6 Controversial Bible Verses the Skeptics Love to Hate—Part 2

In my last article I wrote about some Bible passages that skeptics love to criticize:

Here are a few more, with my explanations:

1. Does God really command mutilation? (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)

Here Moses tells us that if two men are fighting, and the wife of one tries to rescue her husband by seizing the other man’s genitals, then “you shall cut off her hand, your eye shall not pity her” (New King James Version). Other English translations (KJV, NASB, etc.) say pretty much the same thing. Pretty severe, isn’t it?

In the ancient Middle East it was very common among other nations to mutilate an offender for what we would consider petty crimes (see the Code of Hammurabi). However, in the Law of Moses, this would be the only case in which God commands the amputation of a part of the body as punishment—if that is what it is really saying. But let’s take a closer look.

As Dr. Paul Copan points out in his excellent book, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God (pp 121-122), the normal Hebrew word for hand is yad. However, that is not the word used when the text refers to the woman’s “hand.” In verse 12 it says that they shall cut off her kaph. Different word. Kaph can mean the palm of the hand or any rounded concave area such as the arch of a foot, the hip socket (Genesis 32:26, 32) or even the groin. In fact, in the Song of Songs (5:5 and 4:12) in a rather sensuous love poem, kaph refers to the “handles” of “the locked garden” (a metaphor for the bride’s pelvic area).

Also, the word for “cut off” (qatsas) in Deuteronomy 25:12 is not in the intensive piel stem in Hebrew. Whenever it is in this milder qal stem (as it is here) it is translated as “clip” or “shave” (as in Jeremiah 9:26; 25:23; 49:32). What is going on here is a humiliating punishment for a humiliating punishment. The Law required not that the woman’s hand is cut off, but rather that her pelvic area (kaph) be shaved (qatsas). This punishment, as humiliating as it was, was nothing as severe as the mutilating punishments of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

2. People with handicaps can’t worship God? (Leviticus 21:18-21)

In the text Moses lays down numerous prohibitions against physical handicaps or deformities, saying that men with crushed testicles or men who are hunchbacks or have broken limbs cannot lead the people in worship. And the list goes on. So, the critics mock, “God doesn’t want ‘ugly’ people?” I wish they would actually read the Bible before making their criticism. Leviticus 21:18-21 is specifically talking about the qualifications of the Old Testament priests, not all of Israel.

And it specifically says that priests with these physical imperfections cannot offer sacrifices. In verse 22 it says that priests with such imperfections may eat of the showbread from the holy sanctuary in the Tabernacle, but they just cannot offer the sacrifices. So they can participate in worship, just not in leading the people by offering sacrifices. Why?

In the Old Testament, the Levitical priests represented the people in worship. Their sacrifices were to be without outward blemish or imperfection, so physically they were to be the same. In the final redemption of mankind there will be no imperfection, so the priests were to be visible symbols of what that redemption would finally look like.

3. Is your wife on the same level as an ox or donkey? (Exodus 20:17)

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. . . nor his ox or his donkey or anything that is your neighbors.” Is a man’s wife a possession equal to beasts of burden? Not trying to be funny here … this is an actual charge thrown by skeptics.

The problem for the skeptics, however, is that the Old Testament teaches the intrinsic equality of male and female, of husband and wife (Genesis 1:27; Leviticus 19:3; Proverbs 6:20 et al). Take, for example, Exodus 20:12 where it says to honor your mother and your father. Honor both. And the mother is placed first (in ancient languages like Hebrew the first thing listed is usually the thing that is emphasized). Children are to equally honor both parents, not the father over the mother. And animals were bought and sold; under the Law Israelite wives were not. This command is simply telling us that nothing in another person’s household should be coveted.

4. How about that story about the Levite who handed his concubine over to a group of men who gang raped her? (Judges 19: 22-30)

This is the ghastly story of the Levite who handed over his concubine to a gang of men who raped her all night. Afterward he took her dead body, carved it up into twelve pieces, and sent them out to the twelve tribes of Israel as some sort of grisly message. This is indeed a blood-curdling story! What’s it doing here in the Bible?

The Bible actually contains several stories similar to this, pulling no punches and telling it like it is. It certainly does not condone any of the vile behavior of the evil characters in this sordid tale. In fact, the theme of the book of Judges is “there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). But the Bible accurately describes exactly how horrible we can be in this fallen world when we decide to go our own way—which is why we need a Savior from Heaven.

5. Should you cut your hands off or pluck your eyes out if you sin? (Matthew 5:29-30)

Jesus uses pretty strong language here, commanding His disciples to pluck out their eyes or to cut off their hands if those parts of the body cause them to sin. But no, Jesus is not commanding self-mutilation. Nowhere do any of His disciples ever do this, and the cause of sin is not the eye or the hand. We sin because of what is going on inside us, in our minds (which Jesus is careful to point out in all four Gospels).

Jesus is just using normal everyday hyperbole to get his point across. We exaggerate often (“I’ve told you a million times to stop!”). Here He is merely telling His people in rather charged language to do whatever it takes to stay away from sin. Sin has extreme consequences, so go to extremes to stay away from it.

6. Why was Jesus so “mean” to a poor pagan Gentile woman? (Matthew 15:21-28)

“And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.’ But He answered her not a word.”

She just wanted Jesus to heal her daughter of demon possession, and He refused her—at first. This is only one of three encounters of Gentiles going to Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus never goes to them. In fact, He told His disciples in Matthew 10:5,6 to stay away from the Samaritans and the Gentiles but to go only to the Jews. Why? The Jews were God’s covenant people at that time (Exodus 19:5,6; Amos 3:2) and had priority. That is what Jesus tells her in Matthew 15:24, 26. God would bless the Gentiles through Israel’s rise, through Israel’s coming to the Messiah (Isaiah 60:1-9). But Israel would be filled first. That was the plan in the Old Testament, and Jesus was carrying it out while He walked the earth.

Jesus let her know of the “pecking order” in God’s plan with the nations at that time. This lady apparently understood that as a pagan she had no covenant relationship with God as Israel had. So, she took her place, subservient to Israel and to Israel’s Messiah by saying, “True, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Even though Jesus had no direct ministry to the Gentiles at that time, her great faith prompted Him to heal her daughter. Today, of course, we live on the other side of the cross. The old covenant has been fulfilled, Israel’s favored position has been set aside, and no nation has priority. God’s new redeemed people, the Church, is one new group from all nations equally (Ephesians 3:1-6).

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