Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The most embarrassing verse in the Bible

from “The World’s Last Night,” Excerpt 4 of 7

St Mark“Say what you like,” we shall be told, “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.”
    It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Yet how teasing, also, that within fourteen words of it should come the statement “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grow side by side. That they stood thus in the mouth of Jesus himself, and were not merely placed thus by the reporter, we surely need not doubt. Unless the reporter were perfectly honest he would never have recorded the confession of ignorance at all; he could have had no motive for doing so except a desire to tell the whole truth. And unless later copyists were equally honest they would never have preserved the (apparently) mistaken prediction about “this generation” after the passage of time had shown the (apparent) mistake. This passage (Mark 13:30-32) and the cry “Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) together make up the strongest proof that the New Testament is historically reliable. The evangelists have the first great characteristic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, at first sight, damaging to their main contention.

C.S. Lewis, "The World's Last Night" (1960)


  1. I respectfully disagree with C. S. Lewis on this point. The bible has far more embarrassing sections if you actually read the thing.

    Deuteronomy 28: 53
    "And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and
    of thy daughters, whom Jehovah thy God hath given thee, in the siege and
    in the distress wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee."

    Literal interpretation: "We must eat our babies that God has given us if we are under siege." I mean, it works pretty well for rats when they are stressed, why not people? Really, read all of Deuteronomy 28 and tell me that whoever wrote that was not severely mentally damaged.

    Romans 13: 1-5
    "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is
    no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted
    by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has
    appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a
    terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one
    who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his
    approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be
    afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant
    of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.
    Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but
    also for the sake of conscience."

    Kings were generally considered to be divinely ordained, so that makes sense in this context. It's a fantastic way to keep the people obedient and giving their money to their betters. Err... sorry, giving tithes.

  2. Hi Nick: Thanks for checking out the blog and C.S. Lewis.

    Many Christians would not agree that this is the most embarrassing verse of Scripture and a lot of us would not agree with how Lewis reconciles it with the verse that says no one knows when Christ will return. To be honest, though, I don't see much difficulty with the verses you quote. To be sure taking a single verse out of its context can often be shocking. Rom 13:1-5 can certainly be misused as you suggest, but Paul is arguing for good conduct, the kind that shouldn't get you into trouble with authorities. On matters where the state is wrong, I'm sure Paul would concur with Peter and the apostles, "We must obey God rather than human beings" (Acts 5:29).

    The Deut 28:53 verse is repulsive, immoral and disgusting. And it ought to be. It's certainly not recommending this action. It's warning that this is how depraved and morally repugnant people would become if the nation were to turn away from God. Deut 28 lays out what obeying God and being blessed would look like (28:1-15) and then lays out what disobeying God and being cursed would look like (28:16-68). I think the push is to go for option 1.

  3. There are dozens of predictions in the NT that the Son of Man would come soon, or the Lord would come soon. I list many of them in this piece: http://infidels.org/kiosk/article/the-lowdown-on-gods-showdown-86.html

    Edward Adams has shown that N.T. Wright (among other conservative theologians) did not study the many first-century instances where a genuine final judgment of the world was envisioned, and that reading the Bible in its first century context reveals that attempts to interpret all such talk as pure metaphor is doomed to exegetical failure: http://www.bookreviews.org/pdf/6312_6793.pdf

    The metaphorical interpretation employed by N. T. Wright fails for reasons discussed in a chapter of The Human Faces of God by Thom Stark: https://books.google.com/books?id=enOWAZlzZ48C&lpg=PR1&dq=the%20human%20faces%20of%20god&pg=PA160#v=onepage&q&f=false