My views on Biblical inerrancy began changing when I first stepped out on the limb of uncertainty, asking, ‘why do the Catholics have more books than us?’ I resolved to get my hands on the apocryphal books, read them, and then be able to easily conclude that they weren’t inspired by God, just like the early church fathers did when they were led to that dame conclusion by God. If God led them to disdain the apocryphal books in order to honour his inerrant word, then He would likely not have changed, and would also lead me to the same conclusions, right?
This is where I digress into my theory of the unconscious will. At some point in our early childhood we are programmed with what we are told is the best for us. A compass is instilled in us which sends us in a certain direction which will supposedly keep us safe. This unconscious will prods us in our respective directions.
My unconscious will wanted to discover reasons why the apocrypha did not deserve to be called God’s word. I did unearth some absurdities which made me suspicious, but I didn’t come across any passage which were blasphemous or cultic, just- absurd. Do allow me to share some of my most memorable findings, and follow me on this exegetical trip:
Tobit was a good guy, a law-abiding citizen, but as his king Sennacherib kept killing Israelites, Tobit buried them secretly. Everything was going well until a whistle-blower from Nineveh told on Tobit. Sennacherib got very angry and wanted to kill Tobit, so Tobit hid. All his property was taken away. All he had left was his wife, Anna, and his son, Tobiah. The problem was solved when Sennacherib was killed by two of his sons.
Things are hunky dory then Tobiah brings him news that another Israelite has been killed (didn’t we fix this problem, seems like Sennacherib’s sons are as perverse as their father). It ruins his day. At sunset, he goes to bury the Israelite, while his village mocks him. That night, he slept next to the wall of the courtyard. It must’ve been a rough night, because he recorded, “I did not know there were birds perched on the wall above me, till their warm droppings settled in my eyes, causing cataracts” –Tobit 2:10. No doctors could cure him, and he was blind for four years.
One day, Anna, a weaver, is given a goat, as a bonus beyond her regular wages. Tobit thought it was stolen and gets very angry with her. He regretted that he got so angry with her, so he prayed that he would die.
On that same day in his town, Ecbatana, in Media, Raguel’s daughter Sarah had dealt with a bunch of browbeating from her dad’s maids. She’d been married to seven husbands, but the demon Asmodeus had killed each of them before they had intercourse. The maids accused Sarah of strangling each of her husbands. She went upstairs intending to hang herself, but she relented, because she knew her father would “go to the nether world laden with sorrow” –Tobit 3:10. She thought it was a better plan to ask God to kill her instead, so she also prayed that she would die.
So, in a good old “God-always-answers-prayer” fashion, God did NOT answer either of these prayers. Instead, He sent Raphael to sort things out, to heal Tobit’s eyes, and to solve Sarah’s marital issues.
The outworking of this is a little trippy, seatbelts on everyone:
Tobit’s son Tobiah would marry Sarah, and it was his job to drive Asmodeus from her. Poor guy, it wasn’t his fault he was eighth in line to marry her.
Meanwhile Tobit remembers his retirement savings, and gives them to his son because he is about to die. So, Tobiah goes to the bank with the hired help of an unknown Israelite (the angel Raphael in disguise) to help him find the way. Tobiah wants his dad to meet his new travel buddy, so Raphael steps inside to greet the very gloomy pops. Raphael introduces himself as Azariah, the son of Hananiah the elder, one of their own kinsmen. This makes the blind father happy, well, as happy as he could be, saying, “What joy is there left for me anymore? Here I am, a blind man who cannot see God’s sunlight, but must remain in darkness, like the dead who no longer see the light. Though alive, I am among the dead.” –Tobit 5:10. Raphael only optimistically said, “Take courage! God has healing in store for you; so take courage!” –Tobit 5:10. So Tobit immediately changes the subject and begins discussing wages with this delusional visitor. Tobiah and the angel set off, while Anna is having a nervous breakdown. She’s bawling, saying that Tobit’s retirement funds will only be useful to use as a ransom for their son when he goes missing. Tobit reassures her, saying that an angel will go with him. The dog followed them out of the house, and went with them.
Tobiah and Raphael walked till nightfall, then camped beside the Tigris river. When Tobiah when to wash his feet in the river, a massive fish leapt out of the water and tried to swallow his foot. Tobiah shouted in alarm, but Raphael just yelled back “Wait! Hang onto the fish! Don’t let it get away!” So Tobiah hauls the fish onshore. Raphael tells him, “Cut the fish open, and take out its gall, heart, and liver, and keep them with you; but throw away the entrails. Its gall, heart, and liver make useful medicines.” –Tobit 6:5. Tobiah ate some of the fish. The rest he salted and brought with him.
Late on, when Tobiah was asking about the medicinal value of the fish gizzards, Raphael told him, “As regards the fish’s heart and liver, if you burn them so that the smoke surrounds a man or woman who is afflicted by a demon or evil spirit, the affliction will leave him completely, and no demons will ever return to him again. And as for the gall, if you rub it on the eyes of a man who has cataracts, blowing into his eyes right on the cataracts, his sight will be restored.” –Tobit 6:8-9. That was the end of that conversation.
Am I the only one who is really sensing the Lord’s speaking to them right now?
Then Tobiah and Raphael began talking about guys stuff, like the laws of Moses regarding the betrothal of the Israelite females. Raphael convinces Tobiah to ask Sarah’s father for her, then proceeds to give him wedding night advice, i.e., using the fish liver and heart as incense. (I do wonder if any other type of incense was used in the verbal plenary inspiration of the book of Tobit.)
When they get back to their hometown of Ecbatana, Tobiah goes to Sarah’s house before he goes to his own house… turns out he stays the night. Tobiah took the fish’s heart and liver out of the bag he’d been carrying them in, and placed them on the embers as incense. The demon, Asmodeus, couldn’t stand the smell so he fled to Upper Egypt. Raphael chased him there and bound him hand and foot, then returned immediately.
Tobiah and Sarah happily survived the night in which he should have died, so they stay at her dad’s house for another two weeks. Meanwhile Tobiah’s dad is anxiously counting the days of his son’s absence. When Tobiah returns home, he puts the gall firmly into his father’s eyes, and blows on them. Then, with both hands, he peels the cataracts away. Everybody parties, and they all live happily ever after. Tobiah inherits a ton of money because he and Sarah were both single kids.
Now, breathe, and maybe re-read the story to get all the details again. This story has meant so much to my spiritual growth. I’m sure it will to you too. When you read it a second time, just remember, this is God speaking directly to you.
When I put aside my wry, sacrilegious sense of humour, we can both conclude that this story has its ridiculous elements. However, real life is stranger than fiction, and peculiarity isn’t good grounds for dismissal.
Two questions arise about the book of Tobit. Why was it kept out of the Protestant canon? Is it because the medical practises advocated within this book are so out-of-date, superstitious, and ineffectual that a sensible person could read it and know it was authored an ill-informed fictionist, not God? Why was it even sanctioned as part of the Roman Catholic canon? Do we want to encourage morality in the face of authoritarian repression among gravediggers for generations to come? I guess we can never know the purposes of God. cough cough SARCASM cough cough.
When I read through the Apocrypha, I unknowingly stumbled upon a skill which would serve me well, and put me through years of misery. Critical reading and analysis. Being able to read a Biblical book and question its veracity was a new freedom. When I continued reading through the Protestant canon, I applied the same scrutiny to its content. I realised there are numerous absurdities in our canon as well, the only difference between them is that I’ve been conditioned to believing them from a young age. Talking donkeys? You have GOT to be kidding me. Although, if an event like that were to take place at some time during history, then I would hope the story would be preserved.
My views on Biblical inerrancy embarked on a rollercoaster of doubts ever since picking up a Catholic Bible. One should learn to not ask questions. REALLY? I’m not THAT tractable. For the longest time, I outlasted my doubts with a blind optimism that all these questions have answers. Asking the hard questions = finding the hard answers. I lived in a dream world, thinking, “it’s true, so it will stand up to scrutiny.” That is a bad assumption to make.
I’m not going to live from assumption to assumption, even if that means drawing fewer conclusions.
I’m not going to create a fantasy that says, “everything works out perfectly. Every question has answers. Just believe.”
And I’ve checked with my laissez-faire Head Honcho; it’s all good.