Taylor: Heretical idea: The Bible can be wrong

If you're wearing a garment made of different materials, you’re violating a divine instruction.

Check your underwear! Seriously, take a look at it. Does it contain elastic or lycra? Are those materials paired with cotton, silk, or satin?

How about that shirt—does it mix cotton and polyester? Do you own a sweater that’s a wool/acrylic blend?

If so, you’re violating a divine instruction. The Bible (Leviticus 19:19, if you want to look it up) attributes directly to God the command: “You shall not…put on a garment made of two different materials.”

Leviticus doesn’t specify the punishment. But in 25 chapters of social regulations, the most frequent penalties involve death by stoning, burning, or banishing into the unforgiving desert.

Taking Leviticus 19:19 literally would probably reduce North America’s population by about 90 per cent. Leviticus’s range of sexual and dietary prohibitions would take care of the other 10 per cent.

So no, I don’t take that verse literally. Nor, by your actions, do you.

Nor should you. Because the Bible can be wrong.

World-renowned scholar Marcus Borg said it during his lecture series here in Kelowna earlier this year. We should all say it, loud and strong—the Bible…can…be…wrong!

(If you find that statement offensive, go read something else that doesn’t upset your preconceptions.)

Indeed, the Bible must be wrong, because in places it flatly contradicts itself.

Compare, for example, the peacemakers’ mantra of Isaiah 2:4, repeated word for word in Micah 4:3—“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks”—with Joel 3:10, “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”

They can’t both be right. Unless they were intended for a particular audience—which, of course, they were—and never imagined that the words would still be considered as divine authority some 28 centuries later.

A critic assured me, once, that this was not really a contradiction because Joel spoke in the present tense; Isaiah referred to the future.

Except that ancient Hebrew had no tenses. So the holy name uttered by Moses’ burning bush: “I am what I am,” might equally well have been: “I will be what I was,” or: “I am what I will be.”

I don’t say this to deny the Bible’s worth. The verse immediately preceding the instruction about the kinds of fabric you may wear says: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge…you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

That’s good advice for all time.

The Bible is not right just because it is the Bible. It is right when it identifies a truth or insight that transcends specific times and cultures. But it is wrong—no, WE are wrong—when we try to turn the Bible into a one-size-fits-all answer for everything.

The Bible endorses slavery. Also genocide. Racism. Polygamy. Even incest. Whether or not those standards suited a specific situation, they no longer fit our context.

Shoehorning today’s feet into yesterday’s sandals won’t work. We have to read the Bible selectively.

And the first step is to admit that the Bible can sometimes be wrong.