Rowan Williams on how to read violent stories of the Bible

From his new book, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer

One of the great tragedies and errors of the way people have understood the Bible has been the assumption that what people did in the Old Testament must have been right ‘because it’s in the Bible’. It has justified violence, enslavement, abuse and suppression of women, murderous prejudice against gay people; it has justified all manner of things we now cannot but as Christians regard as evil. But they are not there in the Bible because God is telling us, ‘That’s good.’ They are there because God is telling us, ‘You need to know that that is how some people responded. You need to know that when I speak to human beings things can go very wrong as well as very wonderfully.’ God tells us, ‘You need to know that when I speak, it isn’t always simple to hear, because of what human beings are like.’ We need, in other words, to guard against the temptation to take just a bit of the whole story and treat it as somehow a model for our own behaviour. Christians have often been down that road and it has not been a pretty sight. We need rather to approach the Bible as if it were a parable of Jesus. The whole thing is a gift, a challenge and an invitation into a new world, seeing yourself afresh and more truthfully.

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