Teaching the Bible in Public Schools

The news in recent days has included many reports about various state governments attempting to require “biblical” education of some sort or another in public grade schools. Of course this can only be a violation of the bedrock US constitutional demand that there be a separation of church and state. But let’s set that aside for a moment and wonder if these legislators actually understand what is in the Bible they profess to hold by.

One of the loudest supporters of these proposals is none other than Donald Trump, who also expressed support for the posting of the Ten Commandments in public spaces including classrooms. Seems a little peculiar since there is good evidence that he has violated every one of those commandments.

There is no universal agreement on how to parse those ten statements but no one would dispute that among the most important within that important set of principles is “Do not murder.” The Hebrew for this commandment is, לֹא תִרְצַח, translated “Thou shalt not kill” by the King James version, language which is retained in many English versions. The Hebrew verb, however, has a more specific meaning, namely, “murder.” The distinction becomes important because it is obvious that “kill” is too general. After all, the Bible itself demands capital punishment for many infractions, so how could it also demand that one not kill? For this reason, the New Jewish Publication Society (NJPS) translation renders it as I did, and a few Christian Bible translations, for example, the New American Standard Version (NAS) do as well.

The Bible these government officials want our children to study in public schools also provides an excellent example of the need to hold even the highest office-holders to account for their crimes. The story is familiar to most of us: David and Bathsheba. And the narrator does not mince words in his description of the events. King David sees Bathsheba bathing and inquires about her. He is told that she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who is at that moment fighting for David on the front lines. David summons, sexually assaults and impregnates Bathesheba. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide whether acceding to the wishes of a ruler should be classified as rape or not.

Learning of Bathsheba’s pregnancy, David summons Uriah back from the front and gives him leave, hoping that he will bed his wife and be able to take credit for the pregnancy. But Uriah is such a good soldier that he declines that part of the invitation, instead standing guard for David.

David returns Uriah to the front with a message for his commander Yoab—get rid of Uriah. And so Yoab positions Uriah in a place where the fighting is particularly heavy, and is killed.

David imagines himself to be in the clear. He is visited by Nathan, who we are told is a prophet of God. Through a parable, Nathan convinces David to incriminate himself, and David famously declares, חַי־יְיָ כִּי בֶן־מָוֶת הָאִישׁ הָעֹשֶׂה זֹאת “By the life of the LORD, the man who behaved this way deserves to die.” To which Nathan replies, אַתָּה הָאִישׁ “You are that man.”

But the story does not end with this. David has been found guilty of murder. The narrator explains that God will not take his life in exchange, but demands a life to compensate for the life, and so the child that Bathsheba conceived is stillborn. And this also becomes part of the fabric of the explanation why the Temple was not constructed in David’s lifetime, that holy task will be left to Solomon, Bathsheba’s son born to her and David after these events have transpired. David’s final years are anything but peaceful. His children battle each other, his wives conspire against one another, and David himself declines into senescence.

The lesson is complete. No one is exempt from God’s justice. The dues must be paid. And murder is murder, there is no way to cleanse the blood debt except by blood.

And so we now turn to modern times. A modern day president filled with contempt for the electoral process summons a mob and launches it against the very government he leads. In the melee that follows, violence leads to the deaths of nine people including five peace officers. Four of the deaths were participants in the mob. A total of five peace officers died either directly from the event or its aftermath. One officer, Brian Sidnick, died as a direct consequence of the riot. Four more officers died via suicide, and so far one of those has been declared a result of the insurrection.

There is simply no doubt whatsoever that the former president instigated the events that resulted in these deaths. Now, under US law, he could not be found guilty of homicide. In fact, there is at least some possibility that according to a recent Supreme Court decision, if he claims sending a mob to the capitol is somehow an “official act” he could be given immunity from any accusation of murder (or treason).

But that isn’t what the Bible would say. If the prophet Nathan were here today, he would undoubtedly say to the former president, “You are that man.” You must pay with blood for the blood you have stolen from the families of the deceased.

Just remember that if you think the Bible has credibility and use for our times, you do have accept its views on things like this: justice must be served.

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