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‘Good Book’, Bad Hermeneutic

5 March, 2009

goodbookDavid Plotz, a self-described ‘lax non-Hebrew-speaking Jew’ who writes for SLATE online magazine, has recently published a book stemming from his quest in 2006/7 to blog through the entire Bible. It’s called Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible.

He just wrote an article on SLATE about the book and his experiences, which is an interesting and disappointing exercise in approaching the best of books in one of the worst possible interpretive ways. An excerpt:

When I complain to religious friends about how much [the God of the Bible] dismays me, I usually get one of two responses. Christians say: Well, yes, but this is all setup for the New Testament. Reading only the Old Testament is like leaving halfway through the movie. I’m missing all the redemption. If I want to find the grace and forgiveness and wonder, I have to read and believe in the story of Jesus Christ, which explains and redeems all. But that doesn’t work for me. I’m a Jew. I don’t, and can’t, believe that Christ died for my sins. And even if he did, I still don’t think that would wash away God’s crimes in the Old Testament.

The second response tends to come from Jews, who razz me for missing the chief lesson of the Hebrew Bible, which is that we can’t hope to understand the ways of God. If He seems cruel or petty, that’s because we can’t fathom His plan for us. But I’m not buying that, either. If God made me, He made me rational and quizzical. He has given me the tools to think about Him. So I must submit Him to rational and moral inquiry. And He fails that examination. Why would anyone want to be ruled by a God who’s so unmerciful, unjust, unforgiving, and unloving?

Plotz is amazed at how much he discovered every single day about Western culture and about his own Jewish heritage; what’s most amazing, though not surprising, is that he didn’t discover God — or rather, that  he rejects the God he discovered, precisely because he reads but does not listen.

  1. Brandon Wilkins permalink
    5 March, 2009 10:15 am

    I wonder how Plotz would respond if instead of saying “this is all set up,” Christians would say “its all fall out from Adam’s disobedience.”

  2. Wout permalink
    5 March, 2009 11:48 am

    “So I must submit Him to rational and moral inquiry. And He fails that examination.”

    This attitude, that God must make sense to me because I am rational and moral, and that I am capable of judging God is so typical of those who refuse to believe in God.

    “Why would anyone want to be ruled by a God who’s so unmerciful, unjust, unforgiving, and unloving?”

    If God were unmerciful, unjust, unforgiving and unloving, the issue is not whether we would want to be ruled by such a God. The issue is that God is God and rules whether we want him to or not. People so often say I can’t believe in a God who would do such and such. As if not believing in God means he then does not exist.

  3. creedorchaos permalink*
    5 March, 2009 12:33 pm

    Brandon and Wout~

    Put the two of your suggestions together, stir, and I think we can come up with a pretty good response to Plotz!


  4. 24 July, 2009 3:36 pm

    I recently found an article online that explains what disturbs Plotz in a very clear and eloquent way: In a nutshell, God is always good, God is always just, God is always loving. We live in a fallen world (because of Adam’s sin, as Brandon Wilkins said above, and therefore Satan has authority over the world. When we step out of obedience to God, we step out from under God’s protection and He “gives us over to Satan.” However, it is NEVER God’s will that evil befalls us.


    • 25 July, 2009 9:23 pm


      From Plotz, I rather get the impression that there are many, many aspects to his beef with the biblical portrait of God and humanity.

      Secondly, that article you link to has a lot of its own issues, it seems to me. Throughout, the ‘freedom’ of God is assumed somehow to be in competition with the ‘freedom’ of human beings, as if the concept ‘freedom’ applied in the same way to God and us, so that one or the other must have more or less of it. God doesn’t need elbow room in order to accomplish his eternal purposes, and at the same time that doesn’t mean that we’re robots because we’re accomplishing God’s purposes as we go about freely doing what we do.

      This mainly comes through in the article’s discussion of sin. It’s one thing to say that sin is against God’s will; it’s another thing to say something like our sin is under Satan’s control *rather than* God’s. That’s dualism — Satan’s a creature no less than we are, and God’s his creator and ruler no less than he is ours.

      So as one of my seminary prof’s used to say, there’s not just one big freedom pie that we share with God, only he gets a lot bigger slice. There are two pies — two completely distinct orders of freedom: the (righteous) God freedom and the (sinful) human freedom. As Joseph said to his brothers, ‘You *meant* evil against me, but God *meant* it for good’ (Gen 50:20). There are two intentions occurring together in the same act, but the brothers acted wickedly to destroy, while God acted righteously unto the salvation of many lives.

      Perhaps you agree, of course, and I’m just reading you (and/or the article) wrong.

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