Clergy don’t understand the Bible


I am convinced that most clergy of every faith who function in churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues don’t understand what the Bible is saying. Also, because of their job, even if they know better, they have become so accustomed to reading the Bible incorrectly that they are unable or, at best find it difficult, to change.

Why? Because they think that their job, as preachers, requires them to ignore what the Bible says and that they must tell their congregants what they feel it teaches or what they want it to teach. Unlike most scholars who understand that their profession requires them to know what the Bible is saying, clergy feel that their role is to teach their congregants proper behavior. Therefore while a scholar will read a biblical passage and see that the passage is at best ambiguous and at worst obscure, clergy read into the passage a “message” that they preach to their congregants claiming: “This verse is teaching such and such” while in truth the verse doesn’t say what they sermonize at all.

When scholars sit and listen to sermons, they frequently squirm in their seats.

The rabbinic interpretation of Genesis 12:5 is an example.

Many rabbis[1] cite Genesis 12:5 , which relates that when Abraham arrived in Canaan, he brought with him his wife, his nephew Lot, all items they had gathered, “and the nefesh that they had acquired in Haran.” Relying on the post-biblical translation of nefesh as “soul” and supposing that conversions to Judaism existed in the days of Abraham, they say that “Abraham brought converts [the educated and altered souls] that he converted in Haran.” This is not the plain meaning of 12:5, as Rashi acknowledges in his commentary.[2]

This is a false and anachronistic translation of nefesh and a distortion of history designed to highlight the importance of Judaism and conversion: Judaism, they are saying, is so important that even Abraham converted pagans to Judaism before the religion began.

The biblical word nefesh means “person,” as in Leviticus 2:1, where a nefesh brings a sacrifice; and the first clear example of conversion is much later, during the days of John Hyrcanus, around 150 BCE. Ruth’s statement in 1:16, “your God is my God,” is no indication of conversion. In the time of Ruth, people believed that different gods had authority over different nations, and Ruth was saying she will come to Israel where a different god has dominion; besides, she didn’t undergo a conversion ceremony. Additionally, about the fourth century BCE Ezra and Nehemiah ordered the Judeans to send their non-Judean wives away; if conversion existed at that time, there would have been no need for the draconian demand to strip husbands of their wives, to banish them; the wives could have converted. It is clear that nefesh in 12:5 refers to servants or slaves that Abraham acquired along with non-human property while living in Haran.


[1] Genesis Rabbah, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 79b, Rashi, Targum Onkelos, and many others.

[2] This is also the view of Radak, the Soncino translation, and many other sources.