Why do people misunderstand the Bible?

I enjoyed this post from Martin Shields titled, "Finding Too Much Sex in Genesis 2," discussing a number of common misconceptions about the creation of Adam and Eve.

Shields highlights 5 incorrect notions about Genesis 2:

1. Eden was in the east
2. Naming the animals is an expression of the man's authority over them.
3. "Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" is a fancy saying that means "all of me."
4. "The two become flesh" is a reference to sexual union.
5. "Cleave" has sexual overtones.

Many misconceptions about the Bible arise when readers draw conclusions from the English words used in the translation, without knowing the original Hebrew and Greek. Even scholars can be guilty of this when they work quickly or do not attend closely enough to their translation work. These misconceptions then become shortcuts that are never challenged because they sound right.

[The most common one in the New Testament, for example, is the use of "talent" as a unit of money in the "parable of the talents." Hey, it means that we should also offer our talents, right you guys?]

Naming Eve

Shields says about one earnest misreading of the text, "Although it sounds nice, it misses the point." If someone reads carefully and humbly, it actually doesn't bother me if they "miss the point" with respect to my reading of the original. However, if they base their theology or practice on these misreadings, there can be real damage.

The best illustration of this is point number 2. If naming means "authority over," what does it mean that Adam "names" Eve? If you misunderstand the point of the naming, and then go from there to the argument that men have natural authority over women, then we are going to have a problem.

Many bibliobloggers post about biblical misconceptions, but I would like to see a whole blog devoted to the nuances of biblical language for English readers. John Hobbins has some great translations on his site, Ancient Hebrew Poetry. The Ancient Hebrew Grammar blog is excellent but fairly technical. I enjoy Joel Hoffman's take on Hebrew translation at God Didn't Say That, but he spends more time writing fiction than blog posts. Even dormant sites have great information, however, so look around.

My thanks to James McGrath for sharing this on Twitter. Go read it!