Biblical texts can be used to prove a number of beliefs that today are considered by most people to be simply untrue.

The Bible is particularly problematic in some places in its apparent attitude towards women. This is not an isolated case of a few texts; it is a problem that runs through the whole of Scripture and any fan of the “dueling texts” game must be prepared to defend the use of their chosen texts in light of the Bible’s, at times, difficult attitude towards women.

What texts can I produce to prove that God does not in fact prescribe capital punishment for a woman trapped in prostitution, or who touches a man’s genitals, or practices sorcery in the face of the obvious textual evidence that such practices are God’s will?

When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9)

If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity. (Deuteronomy 25:11,12)

You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live. (Exodus 22:18)

If someone pulls out a Bible text to prove to me that the very nature of creation demonstrates that it is disgraceful for me to grow my hair and shameful for my wife to cut hers, I have no dueling text by which to refute my opponent. I can only say that, because of my experience of life, I read Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 11 differently than the obvious meaning of the text:

For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil.
(I Corinthians 11:6)

Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.
(I Corinthians 11:14,15)

I have no equally convincing Scripture to demonstrate that, by cutting her hair, my wife is not going against what “nature itself” reveals. I cannot show you a Bible verse that makes it acceptable for me to grow my hair if I choose. When the words of Scripture clearly contradict my fundamental experience of life, I will always choose in favour of my deepest experience of life.

When I am attacked because my church allows women to take a leadership role in church and to teach in worship, I will not be persuaded when my attacker quotes I Timothy:

I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.
(I Timothy 2:12)

My adversary on this issue could certainly prove his position, as many still do, by referring to Paul’s teaching in
I Corinthians:

As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. (I Corinthians 14:33b, 34)

I cannot accept that these texts make it impossible for women to exercise leadership in the church today because my experience of women in church leadership has taught me that gender is no barrier to God’s call to ministry in the church. But, I cannot prove my conviction by citing a particular Bible text.

The problem in “dueling texts” does not reside solely with the Bible’s apparent teaching about women.

If my competitor in “dueling texts” trots out I Samuel 15:3 to prove that God is a genocidal monster who counsels the slaughter of infants and children, I will refuse to believe the text, but not because God is not reported to have told the Israelites to,

go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. (I Samuel 15:3)

I refuse to believe that God is a genocidal monster who would counsel the massacre of innocents. My experience of life tells me that the fundamental force and nature of all life is love and kindness, not violence and slaughter.

When the Psalmist suggests that the path to happiness lies along the road of destroying my enemy’s babies, I will not follow his counsel:

Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock! (Psalm 137:9)

My heart rejects any suggestion that there could ever be any circumstance in which violence against a small child is justified, much less mandated by God.

So if a literal reading of isolated biblical texts is not an adequate criteria to support my convictions, what am I to use to back up my beliefs?