Book Review: God’s Problem (Ehrman)

God's ProblemIn God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Questions—Why We Suffer (Harper One: New York, 2008), Bart D. Ehrman examines the various explanations for suffering presented in the text of the Christian Bible. Ehrman, a New Testament Textual Scholar and James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has written a number of books concerning the text of the Christian Bible, and here presents an exegetical treatment of a contemporary question for the general public. God’s Problem is a New York Times Best Seller, indicating Ehrman’s popularity and the ever-increasing interest that the general public has in answers for life’s questions. In this book, Ehrman gives consideration to various Biblical perspectives and presents the positions in sections dealing with the Classical view of suffering, the Consequential view of suffering, the answer of Redemptive suffering, the Question of Questionable and Meaningless suffering, and the Apocalyptic view of suffering. This review will examine Ehrman’s general perspective on these various positions and additionally his position as presented as the book as a whole. Continue reading

God, Genocide, and Context

The Ancient Near East

The Ancient Near East

Several weeks ago I was chatting with some friends about the topic of God (Yahweh) in the Christian Old Testament. And, as is often the case, we ventured into the topic of whether or not Yahweh commanded genocide during the Old Testament period. While I am by no means an expert on this topic, I proceeded to suggest that God did not actually command genocide in the Old Testament, or at least what we would consider to be genocide in today’s context [1]. Thinking about this topic led me to think more about how we read and interpret the Bible.

Many Protestant Christians talk about reading the Bible “literally.” But I often don’t understand exactly what that means. Websters defines “literally” as “in a literal manner or sense; exactly.” When applied to the interpretation of a written text, this type of reading would seem to indicate that you take the text at its simple face value. But there are many portions of the Bible that even those advocating a “literal” reading of the Bible do not suggest should be interpreted woodenly. For example, the parables of Jesus. Is it possible that the Parable of the Sower or the Good Samaritan were actual events that Jesus was merely repeating for his followers? Possibly. But most people who have read or heard these stories have understood them as parables–stories that Jesus told to make a point and teach a truth–and not as historical narrative. But parables are not the only parts of scripture that should caution our desire to read the Bible “literally.” The Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (the central portion of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) and the Psalms are two additional chunks of Christian scripture that most people are hesitant to interpret “literally.” Continue reading