The Wal-Mart Bible Letter-Rebuttal
by Rich Deem

Introduction

Wal-Mart Bible Letter

The time to sign the Wal-Mart Bible Letter has expired. Thank you for your interest!

Rich Deem

The website, The Wal-Mart Bible Letter, a "brain"-child of the writer of God is Imaginary (aka, God Hates Amputees), is going to send a letter to Wal-Mart on November 1 asking them to remove the Bible from their stores. The idea is ridiculous, and the claims of the site show the writer has an extremely poor understanding of the Bible. James Patrick Holding (Tektonics Apologetics Ministries) has written a sound rebuttal to those claims, which is reproduced here on this site. You can download the original letter (in MS Word format) here.

Lee Scott
President and CEO
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Bentonville, AR 72716-8611

Dear Sir,

On November 1, 2006, you will (as of current stated plans) be sent a letter originated from a person named Marshall Brain asking that your stores "cease distribution of the book known as the Holy Bible." We, the undersigned, respectfully request that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. ignore this letter.

We make this request because Mr. Brain shows a remarkable lack of understanding of how the Bible is to be understood and applied. He is neither a Bible scholar nor any sort of reputable expert in the understanding and interpretation of the Bible.

Mr. Brain professes to have "examined numerous passages in the Holy Bible" and found them "repulsive, stridently offensive and/or illegal." For your convenience and understanding, we would like to provide a sound response to Mr. Brain's commentaries and the "five examples" he will cite which he believes "reveal the obscene nature" of the Bible. We believe this demonstration of his lack of understanding will help you to understand why we believe his request is best ignored.

Please understand that the following is based on an online copy of this letter found at http://www.thebibleletter.com as of September 8, 2006. It is not unlikely, given Mr. Brain's past performance, that he will change the content of this site once he learns of our own response.

His charge: The Holy Bible demands that readers murder hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart employees.

This is false, and it is well to refute this nonsensical claim in some detail as Mr. Brain will repeatedly insist that the Bible "demands" this or that and quote some passage from a specific portion of the Bible, without any respect for the historical, social, and literary contexts of the passages he quotes.

It is a common argument of those duly misinformed to ask why modern Christians "violate" the laws of the Old Testament against such things as eating pork. To answer this objection, which lies at the heart of Mr. Brain's absurd understanding, we must establish some frameworks.

The laws of the Old Testament fall into three categories. First, some laws are universal moral laws. This includes do not steal, do not kill, and others. Some of these are laws that even Mr. Brain agrees should be obeyed today, and we will not discuss them further.

Second, some laws are cultural universals. By this we mean laws geared to Israel's culture that have a universal moral law behind them. As an example, Deut. 22:8-9 states, When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof. An ill-informed person like Mr. Brain may say that one would be hard-pressed to find home builders who follow this rule. But actually they do follow the modern equivalent. In ancient Israel, the flat roof of a house would be used for many purposes, such as sleeping, household chores, and entertaining. These chores included drying and storage of produce; even today the roof is used for such things in modern Arab nations. We don't use our roof the same way -- the modern equivalent is a balcony. Our builders certainly do make sure that they follow the point of this rule. At any rate, it would also be agreed that the universals behind these cultural applications should continue to be followed, and we think it is clear from this example alone that Mr. Brain's complaints are a case of rather simplistic readings and applications of the Biblical text.

Finally, there are ceremonial laws: Instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant, for example, are definitely in this, as are sacrificial laws and dietary laws.

Mr. Brain errs in his assumption that every single bit of the legal strictures of the Bible are of the first sort: Universal morals. They are not. The Old Testament law is embodied in the book of Deuteronomy. (Mr. Brain cites other books, but the same laws are repeated in Deuteronomy.) The book of Deuteronomy is laid out in the form of an ancient treaty between a king and his vassals. It is in essence a contract between God and Israel. They "signed on" and agreed to enforce the penalties.

Modern Christians believe that we now have a new covenant or contract between Christ and the individual and the believer. The sins are paid for by Christ's blood, and he takes on the punishment for the transgression of those who break God's law and accept his payment. The old covenant and our enmity with it is now abolished (Ephesians 2:15).

Our new contract, so to speak, does not contain specifications of enforcement -- that is now considered God's domain, with regard to each individual, on the basis of the new covenant terms. God will judge and punish moral crimes of the sort that are not prohibited by law, not men. Put another way, Mr. Brain is looking at the terms of a contract that was declared null and void some time ago. Christians have no mandate to execute persons who work on the Sabbath. (It is an open question indeed whether God requires observance of a Sabbath today, but that is beside the point of this letter and Mr. Brain's claims.) Only those who signed on to the covenant of Deuteronomy did. His claim that the Bible demands the death of "hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart's employees [who] work on the Sabbath" is simply paranoid, misinformed nonsense.

His charge: The Holy Bible demands that readers discriminate against women. This type of sexual discrimination directly affects female employees working for Wal-Mart.

Mr. Brain's understanding of the passages he cites as evidence of this is rather deficient. First, he cites 1 Timothy 2:11-12 the Bible says: �Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.�

Please be aware, first of all, Mr. Scott, that in the time of the New Testament, it was regarded as proper for ALL people -- men AND women -- to learn in silence. In the first century "silence" was a positive attribute. It did not necessarily entail "not speaking," but implied respect or lack of disagreement.  1 Timothy is addressed to a specific situation of which we have some knowledge, and that is a belief system unique to the culture of the ancient city of Ephesus (where Timothy resided) in which women were considered to be superior to men. It is thus the case that these words are directed to persons who undoubtedly insisted that women were of such superiority that they were free to ignore what was expected of ALL persons of that time, men and women alike, when receiving instruction.

Second, please be aware that when Paul says that he permits no woman to "teach or to have authority over men," the aforementioned belief system prevalent in Ephesus plays a significant role. "Teach" is grammatically connected to "have authority over" and thus describes a single activity, not two different activities. The verb translated as "have authority over" has been understood to connote a sense of "domineer" or "to usurp authority." It is not a typical word for simply having authority over (as you have authority over employees of Wal-Mart). Thus this passage is directed against women involved in false teaching who have abused proper exercise of authority in the church by usurpation and domination of the male leaders and teachers in the church at Ephesus.

Second, Mr. Brain cites 1 Corinthians 14:34-35: "...women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." Mr. Scott, please be aware that Mr. Brain has no education whatsoever in the principles of Greek grammar or rhetoric, and so he would hardly be aware of how to properly understand this passage. These factors indicate that in these words, Paul is quoting a position held by the Corinthian church members, which he goes on to strongly disagree with. Paul does not say that women should stay silent in church; the Corinthians said this, and Paul is responding to them.

Finally, Mr. Brain cites Numbers 31:14-18, "And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." It is not clear in what way Mr. Brain thinks this passage is offensive, so we can only offer a few general observations in comment. In Numbers, the people of Israel were warring against a people called the Midianites, who were known to engage in kidnapping and international slave trading, as well as raiding and pillage of villages. Advised by the prophet Balaam, the Midianites conspire to cause the people of Israel to self-destruct by enticing them to engage in religious practices that involved sexual acts. Following this plan, some 6,000-12,000 Midianite married women "aggressively offer sex to the Israelite men (most of whom are married), and after having sex/adultery, convince then to participate in further acts" of idolatry. The logic of the Midianites was that God would destroy Israel for their idolatry; therefore, they did what they could to encourage idolatry.

For this atrocity, God orders Israel to attack this specific group of Midianites and eliminate them. When the Israelites return from this mission, their leader, Moses, orders them to execute the women with them who had been involved in the treachery. The remaining young girls were spared and distributed throughout the people, into families. They would eventually be assimilated into Israel families, but from this moment on, they would care for them, feed them, train them, etc. for family life in Palestine.

In a nutshell, the matter is far from a simple case of "women are bad" as Mr. Brain would have it be believed, and it is far from any sort of universal condemnation of women.

His claim: The Holy Bible fully endorses slavery, which is today strictly illegal in the United States. The Bible also endorses such egregious behaviors as the beating of slaves.

Mr. Brain's summary contains a number of errors, which we can again only address briefly. First, it is a misunderstanding to use the word "slavery" to describe much of what is in the Bible that is commonly called that. Social scientists recognize what is in the Old Testament as being closer to indentured servitude -- a process whereby many Americans' ancestors made their way to the New World. I refer here not to slaves in the bellies of ships, but to those who freely chose to obligate themselves to work for a person already in the New World for a certain period of time in order to be able to move to America themselves. In this light, when Mr. Brain cites Leviticus 25:44 (�Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life.�) he is unaware that the persons so "bought" were in fact in their situation voluntarily.

Mr. Brain also cites Exodus 21:20: �If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.�  What Mr. Brain fails to realize is that compared to other law codes of this time and place, this is a highly humanitarian passage. In some ancient codes, a master could literally put out the eyes of his slaves and not be punished at all. Branding, cutting of the ears, mutilating of the nose, and so on were also permitted by other cultures -- but not by the Old Testament. Furthermore, the punishment is not different than that prescribed for free men. Note what the passage says prior to 21:20: "If men quarrel and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but is confined to bed, the one who struck the blow will not be held responsible if the other gets up and walks around outside with his staff; however, he must pay the injured man for the loss of his time and see that he is completely healed." Beatings with a rod were a normal punishment for free persons as well (Deut. 25:1-3). In addition, the word "property" actually means "silver" and refers to the work value of the slave -- not the slave as property in the sense of a person owning another person.

Finally, Mr. Brain claims that "[s]tatements like Colossians 3:22 and Titus 2:9 in the 'New Testament' fully endorse slavery." You will note that Mr. Brain does not quote these passages, because they do no such thing. They say:

Servants, obey in all things those who are your masters according to the flesh, not just when they are looking, as men pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing God. (Colossians 3:22)

Exhort servants to be in subjection to their own masters, and to be well-pleasing in all things; not contradicting...(Titus 2:9)

Neither of these says, "Slavery is a good thing. Do it." Rather, they rather exhort slaves to behave in a sincere way in the situation they are in.

In addition, a more contextual understanding reveals that the Bible's instructions concerning slaves are radical for their time. Paul says in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This is an incredible statement to be made in a time when slaves were considered to be inferior, immoral, and despised. In addition, Paul explicitly denounces slave-trading, which would have restricted the supply of slaves to Christian households (1 Timothy 1:9-10), tells slaves to become free, if they can (1 Corinthians 7:21), and encourages one of his letter recipients, Philemon to free his slave, Onesimus (Philemon 1:21). This hardly amounts to endorsing slavery.

Mr. Brain is perhaps upset because there is no explicit "stop slavery now" message in the Bible. Nevertheless the Bible's message about slavery undermines the very premises which guaranteed the institution to the ancient mind. The Bible approached the matter as Martin Luther King or Gandhi would have, with passive resistance. Is Mr. Brain a better moralist than those luminaries?

His claim: The Holy Bible demands that readers murder homosexual men. The Holy Bible incites readers to commit hate crimes against innocent citizens.

This claim is false for the same reasons the claim in the first case is false. Modern Christians have not signed on the covenant contained in the Old Testament.

His claim: The Holy Bible demands that readers murder those who do not believe in the �god� of the Bible.

This is false for the same reason. However, we would note that Mr. Brain is a bit dishonest in how he presents matters. He says, In the �New Testament� of the Bible, the man known as Jesus also condemns all unbelievers. Of course, nothing said by Jesus says that unbelievers must be murdered, and Mr. Brain conspicuously fails to mention this.

Thus it is that we, the undersigned, recognize that Mr. Brain's claim that the Bible �commands the death of innocent Wal-Mart employees� sexual discrimination against women� endorses slavery and the beating of slaves�incites hate crimes against innocent citizens of the United States, and�demands the murder of people of other faiths� is simply nonsense. Our own recommendation, if there is to be any, is that Wal-Mart instead consider adding to its sales lines scholarly material that will help people understand the Bible better. Certainly Mr. Brain shows that there is a lack of such good material in accessible places, and rather than the Bible being �obscene� as he claims, it is rather his misrepresentation and misinterpretation of it that is obscene, if not indeed also slanderous.

We, the undersigned, trust that you, Mr. Scott, will look at the five answers listed above and recognize the deep and systemic absurdity found in Mr. Brain's letter to come, along with the highly offensive, amateurish, and misinformed nature of its content. We request that you work within your organization to expediently send his letter to �File 13� where it belongs. Please be aware that Mr. Brain has used these arguments before in other venues, and though corrected on them by others, has ignored the criticism. He is not at all interested in dialogue or in correcting his mistakes.

Sincerely,


http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/wal-mart_bible_letter.html
Last Modified November 7, 2006

 

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