The Bible Is Generally Unclear

Listening to the clergy, priest, minister, rabbi or other religious leader, and hearing the interpretation they give of biblical events and verses, congregants become convinced that what they are hearing is exactly what the Bible is saying, not an imaginative interpretation of the clergy. The sermon, for example, may stress that the Bible states that one must love God and that love is an emotion people can feel. But this idea is not in the Bible which recognizes that people cannot be compelled to have an emotion. It is an interpretation. If readers of the Bible pay close attention to the verses that tell about events and laws. The reader will find that all the events and laws in the Torah are ambiguous or obscure. The following are some of the multiple examples of where the Bible is not clear.

Unclear verses and events in the Bible

  • Why did God create the world?
  • Should the statement “God formed man from the dust of the earth” be understood literally that humans contain dust of the earth, or if it is metaphoric, what does it mean?
  • Why is it that in the Bible it is the second son who is preferred over the first born?
  • Why did God give human’s free will when God should have known they will misuse it?
  • Is Maimonides correct when he explains that the “image of God” that God placed in humans was intelligence? If so, why doesn’t the Torah state explicitly that God gave humans intelligence?
  • The Bible states that Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel, offered sacrifices to God. Cain gave fruits and vegetables. Abel offered an animal. It is unclear why God accepted the dead animal and not the vegetation. Why did God show a preference that led to Cain killing his brother Abel? Didn’t God know that showing a preference in this manner would lead to a homicide?
  • Many say that it was not until the time of Noah that God permitted people to eat animals. If so, why did God accept the sacrifice of an animal?
  • Why instead of punishing Cain, God protected him from harm by placing a sign on him cautioning people not to harm him? Shouldn’t Cain have been punished because of his murder and as a warning to others not to do as he did?
  • The Torah states that Adam had a third son when he was 130 years old, Seth. Why did it take so long to have this son?
  • This situation is not unique. The Torah tells us that Noah had Shem, Ham, and Japheth when he was 500 years old.
  • Tradition differs. It states that Noah was 502 when he bore Shem who was not his oldest son. Why does this interpretation exist?
  • What did Noah’s son Ham do to his father Noah when Noah was drunk that was so terrible?
  • Why was Ham’s son Canaan punished for what Ham did?
  • What was Canaan’s punishment?
  • Why was Abraham rewarded for saying that his wife Sarah was his sister as a precaution that a man would not kill him to take his wife? Shouldn’t people be punished for lying? Yet, when Pharaoh released Sarah, he rewarded Abraham with many gifts.
  • Why are many women in the Bible barren for many years before having a son who will have a prominent place in Jewish history?
  • Why did God tell Abraham to listen to his wife and banish the son he loved, Ishmael, the son he wanted to inherit his property?
  • What act did Ishmael do that made Sarah want her husband Abraham to banish him?
  • Shouldn’t Abraham be criticized for trying to kill his son Isaac when he believed to do so was a divine command? He only desisted because an angel told him to stop.
  • Why did Abraham argue with God and try to persuade God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but did not argue with God when he thought God wanted him to sacrifice his son Isaac.
  • What does holy mean? Does it affect our mind or body?
  • Why of all possibilities was circumcision chosen as a sign of the covenant between humans and God?
  • Why is the Hebrew Aseret Hadibrot and the Greek Decalogue, meaning ten statements, called Ten Commandments when it is clear that there are more than ten in the ten statements?
  • Doesn’t the last statement of the Decalogue forbid sexual thoughts about another man’s wife? If, so, why did the rabbis say it forbids having sex with her?
  • The Decalogue forbids murder, yet tradition explains that murdering animals, executions for certain crimes, and self-defense is allowed. Isn’t this contrary to the plain meaning of “You shall not kill”?
  • Similarly, the Decalogue forbids robbery. Why did the rabbis say it is forbidding kidnapping?
  • What is the covenant? Does it mean what many people think that as long as humans act properly, God will protect them? If so, where do we see God protecting people outside the Bible?
  • How did Joseph know that the seven items in Pharaoh’s two dreams referred to seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine? Was this a prophecy or the use of intelligence?
  • Should the number seven in the two dreams be understood literally – seven, no more and no less – or is it a figurative number meaning many years until the period ends? Seven and three are used frequently in the Tanakh to signify a complete long time, while three indicates a somewhat shorter period, such as Abraham taking his son Isaac to be sacrificed a distance of three days.
  • Why did Joshua ignore the clear command that Moses gave him from God to kill all Canaanites?
  • Why isn’t the law about proper slaughtering of an animal before eating it in the Torah?
  • Why does the Torah not tell us what acts are forbidden on the Sabbath?
  • What prompted the rabbis to interpret the three time command not to mix a calf in its mother’s milk a prohibition against mixing meat and dairy products?
  • Why is the law repeated three times?

Conclusion

Once we understand that the all the events and laws in the Tanakh are either ambiguous or obscure we will understand that they are written in this way to make us think. We should also realize that when clergy tell us an interpretation, it is only a guess. The best approach is to focus on the question, not the proffered solution, and develop our own solution.

I mentioned in the past an idea that I think is correct. I think I saw it in the writings of Jorge Borges, but I cannot find it there. He says, all great literature is filled with ambiguities and obscurities. The result is that two people are writing what is being read, the original writer and the reader.

Tradition states that the explanations of the ambiguities and obscurities are in the Oral Torah. But the Torah itself does not say this.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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