a personal prejudice is based on something bigger. Then they don’t have to search their own souls for where their ideas really come from.
And they’ll use “the Bible” even if there’s actually nothing in it to support their point.
What we can know clearly from solid, unbiased historical study is that nowhere in the Bible are “homosexuality” or same-sex committed and loving relationships condemned — and neither is trans identity. Period. Full stop.
Anything that claims otherwise is just commentary, prejudicial reading, and even merely made up because someone hopes it’s in that diverse collection of books.
In my college days, I often visited a variety of religious services. During a visit to a midweek prayer meeting in a very conservative church, an older woman whom a number of people there referred to with great reverence and awe as a “prayer warrior” started a long prayer.
She concluded what seemed to turn into a sermon all in King James English, with: “And, as Thou hast said: ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ ”
Of course, it wasn’t the place to point out that if we’re looking for the “Thou” that said that, he’s not in the Bible. And maybe she meant by “Thou” Ben Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac.
But who was going to question a “prayer warrior” after all?
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.