The 9 Most Baffling Passages in the Bible, and What They Really Mean
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The Bible has been called an historical document, a guidebook for moral living, and a work of fiction. No matter how you view it, there is no question that certain parts are confusing. We'll take a look at the possible meanings of the nine strangest passages in the Bible.
9. The Many Begettings
One of the features of the Bible, which have been satirized many times, are the long passages that say things like, "and Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse." The longest begetting streak is at the beginning of the book of Matthew. It starts with Abraham and ends with Joseph, the father of Jesus. This is puzzling, not just because the Bible is keeping track of people's sex lives, but because it includes Joseph at all. The supposed intention of the passage is to link Jesus, son of Joseph, to Abraham, father of the people of Israel, and yet the entire point of Jesus is that he is God's son by the virgin Mary. Joseph had nothing, biologically, to do with it. If anything, the Bible should be linking Mary with Abraham, and leaving Joseph out of it. Why the many listed begettings?
Some say that there is a subtext to this passage. Many of the people who were doing the begetting were not married to those who were begat upon. Therefore the sons that they begat held the technical definition of "bastard." Jesus was born to a single woman who was known to be engaged to a local man, and who was also in occupied territory. This kind of thing gets people talking. Although the begettings link Jesus to Abraham, they also necessitate acceptance of paternity that was outside the norm, negating questions about how, exactly, Mary got pregnant. Whatever happened, Jesus was God's chosen son and connected with God's people.
8. Jesus Gets Mad at a Tree
One day, Jesus is strolling along with his disciples, and he's feeling a little peckish. As Jesus walked, "he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away." In another book, which repeats the story, it is stressed that "the time of the figs was not yet." There was no real reason to expect that the tree would have fruit. So it looks like Jesus, the son of god, had a tantrum and wrecked a tree because it didn't have out-of-season fruit for him.
Some people point to this passage as an example of Jesus's humanity. He was supposed to be divine, but human, and have his cranky days like any other human. Others note that this was an emotional time for Jesus in general. He was four days away from crucifixion - which he knew was coming - and just about to take a whip to some moneylenders in a temple. It's also noted that figs and fig trees were often used as a metaphor for the people in the area. The fig tree, like the people, wasn't spiritually ready. This passage was meant to show that something extreme had to happen to make people righteous, and to demonstrate what would happen to people who didn't turn righteous.
7. What did Ruth Do?
Here's one that only gets more confusing with explanations. Many people know the basic story of the devoted Ruth. When her husband died, she followed her mother in law, Naomi, to Naomi's land and dedicated herself to Naomi's people and faith. This was a problem, as now Naomi and Ruth were living without a lot of money on leased land. Enter Boaz, the wealthy kinsman of Naomi. Naomi had a suggestion for Ruth, instructing that she should, "Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie and thou shalt go in and uncover his feet and lay thee down, and he will tell thee what thou shalt do." Ruth did so, Boaz woke up in the middle of it, and she and Boaz got married soon after that.