4 Practices for Navigating Those Conflicting Bible Stories

by Meghan Larissa Good

A few years ago, a man came to see me, deeply unsettled.

He had recently heard a sermon on Judges 11:29-40. In this story, a warrior named Jephthah swears that if God grants him victory in war, when he gets home, he will sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house—which turns out to be his daughter. Jephthah mournfully declares that he must keep his vow to God, and his daughter agrees to be sacrificed after two months to grieve with her friends.

The preacher concluded his presentation of the story by praising the virtue of Jephthah’s daughter, commending her as a fine example of biblical obedience.

“What on earth am I supposed to do with a story like that?!” the man demanded. “What kind of book sends a woman home to the man who means to kill her?”

Good question.

Anyone who has spent any time in the Bible could probably compose a list of stories that leave them baffled or reeling. Many committed followers of Jesus feel quietly conflicted about Christianity’s holy book—particularly the Old Testament. Tales of warfare, genocide, and violence against women could not seem any farther from the “good news” that brought them to faith.

What does a person committed to the gospel of Jesus and the sacredness of Scripture make of stories that seem to reflect the worst of humanity—sometimes even implicating God in the horror? In what sense does a story like Jephthah’s daughter function as inspired literature?

These are vitally important questions; they invite us to take a deeper look at what the Bible is and how its pieces fit together. Following a few basic reading practices can help us find our footing as we navigate some of the Bible’s darker chapters…

4 Practices for Navigating Those Conflicting Bible Stories