We live with such an archaic interpretation of the Bible. People interpreted the Bible in different ways 100 years ago, 500 years ago, and 1500 years ago. We need to know why those interpretations came into being. Once we do, we can see how it is hurting us. Only then can we move on to a powerful Biblical interpretation, one that is vibrant and appeals to the modern non-Christian.
I want to focus on one story to show how this works. The flood has several possible interpretations so why do we have the one that is taught? Starting around 1500, people began capturing Africans but about 1650, the trade grew immense to supply workers for the new plantations. The Catholics and Protestants needed justification for their slavery. They had many, but by the 1800s, they interpreted The children of Noah to show that one child, Ham, was cursed to be a slave to the others, and that Africans were children of Ham. There was only one way to interpret the flood that came up with that result. The flood had to be world-wide. Thus, the three children repopulated the whole world, and since the southern most group was Ham, all Africans had to be descended from Ham. Thus, since Europeans were descended from Japheth or Shem, they had the right to enslave Africans. It was the natural order. Any other reasonable interpretation had to be suppressed, because if a different interpretation was accepted, the slave owners lost that powerful justification.
In fact, it was not until Luther that people started taking the Bible more literally. The Creationist movement, though, including the world-wide flood didn’t really take root until the southerners of 1850+ started promoting it. Thus, we had a racist theology demand that their interpretation was the only one. Many were convinced to write on it, without referring to slavery. Slowly the arguments strengthened, until many who are not racist accept the arguments. This, though has saddled us with a theology that contradicts science. Now, we have to invent miracles that are not mentioned in the Bible to fit this theology. For example, a single flood doesn’t leave layers, it jumbles up everything. We have to have a miracle to get the layers we see. Is there another interpretation?
The answer is yes. When the Bible says the whole world was flooded, it uses a word that can mean world, region, or country. It can be saying, the whole region was flooded. In 2 Peter 3, it says God created the world (Ge), God destroyed the world (cosmos) in the flood, and God will destroy the world (Ge). Why did God not inspire Peter to use Ge for the flood? Cosmos has the concept of the organized world. The organized world of 3,000 BC was only in Sumer. Egypt, the Indus civilization, and China only got organized after that. There is another point. Japheth is only listed as living in the region of Turkey and starting the maritime peoples, Shem was slight more south and east, and stated to be in the eastern hill country. Ham is listed as the peoples from Sumer to Egypt. Some think Cush referred to the Ethiopians, but it could have been the Kassites, a people near Sumer. Notice, the Bible is very specific as to where the people lived, and it doesn’t mention sub-Sahara Africa, India, China, or Europe. This, again, indicates a regional flood. Finally, look at the mechanics of the flood. There is only one known type of flood that lasts up to a year. It is a flood plain flood, just like in Sumer.
We need to reject the archaic, racist inspired interpretation of the Bible. We need to look at it afresh. The interpretation I suggested is not necessarily right, but is a reasonable alternative. Right now, because we are stuck with the racist inspired creationism, we are losing Christians when they go to High School and college and study science. They see how the two conflict, and are rejecting the Bible in great numbers. If we study the Bible fresh, we will see that there are literal interpretations that do not conflict with science, and we can then focus on talking about Jesus without people saying, “I don’t believe that stuff. It is just an archaic myth that science has shown to be wrong.”