Three Ways We Try to Tame the Bible

One of three “Slave Bibles” known to exist is on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. The “Slave Bible” was given to European missionaries working with African slaves in the Americas. Slave owners wanted their slaves to become Christians but also wanted them to remain compliant. Printed in London in 1807, the Slave Bible excludes 90 percent of the Hebrew Bible and 50% of the New Testament. Of the 1,189 chapters in a standard Protestant Bible, the Slave Bible contains only 232. The first nineteen chapters of Exodus are missing … for obvious reasons.

The Dangerous Bible


The Dangerous Bible

The Bible has always been a dangerous book. Slave 0wners understood this and edited accordingly.


Examples of the excluded passages in the Slave Bible include:

“He who kidnaps a man — whether he has sold him or is still holding him — shall be put to death” (Ex. 21:16).


“You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him” (Deut. 23:16-17).


“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).


IN CONTRAST, A PASSAGE THEY KEPT: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ” (Ephesians 6:5).


The Slave Bible made me wonder how we edit the Bible in our own minds, focusing on certain passages and ignoring others.


Yet, the Bible refuses to be tamed.


One hundred and fifty years after the printing of the Slave Bible, Martin Luther King Jr., stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and quoted, not from the Slave Bible, but from the dangerous Bible. He said,


“we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).




“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:4; Luke 3:5).


Dangerous Bible Passages

Here are a few examples of passages that may cause collective amnesia. These are parts of the dangerous Bible that have sometimes been explained away, lest they cause us to wince in pain.


“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).


“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matt. 5:22).


“A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will perish” (Prov. 19:9).


“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28).


“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29).


“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:34).


“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free …” (Luke 4:18).


Editing the Dangerous Bible

There are three things we consistently do to avoid difficult passages, essentially “editing” them out of our lives.

1. Ignore

Sometimes we choose to never discuss these passages. We focus on our favorite parts of the Bible and ignore the rest.


2. Spiritualize

This may be the most common approach to the dangerous passages. If we can convince ourselves that everything Jesus said was directed only towards the personal and private spiritual life, then we don’t have to deal with his more radical claims about societal problems.


3. Compartmentalize

We know that those passages exist, but we deal with them only intellectually, never having to act on them.



What will you do with these passages?


What are some other dangerous Bible passages that we edit out of our lives?






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