“The Test For An Unfaithful Wife,” or “How To Perform A Biblical Abortion.”

I couldn’t really decide on a title, so you can pick whichever one you find less offensive. Or whichever one you find more offensive. I really don’t care…. Whichever one actually gets you to read this.

Biblical Literalism taken to its comical extreme.

Biblical Literalism taken to its comical extreme.

There are a whole lot of people out there who believe that the Bible was meant to be read more like an accounting ledger than a book of poetry. They firmly believe in the idea of Biblical Literalism & Inerrancy–Interestingly enough, two claims which the Bible does not make about itself anywhere in the text. So when people embrace this concept of strict Biblical inerrancy, if a verse says, “God told the Israelites to ______,” then they believe that God LITERALLY TOLD the Israelites to ______, and that we are to read the text with that understanding. So if the text reads that the Lord said to “go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys (I Samuel 15:3 NIV),” then God actually said that. God told them to kill all the women, children, and babies. God told them to do that. God did. God.

These are the sorts of folks who quote Bible verses about God’s command to kill gay people….

“If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives.”
(Leviticus 20:13 NAB)

…. But mysteriously say very little about God’s command to kill disobedient children….

“Suppose a man has a stubborn, rebellious son who will not obey his father or mother, even though they discipline him. In such cases, the father and mother must take the son before the leaders of the town. They must declare: ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious and refuses to obey. He is a worthless drunkard.’ Then all the men of the town must stone him to death. In this way, you will cleanse this evil from among you, and all Israel will hear about it and be afraid.”
(Deuteronomy 21:18-21 NLT)

“Please don’t make me read Bible verses…”

Now listen, I know when the Bible verses start coming out, people’s eyes glaze over. So here’s the deal: I’m going to put a big quote here in just a little bit…. But don’t freak out. If you don’t feel like reading it, you can just skip past it, and I’m going to write a short summary of what is said. And then, after you skip the text and read my short summary, you will probably think to yourself, “NO FREAKING WAY IT SAYS THAT,” and you will go back and read the text, scratching your head in disbelief that this stuff is actually in the Bible. So anyway, here it is–The “Test for an Unfaithful Wife.” Behold, Numbers 5:11-31….

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him so that another man has sexual relations with her, and this is hidden from her husband and her impurity is undetected (since there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act), and if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure—or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure— then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour olive oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder-offering to draw attention to wrongdoing.

“ ‘The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the Lord. Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water. After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, “If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you. But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”

“‘Then the woman is to say, “Amen. So be it.”

“’The priest is to write these curses on a scroll and then wash them off into the bitter water. He shall make the woman drink the bitter water that brings a curse, and this water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering will enter her. The priest is to take from her hands the grain offering for jealousy, wave it before the Lord and bring it to the altar. The priest is then to take a handful of the grain offering as a memorial offering and burn it on the altar; after that, he is to have the woman drink the water. If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.

“‘This, then, is the law of jealousy when a woman goes astray and makes herself impure while married to her husband, or when feelings of jealousy come over a man because he suspects his wife. The priest is to have her stand before the Lord and is to apply this entire law to her. The husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing, but the woman will bear the consequences of her sin.’ ”

“I hate to tell you this, but I’m going to need you to take a big drink of ‘the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering.’ It’s actually tastes a bit like lemon Gatorade….”

So, for those of you who skipped ahead, here is what that just said–If you suspect your woman has been unfaithful (but have no proof), you can bring your woman before the priest, he will concoct a bitter drink (made of holy water, tabernacle dust, and washed-off curses that were written on a scroll) that he forces your woman to drink. Here’s how it works: If the woman has been faithful, she will be able to have the child and be “cleared of guilt.” But if she is a cheating tramp, the Lord will cause her abdomen to swell, and she will miscarry the baby and have what doctors refer to as a “Spontaneous Abortion.” One more time, just to sum up a little bit more, the Bible says that God will abort the babies of wives who have been unfaithful.

I used to think that the Bible said nothing about abortion, but it turns out it does. It says that if you are feeling jealous of your wife, you can force her to drink an abortion-causing holy elixir that will cause her baby to die as a consequence for her infidelity. So when these Bible-thumping politicians use the Bible as the reason they are against abortions–even in the cases of rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is in danger–they must not actually be reading their Bible. There are plenty of Biblical examples of God being into killing babies. He said in Hosea that the Samarian kids will be “dashed to death against the ground, their pregnant women ripped open by swords.” The Psalmist writes, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” Anyway, science has shown that somewhere between 30-50% of all conceptions end in miscarriage…. If God is in control of everything, that’s a whole lot of abortions he is responsible for.

The Naked Pastor dropping truth bombs.... Like he does.

The Naked Pastor dropping truth bombs…. Like he does.

Listen, I’m not trying to be blasphemous here. I obviously don’t think that God is into killing babies. Just like God didn’t tell the Israelites to commit genocide against the Amalekites. Just like God didn’t give Moses a Salem-Witch-Trial-Esque, “If she drowns, she’s innocent/If she floats, she’s a witch” sort-of method of figuring out which women cheated on their husbands. The point is this: You can have Biblical Literalism & Inerrancy, or you can have the belief that God is against abortion in all cases, but you can’t have both. The text clearly portrays God as being the driving force behind abortions for unfaithful wives (Let’s also not forget that Leviticus 20:10 commands adulterers to be but to death). If you’re reading your Bible in a literal way–One that has a 6000 year old planet, an Ark that fit two of every animal in it, and a God that commands his people to commit genocide–you need a new way to read your Bible. And if you find yourself in a church community that reads the Bible this way, you need to find a new church community. This brand of fundamentalism is not only intellectually inconsistent, it is downright dangerous.

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34 Responses to “The Test For An Unfaithful Wife,” or “How To Perform A Biblical Abortion.”

  1. Sarah Scharf says:

    Yes, thank you. I’ve heard many shoddy apologetics in defense of this passage. They should just admit that it’s there and that it’s CRAZY because people used to believe crazy (terrifying, murderous, misogynistic) things and that God said them. Heck, people still believe that.

  2. fancher493 says:

    How do you decide what to believe and what not to believe from the bible? What is to be taken literally and what should be taken figuratively? If you do not believe in the ark and the great flood do you believe in a virgin giving birth?

    • Justin Harvey says:

      Study history with a focus on anthropology, study the sciences, use discernment, listen to the real and present voice of the Holy Spirit. Use that brain God gave you. Pretty simple.

      • Catherine says:

        He posted a valid question and your reply is condescending. All the things you listed, well frankly, there isn’t anything simple about it. If it were “pretty simple” then there wouldn’t be so much controversy over Biblical issues.

    • txredd says:

      Read the Gospels and think about what the life and ministry of Christ reveals about God’s character. When you read the rest of the Bible, use the Gospels as context. Start from the premise that God is good and let that guide your understanding of everything else.

      Remember that Jesus taught using parables.

  3. veronica says:

    The bible is a book of fables and stories that were written by men. It has nothing to do with the word of God. Anyone who takes the bible literally has a screw loose. Fancher493’s comment above echoes my thoughts exactly.

  4. veronica says:

    One of my favorite quotes, author unknown: “If you could reason with religious people there wouldn’t be any religious people.”

    • theboeskool says:

      Do you think that I am unreasonable, Veronica?

      • veronica says:

        I think you have a good head on your shoulders and I agree with you on almost every issue about which you write. However, when it comes to religion, I find it absurd that otherwise intelligent, rational people suddenly take leave of their senses. I heard so many people a few years back say that they would never vote for Mitt Romney due to his Mormon religion. (“They’re crazy! Magic underpants? Outer space?”) If those folks could step back and look at Christianity in the same light (“Talking snakes? Virgin birth?”) they’d see that all religion is crazy. If it gives you comfort, great. But please recognize that not everyone believes in fairy tales and childish delusions.

    • Quazor says:

      One of my favorite quotes author unknown “If I could make something from nothing i wouldn’t need God.”

  5. Dianne Moorefield says:

    Thank you for writing this…it makes clear the arguments I have against taking the words in the Bible literally. I wish some of my relatives would read this!

  6. Mary Schramm says:

    There are a lot of things that I do not understand in the Bible. A lot of things I don’t understand about what is believed in a neighborhood or in life. Do not accuse anyone of lying with a man unless you have seen the actual happening.. The bible say you will be judged as you judge. If my husband had accused me of this, I and the baby would go out in the desert and die. I am sure glad I did not live back then. I have always wanted friends. Now I am glad I do not have any. Jesus changed a lot but we do not know exactly what. There are a lot of people who say you are committing adultery if married twice. A lot of churches also.

  7. Mary Schramm says:

    Does anyone have anything that is in the bible about being married twice. I knew a man in a church who committed suicide because his wife left him due to the above.

  8. Chris Shaffer says:

    Matthew 19New King James Version (NKJV)

    Marriage and Divorce
    19 Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these sayings, that He departed from Galilee and came to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them there.

    3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

    4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made[a] them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’[b] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?[c] 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

    7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”

    8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality,[d] and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”

    10 His disciples said to Him, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

    • theboeskool says:

      Why are you quoting this, Chris?

    • theboeskool says:

      The reason I asked is because Jesus, here, was giving rights to women. A common understanding of this passage has been used to compel people into staying married for fear of damnation (My mother was told that she couldn’t leave a husband who was beating her and my sister because “Scripture was clear”).

      However, what was happening here was that men were giving their wives a “certificate of divorce” and leaving them basically tainted and destitute. When Jesus was asked this question, his response was basically saying to the men, “You can’t just frivolously divorce your wives.” If you just abandon these women, you are being an adulterer. The only good reason you should divorce a woman was is she was being unfaithful. There were no divorce lawyers for women back then… no punishment for men beating their wives. This was actually a step forward in women’s rights. Was is the end goal? No. But–again–the Bible is the chronicling of small, sometimes almost imperceptible, steps forward in human consciousness… Steps toward God’s ideal for humanity… Steps toward freedom and equality… Steps toward the Kingdom of God.

  9. Actually I’m pretty sure it’s only the NIV that uses the word miscarry. I think they must mistranslate this. Nowhere else does it say anything about pregnancy. Most say her thigh will rot away and has more to do with her stomach swelling. Is it still strange? Yes. But not sanctioned abortion. Matthew Henry ‘ s commentary is really interesting concerning this. That it had more to do with whether the woman would admit to her sin. Really this is water and dust. Won’t kill you. Unless you lie in the face of Almighty God. And even then it wasn’t death but divorce and losing her dowry. Again. Strange. But not abortion.

    • theboeskool says:

      Thanks Amanda. I read some of Matthew Henry’s commentary on this, but I disagree that this passage can be whittled down to something unoffensive. There are many times in the Bible where the the writers use a woman’s “thigh” as a euphemism for her reproductive organs.There is very little doubt among the academic community that what is being described here is a miscarriage. When it says, “Her stomach will swell, and her thigh will rupture,” does that not sound like 3000 year old speak for a miscarriage to you? There are other translations that use “miscarry” as well, but some have the idea of a “withering womb.” Add to this the fact that the consequence for a faithful woman is being able to have children, and it would take some serious mental gymnastics for this passage to be understood as anything less than this “bitter water that brings a curse” causing a woman to lose her baby.

      This sort of thing was not at all uncommon in near-Eastern, Semitic culture. There is a long history of “Trial by Ordeal,” especially with women, where they would be made to do something that could be harmful, but God was expected to intervene if you were innocent. Making a woman drink water out of a big old clay pot (not a cup or goblet), putting dirt/dust from the floor, and then washing off the writings from the scroll (with whatever they were using as ink) into the pot, and forcing a woman to drink it is not harmless. Again, 30-50% of ALL conceptions end in miscarriage, and 10-20% of all pregnancies that women are aware of end in miscarriage… And that’s by today’s standards, with today’s healthcare. If, at that time, a woman was accused of infidelity, then her stomach swelled, her “thigh” started bleeding, and she lost her child (through natural means), you probably wouldn’t credit that to “God’s judgment” on her infidelity, right? But people in the ancient near East WOULD have. They would have called her spontaneous abortion an act of God.And they would have cast her out of their society.

      And this way of reading scripture is still happening today. Women lose a child, and they chalk it up to “God’s Plan,” and then they spend huge portions of their lives trying to figure out why a loving God, who is capable of all things, would DO such a thing… Attempting to comfort themselves with verses like “His ways are above my ways.” This thought process–this way of reading and understanding scripture–This Hermeneutic–sends people running from the arms of a loving God, because they start with the axiom that “God can’t be trusted.”

      I believe this way of thinking is dangerous, damaging, and at the heart of why people are leaving the Church in droves.

  10. Chris Shaffer says:

    This seems to be a rather crass attempt to discredit those who oppose abortion by throwing a bunch of complex and emotionally charged ideas into the salad bowl together and calling them the same meal. In this post we have the inerrancy of scripture, difficult passages of Old Testament Jewish Law, and modern day abortion rather flippantly tossed together as some convoluted excuse to discount whatever “fundamentalists” say because it’s supposed to be crazy. Hopefully your readers are astute enough to recognize the difference between a solid argument and its illusion.

    I’m not 100% sold on the inerrancy of scripture. I’m not a theologian, but the idea deserves a much more serious treatment than this for two reasons: #1. Jesus himself endorsed the Old Testament Law in Matthew 5:17 & 18 when he said that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. And #2. If there are errors in scripture, then how do you know that the parts you like about Jesus are true? If God can’t put animals on a boat or a prophet inside a whale, how can He raise Jesus from the dead?

    As far as the passages you mentioned referring to acts attributed to God that we may find abhorrent (harsh punishments, genocide, etc.): you completely leave off any discussion of historical context or perspective. Again, I’m not a theologian, but my understanding of the proper way to read the Old Testament is in the context of God intervening in human history through the Jewish nation at a very different time, place, and culture than ours in order to reveal himself to humanity. It seems unwise to read these passages of the Law as if we would pull them out and apply them to our time and culture today. That is true for this post as well as for those quoting against gays or anything else.
    Furthermore, for those of us who consider our present morality as superior to that of previous generations, the very fact that there is a generational discrepancy at all should make us suspect that perhaps we can’t fully trust our own judgements on what morality should be. Perhaps OT Israel should have been more kind or merciful, but perhaps we should be more brave or respectful or reverent.

    Finally on the abortion piece: you make a clear false equivalency when you call a miscarriage an abortion. Whether you’re referring to the definition of a “spontaneous abortion” or not, you know that’s not what people are talking about when they discuss abortion in this country. If the miscarriage in the passage you quoted is God’s abortion, then every death is God’s murder. Give me a break.

    Here’s the thing about abortion. Abortion is not a matter of religion at all. Abortion is the greatest civil rights issue of our generation. Millions of people without a voice are denied the right to live, the right to breathe, the right to love just because their existence was too inconvenient for the ones who were supposed to love them most. We get hung up on the exceptions, but what about the majority of abortions? I would concede a few exceptions for the sake of all those poor children. Either way, this passage isn’t even close to addressing abortion.

    • theboeskool says:

      Firstly, this post is not about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of abortion. It is about the lack of logic and consistency involved in a “Literalist” reading of the Bible.

      Do I think God causes miscarriages/spontaneous abortions? No. Did the writers of the Bible believe that God caused miscarriages/spontaneous abortions? It’s seems pretty clear that they did. Does this make the Bible worthless? Not at all.

      The Bible was written in a time in human consciousness where every drought/storm/lightning bolt was understood to be from an angry God who dolling out a consequence for our sin. The whole sacrificial, penal atonement system was based on this understanding. That is not the fulfillment of the law…. The fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING of wisdom, but it is not the fulfillment of it. Jesus was not saying, “My Dad is an angry bastard, hell-bent on smiting.” He was saying, “Don’t be afraid.” He was saying, “When you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” I believe the best picture we have of God is Jesus. And he is a CORRECTION to the understanding of God that leads Pat Robertson to conclude that every earthquake is a punishment for sin.

      And it is not at all a false equivalency, despite your rebuttal of “Give me a break.” If this story indeed tells of a Biblical understanding that God would end the pregnancy of an unfaithful woman, that has theological ramifications. If we believe that God is in control of everything, and we also know that–medically–30-50% of all conceptions end in a spontaneous abortion, that has theological ramifications. A literalist interpretation of the Bible excludes people from the Church who value logic, and that is a very dangerous precedent.

      When people encounter scripture that seems to contradict their established worldview, they seem to be very willing to go into all the reasons why the Bible is complex, all the cultural understandings, problems with translation, etc… But when the issue lines up with their worldview, all the sudden “Scripture is CLEAR.” That is an intellectually dishonest way to read the Bible. And a dangerous one.

  11. JonT says:

    What version is being used here? I’ve looked up the passage, and it doesn’t seem to be talking about miscarriages at all.

  12. Thank you for blessing us with this message. I see Jesus, John8, bending to rise and declare us NOT GUILTY. Mat26:29He drank the bitterness and curses so that we may be blessed. Isa53:5 By His stripes we were healed. Unfaithful wife, God in Hosea, who marries unfaithful Christians who sleep with foreign gods and give birth to children LO-AMI. Ezek34:25 Eph2:10 rids the land of evil beasts. Jealous Lover, redeeming His Wife, determined to have the last say in our lives. The Best is yet to come. Dont give up on God for He wont give up on you. He will not share His glory with idols! KEEP ON, KEEP UP, NAKED AND UNASHAMED BEFORE GOD AND BEFORE ONE ANOTHER! I LOVE YOU!

  13. Donna says:

    Just FYI, those of us who are not fundamentalist Christians (and even Christian and pro-choice) believe Christianity is centered around the teachings of Jesus which are found entirely in the New Testament.

  14. Hugo says:

    God is very much misunderstood in many places in history and in the Bible, and even some places misrepresented in the Bible. The question raised here about the “test of faithfulness” was part of the traditional laws they had… If you want to read even funnier and crazier things they did then go read the Mishna… every commandment is dissected and explained in so many ways you could keep/break it.

    These laws where written for man yes, but they where also written BECAUSE of man. Would there ever have been a necessity for the commandments if people did not murder, steel, worshiped idols, where adulterers, etc etc? You see, the commandments were written by God and given to Moses on Sinia, but the Mishna was written by man, the rules upon rules upon rules written to explain the commandments and to make sure people didnt get any way around them. And to tell the story some of these man written laws were inserted into the Bible as to give context, but mainly because it was written down by the writers of the original tablets/scripts as to keep record of Not just God’s laws but also the laws of the people.

    But then again the people misunderstood God…

    You read the bible with a perception of God that was formed by you growing up, things happening to you, listening to people around you, what your parents say, what the church say, etc etc. So every person reads and understand the bible by the perception comb you pull it through.

    Do you read the bible with a perception of a legalistic dictating God, or do you read the Bible with a perception of a Loving God?

    Often when challenged with pieces like this in the Bible, that seem to not make sense as they don’t fit the picture you have of God, then it is usually good to just make a note and read on, and then later compare them all together, in context to a lot more than just the words written there.

    Read the whole Bible, and get that picture of God of love written in your heart…. Then go back to these scripts that seem so crazy and look at them again, and not just the little few verses, but the whole context.

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  17. Sherri Saltarelli says:

    I only found it in NIV version, all other translations say that her thigh will rot.

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  20. Barbara Miller says:

    Given that papyrus ink and temple floor dust dissolved in water my not be your cup of tea (ha!), it is not going to make anyone miscarry. The abortifacient used in those days was ergotrate, a mold found on grain. My take on this potion drinking is that it was designed to protect women from jealous husbands. The priest gave her the “bitter water” and when nothing bad happened, which it wouldn’t because ink and dust don’t cause abortions or whatever, her husband would be reassured and stop suspecting her.

  21. Michelle says:

    Unbelievers should refrain from making judgements about God or the Bible. You’re blind and only stir your own heart to be even more stupid. God…the creator DID have the Israel remove lots of degenerate people from the land. Why is that? Oh. Because HE was judging them and their bad behavior. All of them had to go. That is His call. If you look a little deeper he brought judegement to Israel through Gentile rulers. It was also a harsh discipline. Miscarry is not the right word there. And NIV removed that a while back. If you would do some digging without snark mindset you might be able to see why the things yall drag out aren’t contradictions in our beliefs. BTW, the children that were stoned were more like adults. Discipline is important as it is now. I dont know of any children, actual children that are rebellious. So, with your ignorance there should be no children in Israel’s camp. It wasnt children that was eaten by bears either. Even though I do think that was harsh, I am not God. Thank your lucky stars because there’d be a lot more eaten by bears.

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