dont trust bible - new testament misquotes

I often tell people that if it were not for the Old Testament, I would probably still be a devout Christian. Based on my personal experience, it’s more common to find Old Testament scholars who are liberals or unbelievers than it is to find New Testament scholars of the same disposition (though the field is certainly filled with all kinds of scholars).

So what makes the Old Testament so difficult? There are lots of issues that are strange for the modern reader, ranging from moral atrocities and scientific absurdities, to strange rituals or customs. Yet it was not merely these elements of the of the Old testament that caused me to abandon the Bible as a “moral compass,” but also seeing how the New Testament authors interpreted and assimilated the ancient Hebrew text to the point of “taking it out of context.” If I used the same biblical hermeneutic that the NT authors used, I would fail every single bible interpretation course available today, from conservative and liberal seminaries. And that… just feels odd.

For example, if you grow up a Christian you will often hear these grand statements about ancient prophecies that were recorded in the Hebrew Bible and fulfilled in the Christian New testament, and yet, upon closer inspection all of these are completely taken out of context. In this post we will survey some of the popular places where the abuse of the OT by the NT writers creates a cacophonous disharmony in this book that is purported to be divinely harmonious.
Basically, there are many “oops” moments where a careful reader of the text can be nearly certain the NT writers made mistakes and misunderstood, misappropriated, misremembered, and very loosely paraphrased certain passages to the point of changing the meaning, and this bodes very unwell for claims that this book is without error.

 

OUT OF CONTEXT PROPHECIES

There are dozens of examples of this (in fact, if you’ve ever seen those famous lists of “300 prophecies Jesus fulfilled” you will find that Jewish scholars persuasively argue that every single one of them is clearly out of context or misunderstood). Since we don’t have time for 300, lets looks at some of the most well-known examples.

 

1. Oops, the wrong virgin

WHAT IT IS: In Mat 1:23, the Gospel author writes that Jesus’ birth fulfilled a famous prophecy from Isaiah. “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”

HOW THEY MESSED UP: The prophecy cited can be found in Isaiah 7:14. The problem is, it wasn’t a prophecy about the distant future, instead Isaiah was speaking to people in his own time. More specifically, in context the prophecy given was to King Ahaz of Judah, who was currently at war against the nations of Israel and Syria. Isaiah’s prophecy is that that the birth of this child would serve as a sign to Ahaz that his enemies would be destroyed swiftly.

  • “In the days of Ahaz… Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it… And the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz… and say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two… “It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass”… Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” (Isaiah 7:1-16)

The prophecy, in context, clearly states this child grows up during the life of King Ahaz, who lived 700 years before the New Testament era.

HOW THEY MESSED UP EVEN MORE: In fact, Hebrew scholars say the Hebrew word almah doesn’t mean ‘virgin’ but ‘young woman.’ This is likely due to the fact that the popular Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that was available to Matthew, called the Septuagint uses a Greek word, parthenos, that often means ‘virgin’ even when the original Hebrew does not. However, even parthenos doesn’t always refer to a true virgin, for example in Genesis 34:2-4 Shechem raped Dinah and she is afterwards called a parthenos, even though obviously is no longer a virgin. In any case, modern Bible translations like the seminary standard, the NRSV, have started using “young woman” instead of virgin.

HOW THEY MESSED UP A THIRD TIME: To make matters worse, 2 Chronicles 28 tells us the rest of this story and it turns out that the two kings in question, instead of failing in their war against Ahaz, as Isaiah had foretold, actually succeeded in destroying Ahaz and taking over Jerusalem, causing 120,000 of his people to be slaughtered. Jerusalem was plundered, and 200,000 women and children were carried into captivity. “Isaiahs prophecy” in chapter 7 predicted the exact opposite, it failed to predict the future. (Christians reply that the reason this prophecy failed was because Ahaz did not trust the Lord, so you know, it’s all okay, this Immanuel child was unnecessary after all, and no one saw that coming?)

 

2. Oops, it was David, not Jesus

WHAT IT IS: In Mat 27:35, the author states: “they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, ‘They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots.”

HOW THEY MESSED UP: Matthew is quoting Psalm 22:18 as a prophecy, but in the original passage it is not a prophecy but rather David begging to be physically saved. There is no mention of a future messiah, but simply Davids plea for deliverance from physical death. Reading the full text makes this very clear; it refers to David and his brothers, not Jesus the son of God:

  • they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.

HOW THEY MESSED UP EVEN MORE: Most contemporary Bible translations have removed the latter part of the passage, deeming it a later addition, and it remains only in the KJV and other Textus Receptus based texts, including the Russian Synodal Translation.

 

3. Oops, the missing third day

WHAT IT IS:  In Luke 24:46, the gospel author narrates Jesus as saying: “Thus it is written and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day.”

HOW THEY MESSED UP: Yet, there is no prophecy, or even purported prophecy in the Hebrew bible that states this, whether explicitly or implicitly.  The closest possibility is Hosea 6:2 “After two days will He revive us: on the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live before Him.” However, there is a slight problem with this passage, it is patently clear that this does not refer to Christ but to the Hebrew nation repenting of sin and being restored. Christ after all, never had to repent.

 

4. Oops, did Jesus sacrifice to idols?

WHAT IT IS: The author of Matthew writes of Jesus escaping to Egypt “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt… This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

HOW THEY MESSED UP: However, the original “prophecy” wasn’t something that could be “fulfilled” in the first place, instead it’s a song about the sinful nation of the Hebrews, who are collectively called “son.” If this passage was a prophecy about Jesus, it would also mean that Jesus sacrificed to idols.

  • “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.” (Hosea 11:1-2)

 

5. Oops, the dead children aren’t dead

WHAT IT IS: The author of Matthew (2:16-18) writes that: “Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem… Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah (31:15) a voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.”

HOW THEY MESSED UP: Matthew claims the “prophecy” of Jeremiah a fulfillment of the murder of children in Bethlehem. However, a careful reader of the Hebrew bible will note that in the original passage from Jeremiah, there is a section that speaks of the children returning from captivity in Babylon:

  •  “Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.“Thus says the Lord: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.”

Dead children do not return “from the land of the enemy” and thus clearly the Jeremiah passage speaks of captivity, not the murder of babies.

 

6. Oops, the missing prophet

WHAT IT IS: The author of Matthew writes “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, The voice of one crying in the wilderness:‘ Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’”

HOW THEY MESSED UP: Herein Matthew claims that Johns ministry is prophesied in the Hebrew Bible? Is it? When you read the original passage you can see, manifestly clear, that it speaks of Jerusalem’s repentance after receiving double payment for sin, not about a “he” but about an “it.” There is nothing at all that is specific about (a) the future, (b) the Messiah or (c) John, but only about Jerusalem’s iniquity/forgiveness:

  • “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed” (Isaiah 40:2-5)

Also, note how Matthew changes “a voice” in the wilderness to “the voice of one” to make it refer to an actual person, when originally it refers to an impersonal sound.

 

7. Oops, the wrong book of the Bible

WHAT IT IS: Matthew 27:9-10, which summarizes Judas’ betrayal of Jesus ends the story by claiming that:

  • “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

HOW THEY MESSED UP: And yet, there is no clear mention of this prophecy in the book of Jeremiah. The closest one is Jeremiah 32:9 which states that “I bought the field which was at Anathoth from Hanamel my uncle’s son, and I weighed out the silver for him, seventeen shekels of silver.” Ironically enough, the famous Christian biblical scholar/apologist, Gleason Archer, tries to argue that this is the passage it refers to, but he does so dishonestly. Archer uses the phrase a certain number of shekelsinstead of quoting the text directly as seventeen shekelsin order to hide the big discrepancy from his readers (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 1982, p. 345).

The Matthew passage is actually much closer in structure to a passage in the writings of Zechariah, however, this passage is unmistakably about Zechariah writing of his own experiences, not a future prophecy about a betrayer named Judah.

  • “And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver.  Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter.  Then I broke my second staff Union, annulling the brotherhood between Judah and Israel. (Zech 11:12-13)

But what about Midrash or Pesher hermeneutics?

So how do Christians respond to all this? Conservative bible scholars point to a category of “prophecy” called pesher. The basic gist of it is that this kind of prophetic interpretation  includes a (1) primary contextual fulfillment and (2) secondary “hints” and glimpses.

For example, say we have a prophecy “Thus saith Thor, during the reign of Vijzerog, there will be a war between our people and the enemy, and we shall win the war.” The primary context is a war between two nations that happens during the reign of a specific ancient ruler who lived 1000 years ago. Using a pesher interpretation of prophecy we could take the ancient Germanic phrase “we will win the war” out of context, and use it to say “See, our current US regime was prophesized ‘to win the war’ in Iraq that we are fighting today!”

So basically, one can take anything out of context, and use it to say anything they want.

 

MISQUOTES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

Most Christians know that there are hundreds of occasions where the NT authors quote the OT, but they don’t know that most of these quotes read differently than the original citation. The majority of this is due to the fact that there were (at least) two versions of the Hebrew bible that NT authors had access to, the Hebrew Masoretic text, and the Greek Septuagint, and these two have many have significant differences. There are also other occasions where NT authors had agendas that shaped the way they quoted these passages. And perhaps, there were simple mistakes, misquotes, and instances of bad memorization.

Each of these examples, on its own, isn’t very substantial, but as a whole, seeing this trend cast some doubt on the claims of biblical inerrancy. If there are multiple versions of the same text, which one is truly Gods inerrant word? Let’s looks at a couple of examples.

 

1. Oops, going from ‘you’ to ‘me’

HOW THEY QUOTE IT:  “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.” (Mark 1:2)

WHAT THE HEBREW ACTUALLY SAYS: Isaiah doesn’t have such a passage. The Old Testament passage that comes closest to Marks citation is written by a different prophet, Malachi: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1)

Notice the biblical words “before me” are converted into “ahead of you” to fit the context.

 

2. Oops, not “praise” but “strength”

HOW THEY QUOTE IT: said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes you have prepared praise for yourself” (Matthew 21:16)

WHAT THE HEBREW ACTUALLY SAYS: Psalm 8:2 “From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of your adversaries to make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

The radical difference here is due to a divergence between the Septuagint and Masoretic texts (originally this was a mistranslation in the Greek, but since Matthew used a mistranslation we’re stuck with it.)

 

3. Oops, a voice becomes a person

HOW THEY QUOTE IT: “For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, ‘the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, make ready the way of the lord, make his paths straight'” (Matthew 3:3)

WHAT THE HEBREW ACTUALLY SAYS:  A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)

Notice “a voice” is altered to “the voice of the one” in order to make this into a prophecy about a person, rather than using the description of a sound. This is used to change this passage into a prophecy about John. There are also other textual differences. Which instance of this passage contain the original words of God?

 

4. Oops, is receiving different than giving?

HOW THEY QUOTE IT:: “Therefore it says, ‘when he ascended on high, he led captive a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men‘”(Ephesians 4:8)

WHAT THE HEBREW ACTUALLY SAYS:  “You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, Even among the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there.” (Psalm 68:18)

“You have ascended” is changed to “he ascended” to change the context to be about Jesus, when in the original Psalm it spoke of Yahweh. A bigger difference is the changing of “received gifts among men” into “gave gifts to men.”  Perhaps this is to account for the differences between Yahweh (who was served by receiving gifts) and Jesus (who was associated with grace and giving of gifts). Perhaps its something else, there have been various attempted explanations, but none are ultimately convincing.

 

5. Oops, now we’re just adding whole sentences

HOW THEY QUOTE IT: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:17-19)

WHAT THE HEBREW ACTUALLY SAYS:  ”The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” (Isaiah 61:1-2)

Besides the fact that there are significant textual differences throughout the whole passage, Luke even inserts a whole new phrase missing from the Isaiah passage he is quoting.

6. Oops, confusing the afflicted with the humble

HOW THEY QUOTE IT: “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed ot the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5)

WHAT THE HEBREW ACTUALLY SAYS: “Though He scoffs at the scoffers, Yet He gives grace to the afflicted.” (Prov 3:34)

The differences here are “scoffers” which is turned into “proud” and “humble” which becomes “afflicted.” The latter significantly changes the meaning of the passage. One can be afflicted an not humble, one be humble and not afflicted.

 

7. Oops, caught sneaking in theology

HOW THEY QUOTE IT:  “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:9-10)

WHAT THE HEBREW ACTUALLY SAYS: “There is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:1-3)

Paul changes “no one who does good” to “none righteous” for a specific theological agenda, in order to speak of righteousness and sinful nature, rather than just good deeds. However, if you ask a modern day Christian, doing good and righteousness are not necessarily the same (according to the doctrine of original sin, a baby that is born before doing any deeds at all, is not righteous because of its sinful nature).

 

8. Oops, rewarded on the earth becomes scarcely saved

HOW THEY QUOTE IT: “And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?'” (1 Peter 4:18)

WHAT THE HEBREW ACTUALLY SAYS: “If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, How much more the wicked and the sinner!” (Proverbs 11:31)

These passages are so different one would think they are completely separate verses. Peter quotes the Greek Septuagint, of Prov 11:31, while the above quote is based on the the Hebrew Masoretic text. This change works really well with Peters New Testament theology as the Hebrew is converted about rewards on the earth, and Peters language of salvation implies eternal life.

 

9. Oops, the Gentiles added in the Gentiles

HOW THEY QUOTE IT: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” (Matthew 12:20-21)

WHAT THE HEBREW ACTUALLY SAYS:  “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” (Isaiah 42:3)

This is another case where the Septuagint (a Greek, therefore “gentile” translation”) causes the differences to appear in our modern Bibles. The Septuagint version adds “and in his name the Gentiles will hope” which is a radical addition, absent from the original Hebrew, and Matthew incorporates this into the New testament.

 

SLOPPY KNOWLEDGE OF THE HEBREW BIBLE

1. Oops, Mathew got his Zechariahs’ confused

WHAT THEY SAID: In Matthew 23:35, the gospel author depicts Jesus saying “so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”

HOW THEY MESSED UP:  As it turns out, that’s the wrong Zechariah; The one who was stoned in the temple by the faithless Jewish people was Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada (2 Chronicles 24:20-21). The prophet Zechariah, was actually the son of Berechiah, and he was certainly not murdered between the temple and the altar.

 

2. Oops, Luke can’t count?

WHAT THEY SAID: “after this, Joseph sent for his father Jacob and his whole family, seventy-five in all.“ (Acts 7:14)

HOW THEY MESSED UP: Luke quoted the Greek Septuagint, which differs from the Hebrew Masoretic text, and while that may get Luke off the hook, it does nothing good for biblical inerrancy.

  • “The descendants of Jacob numbered seventy in all; Joseph was already in Egypt.” (Exodus 1:5)
  • “With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all.” (Genesis 46:27)

 

3. Oops, Mark confuses two high priests

WHAT THEY SAID: In Mark 2:26 Jesus is described as quoting the Old Testament. “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry;  how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”

HOW THEY MESSED UP: As anyone can easily confirm by reading 1 Samuel 21:1-6, it wasn’t Abiathar but Abiathar’s father, Ahimelech, who was high priest when David did this. But just in case you don’t believe me, here is a direct quote: “Then David came to Ahimelech the priest.

 

4. Oops, John quotes “the Scripture”, when no such scripture exists.

WHAT THEY SAID:In John 7:38, Jesus quotes scripture to describe the rewards promised to his followers: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”

HOW THEY MESSED UPAnd yet, theologians and biblical scholars must admit that there is no such scripture in the Hebrew Bible. Did the author of John misremember? Perhaps he used one of the many ancient texts that have been lost? And if this refers to some text that has been lost, can “Scripture” be lost?

 

5. Oops, Mathew also quotes passage a nonexistent “Scripture” that doesn’t exist.

WHAT THEY SAID: Matthew claims that Jesus’ living in Nazareth “fulfilled that which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene” (Mat 2:23).

HOW THEY MESSED UP:  And yet, to the great dismay of conservative apologists, there is no such prophecy in the Bible. But you can’t take away credit from them for a lack of trying, there have been dozens of attempts to find something to fit into this prophecy. The most interesting one I’ve read attempts to make the case that “he will be called a Nazarene” just means there are prophecies that vaguely say the Messiah will have the characteristics of a Nazarene, not that there is an actual prophecy that says “he shall be called a Nazarene.”

 

6. Oops, Luke doesn’t want to be left behind, also quotes “Scripture” that doesn’t exist.

WHAT THEY SAID: In Luke 24:46 we are given a picture of Jesus predicting his own death, “He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day”

HOW THEY MESSED UP: Those words don’t exist anywhere in the Hebrew scripture. As before, apologists have tried to come up with all manner of explanations. The most common is to trace this back to Hosea who wrote: “After two days will He revive us: on the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live before Him” (Hosea 6:2). Anyone can clearly see the Hosea passage is not at all “the Christ will suffer” but speaks of a sinful Israel being restored.

 

7. Oops, Matthew is confused by poetry, and claims Jesus rode two donkeys at once

WHAT THEY SAID: An ancient poem in Zechariah 9:9 states “Behold, your king is coming to you … humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” The last two lines repeat the same thing in a different way; this is a form of Hebrew poetry called parallelism.

HOW THEY MESSED UP: The author of Matthew believed this was a prophecy about Jesus and attempted to follow it literally, thus he wrote about two separate donkeys.

  • Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me… brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats.” (Matthew 21:1-11)

Yes, Matthew literally dictates that Jesus rode the donkey and the colt at the same time. (The other gospel authors who write about this, Mark and Luke, only mention one donkey).

injustice bible violence

Last week I began a series exploring some of the reasons I don’t accept the Bible as a trustworthy book. I presented two plausible theories (see below) and stated that we should first look at the evidence within the Bible, and only then consider which theory best explains the evidence, rather than first start off with a belief/conclusion that the Bible is true, and then try to think up reasons to support our conclusion. This post will deal with the issue of ethical and moral actions promoted by certain biblical texts, and whether they live up to the comprehensive standard elsewhere in the Bible. Again, keep in mind, our goal is not to start by concluding “the Bible must be right/wrong!” but instead to first look at the evidence and then decide which theory it best applies to:

Theory 1  – The Bible was divinely inspired by God and can be trusted as completely accurate

Theory 2 – It was composed purely by human means and does not contain divine truth

Can I judge the ethics of the Bible?

In dozens of conversations I have had about this, the most common reaction is “you have no right to judge the Bible, because if you don’t have the Bible as your ethical foundation, you have no morals!!!” This occurs because people who base all of their ethics on the Bible have built their whole moral epistemology on the biblical text and cannot even imagine another way to account for morality. Essentially, many Christians assume that the only way to ground morality is on “God said so” and if you don’t accept their way, you cant make moral statements.

Imagine trying to talk with a Hindu about whether or not Hinduism is true, and the first thing that comes out of her mouth is: “you are not allowed to critique the ethics of Hinduism because the your ability to make an ethical statement requires Hinduism to be true, and if you reject Hinduism, you have no ethics and are not allowed to critique my holy books!” Would you not feel cheated, tricked, maybe even a little offended? This is because your conversational partner is “begging the question” and starting off by assuming her conclusion is true, and telling you that it cannot be critiqued, because its true. Anyone can play that game, but it’s a very sloppy way to seek the truth.

That’s exactly what is happening with the Christian assertion “you cannot judge the Bible.” Those that have made the Bible their foundational starting point are unable to discuss it as the subject of a conversation, instead Scripture must be assumed and accepted as true from the very beginning! Real life doesn’t work like this, I don’t first assume “science is true” or “Hinduism is false,” instead I assume “I don’t know the answer to this question, so let’s do our best to first look at the evidence and only then come to a conclusion, not the other way around!

In any case, as a skeptic, I do have a system of ethics by which I can judge the Bible (and I can ground my system of ethics in reason). However, I will be extra generous and simply scrutinize the ethics of the Bible according to its own ethical standard, not just by my own standard. If some part of the Bible teaches that “lying is always evil” and another part says “go to this town and lie” then the Bible has failed its own test! It doesn’t even matter how it fares according to my ethical standard, if it fails its own ethical standard, it has already proven itself to be inaccurate and flawed when dealing with questions of ethics and morality.

What principles does the bible teach about harming others?

If you were to survey the Christians of the world, you would get a wide array of answers about what is moral, immoral, or perhaps neutral/barely permissible. Yet, there are certain areas that most believers would undeniably agree upon, certain laws and edicts that they say are universally taught by the Bible, that must be followed at all costs. I will pick just a few of these. I believe that most Chrsitians would agree on the following two principles:

1. Do not cause physical harm, torture, or injury to a person with the end goal of harming them (only if it’s a last resort aimed at ultimately helping them or preventing them from harming other people).

2. Do not cause the deaths of any person, unless it’s the only way of preventing them from killing/harming others (i.e. only kill someone if it’s the only way to prevent them from killing others).

These principles can be distilled from texts like the Ten Commandments, but they are most evident in  Jesus’ sermon on the mount and certain New Testament passages (i.e. Rom 12.17-21, 1 Thes 5.15.) See Matthew Chapter 5 (specifically texts like 5:44) for all of these principles, which are therein applied far more stringently, I have been extra generous and lax in describing these, by adding extra clauses. In actuality, where Jesus says “don’t harm your enemies at all, ever”, I have changed this to a more laid-back command of “Fine you can harm the enemies who will kill you, but at least don’t harm people who are not going to kill you.” Jesus’ commands strongly support total pacifism and “turning the other cheek” but I will be extra generous and saying “you don’t have to be a pacifist, but only use violence when it saves other lives.

I want you to note this, I am being far more lenient and accommodating, I am removing all the grey areas that could be debated, and sticking to that which is undeniably black and white.  If you cannot agree to these two principles, then this post doesn’t apply to you. If you think harming/killing someone who does not wish to harm others is morally good, then this post is not for you. But please note that makes you are a terrible follower of Jesus, and worse than that, you terrify me, I want nothing to do with you and hope you don’t live in my neighborhood.

I will also note, there are dozens of other passages and ideas, where I believe it’s patently clear that the Bible fails its own moral standard (for example it’s claimed that deception is a sin, yet elsewhere it’s claimed that God decieves: 1 Kings 22:23, Ezekiel 14:9, Jeremiah 4:10, 2 Thess 2:11) but for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to examine the two general principles above.

 

FAILURE #1: Do not harm

“Do not ever cause physical harm, torture, or injury to a person with the end goal of harming them, unless it’s a last resort aimed at ultimately helping them or preventing them from harming other people’

Case study 1 – The Bible endorses slavery

I’m sure you have heard a positive spin on this, something like: “slaves were workers, I’m a slave for my employer today” or “this was a temporary job that lasted for a few years.” This apologetic spin is blatantly dishonest, and demonstrably so. I have written a longer article on biblical slavery, citing texts that confirm slavery was indeed the permanent ownership of people, not a job. Here are two key points: (a) the Bible allows the beating of slaves, so long as they survive (Exodus 21:20-21) and (b) it permits slaves to be kept permanently and passed down for generations, so that children of slaves are themselves slaves. (Exodus 21:5 and Leviticus 25:46). Slavery is undeniably cruel and harmful.

Case Study 2 – The Bible endorses physical torture

There are many strange laws that command violent and painful torture to be inflicted on people. For example, if two men are in a brawl, and a woman tries to intercede and grabs one of the men by the testicles, her arm is to be butchered off from her body, “without pity” (Deut 25:11-12). Likewise, there are many proverbs that endorse using sticks and rods to beat those who are foolish or mentally handicapped, even while education would seem more prudent (Prov 18:6, 19:29, 26:3). In addition, there are dozens of “crimes” for which persons are to be stoned or burned. Notice that stoning and burning are lengthy and extremely painful processes that cause immense suffering and anguish. Some things that you can get “tortured to death” for include: (a) touching a mountain (Exodus 19:13), (b) picking up rocks on Saturday (Numbers 15:32-56), (c) being a bad teenager (Deut 21:18-21), and (d) getting married as a non-virgin (Deut 22:13-21). There are also plenty of future descriptions of torture in the Bible, from severe torments caused by giant supernatural scorpions (Deut 25:11-12) to the idea of hell. None of these punishments are meant to correct the subject, they are meant to inflict pain, misery, and suffering, for the sake of causing that suffering as an act of vengeance. A parent may spank a child, for the ultimate good, but biblical tortures like hell, are solely for the ultimate harm.

Case study 3 – The Bible endorses rape/sexual exploitation

This is one that most people have a hard time believing. First off, the Bible never forbids rape wholesale, it only forbids stealing another man’s woman, for that woman is his property. Virgins who are raped must be purchased from their father and the only solace to the woman is that her rapist may never divorce her (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Second, the Bible actually endorses rape, so long as victims are from another tribe. For example, the Bible allowed women to be forcibly taken captive and (after their husbands/fathers were killed) the women can be forced into “marriage” (Deuteronomy 21:10-11). There is some relief, however, because in this case only, if you don’t like your captive woman after raping her, you are not permitted to sell her, but must let her go. And of course, there are still biblical descriptions of rape as a tool that God uses to chastise the nations, further demonstrating that sometimes rape is morally good. (Isaiah 13:15-16)

Case study 4 – The Bible endorses misogyny

There are many cases of misogyny (prejudice and maltreatment of women) in the Bible. Prof Chris Rollston, a biblical scholar was recently fired from his Christian University for writing that many biblical authors promoted mysogeny. For example, he states that “the custom of a marital “bride price” (money given by the groom’s family to the bride’s family) reveals that marriage was… a property transfer, as payment had been made to acquire the bride (Genesis 34:12; Exodus 22:16; 1 Samuel 18:25; Genesis 24:53).” There are many other cases, however, mysogeny starts with the characterization of women in Genesis 1. I don’t accept Genesis 1 as historically accurate (in fact, many Christians, even prominent apologists like C. S. Lewis agree), but this narrative wove itself into the fabric of our culture and defined how women are viewed. First, in the story itself a woman is the cause of sin, perpetuating the tendency to depict women as the blameworthy sex, causing untold injustice and discrimination. Second, in this tale all women are cursed with severe pain as a punishment for something one woman did, showing that all women are deserving of severe pain because of their gender.

 

FAILURE #2: Do not kill

“Do not cause the deaths of any person, unless it’s the only way of preventing them from killing/harming others”

Case Study 1 – The Bible endorses genocide

This is an undeniable fact, there are dozens of scripture passages that openly endorse genocide, the act of utterly destroying a whole people group by butchering the elderly, middle aged, teenagers, children, and infants. Hitler attempted to commit genocide, but he was only continuing a long tradition that is endorsed by the Bible, and one could argue that at least Hitler’s gas chambers offered more quick and painless death than the repeated stabs with a crude bronze age sword. There are dozens of passages that depict (a) God commanding genocide and (b) the Hebrews committing genocide, and claiming that their victory was assured because God was on their side. These horrific passages include, but are not limited to: Exodus 32:27-29, Deuteronomy 2:34, Deuteronomy 3:6, Deuteronomy 7:2, Deuteronomy 7:16, Deuteronomy 13:15, Deuteronomy 20:16-17, Joshua 6:21, 10:40, 1 Samuel 15:2-3.

Case study 2 – The story of the Midianite Children

This may be the most horrifying story in the Bible, and it depicts such cruelty and savagery, that I cannot imagine how a pacifist could claim this book teaches the ultimate truth. First some background: The Hebrews recently invaded Canaan, destroyed many cities, killed many people and then, as they were camped near Midianite territory some of the Midianite women “invited” the Hebrew men to join them in sexual exploits and worship of locals gods (Numbers 25:1-2). The Hebrew men were not forced to participate, they chose it themselves. Moses, purportedly at Gods initiative issues the command to be hostile against the Midianites. Some time passes and the Bible depicts God as urging the Israelites to go back, and wreak revenge on the Midianites for inviting some of the Israelite soldiers to join them. So the Israelites attack and utterly destroy all of the enemy combatants, leaving only the defenseless women (many who are no doubt pregnant or elderly), as well as the little boys and girls. These little women and children are spared to be kept as slaves. (Numbers 32:9-10). Then Moses angrily commands that these defenseless captives be killed. This includes weeping grandmothers, pregnant women, mothers with their children weeping in their arms. (Numbers 31: 17-18). The little boys, all those who were too young to fight as well as babies, are also to be brutally executed.

And finally, when it comes to the little girls, those that are virgins are given away as booty to the soldiers, while all others are to be massacred. In every single military victory in recorded history, the winning army rapes girls, this is an unchanging historical regularity. And while this is not explicit in the text, it’s more than likely these girls became concubines (sexual slaves) as this is accepted elsewhere in Israelite culture, and there are even biblical laws that permit Hebrews to take captives for sexual purposes (Deut 21:10-11). Little girls given away to the same men who had just brutally executed their families. Even if these girls are not used for sexual purposes, one must imagine the absolute horrors that these girls experienced. Imagine a small seven year old sweetheart, seeing her defenseless pregnant mother being viciously sliced open and falling dead on the ground. Imagine the agonizing screams as she sees her younger brothers, grabbed by calloused soldiers hands, and heartlessly stabbed, beat, pierced until they choke on their own blood.

Does the Bible meet its own standard?

No, as we can see it does not. Yes, you can certainly argue that “the God of the Bible has a right to do anything he wants” and I’ll grant you that. The God of the Bile could murder everyone he wants, and nobody would be left to tell him that he was wrong. Yet, if he first asserts that (a) killing children is wrong and then (b) proceeds to kill children, then he has broken his own law. So you see, it is no longer I who judges the Bible, it is rather the Bible that judges itself.

Finally, even after we have seen the biblical text fail miserably and hopelessly at its own standard, let me add one more ethical standard that the Bible severely fails.

FAILURE #3: Do not be unjust

“Do not force an innocent person to suffer the punishment deserved by another.”

Justice is the act of fairly distributing rewards and punishments to those who deserve them. If I told you that a rapist received a reward while his rape victim was brutally executed, would not your blood boil at the injustice?! Mine would! It is a unfair when one person takes another’s reward (unless of course it’s a gift), but the real injustice is when one person is forced to receive another’s punishment.

I contend that the Bible is full of such cases of injustice and therefore is an unjust book.

Case study 1 – Injustice for the Egyptian slaves

In the story of the Exodus there is an oft missed tragedy, the fate of all other Egyptian slaves. As the story shows ten plagues descend on the land, these are shown affecting everyone besides the Hebrew slaves. We can say the Egyptians deserved it for keeping the Hebrews in slavery, but did the other slaves deserve punishment? What for? The biblical text presents a picture where all these other slaves who were already suffering the terrible injustice of slavery, were punished for their masters sins, and thats okay! Consider the suffering a slave mother would hypothetically endure by this injustice the Bible dictates: “Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill” (Exodus 11:5). Little children are described as being killed, the most unfortunate in society are harmed rather than helped, mothers weep, and all of this is punishment falls upon those already in misery, simply because the rich Egyptian masters deserve it. This is a colossal injustice! (Fortunately, there is strong evidence none of this happened, so the Bible merely promotes the idea of injustice in this case, but the idea is cruel enough).

Case study 2 – Injustice for the children punished for parental sins

How would you react if the president commanded little children to be brutally murdered if their parents break the law? Would you feel this is a fair punishment? No! You would know this is injustice at its vilest. In the Bible there is debate (a discrepancy between authors) whether children should be punished for their parents sins. Ezekiel says no! And yet, many other authors say yes, in command and in example. There are principles that allow and command the punishment of children for parents sins (Exodus 20:5-6, Exodus 34:7, Deuteronomy 5:9, Leviticus 26:22, Jeremiah 15:7-8). There are edicts to go and kill (not just “punish”) children for their parents sins (Isaiah 14:21, Isaiah 13:16, 1 Samuel 15:3, Ezekiel 9:6).

Also there are countless of examples that purportedly show God killing children simply to punish their parents (Genesis 7:4,21; Genesis 19:24, Exodus 11:4-5, 2 Chronicles 21:14, 2 Samuel 12:14-15, Jeremiah 2:30, Nahum 3:10, Hosea 10:14, Jeremiah 9:21-22). For example, consider the flood, all of the children, infants, and fetuses in pregnant women were supposedly drowned. Why? Because of their parents sin. Well did anyone stop and ask if the children deserved it? Nope. There is also a slew of passages that show non-death punishments given to children for their parents sins (Deuteronomy 23:2, Deuteronomy 28:18, 1 Kings 11:11-12, 2 Samuel 21:6-9, 1 Kings 2:33, 1 Kings 21:29, 2 Kings 5:27, Jeremiah 16:10-11, Jeremiah 29:32). If all of that is not enough, why there are even passages where God purportedly threatens to force parents to eat their children as punishment, and yet, not once is it considered that children are the real victims of this cruel and unusual “punishment”!! (Leviticus 26:29, Deuteronomy 28:53, Jeremiah 19:9, Ezekiel 5:8-10)

Case study 3 – Injustice for humanity in being cursed for Adam

I am told that I am a sinner who is destined to burn in hell forever and ever and ever. I am a sinner and because of that I must be tortured. It gets even weirder, Augustine, pretty much the most important church father of early Christianity, thought little babies who weren’t baptized deserve to be thrown into hell. But why? Why should I have this sin nature that forces me to sin, or forces me to be punished in hell? Well, as it turns out, it’s all because a long time ago, some guy named Adam, did something bad, and *insert magic* now it’s my fault. Some people who are extra clever change *insert magic* to something lofty sounding like “Federal Headship” (ooooohh) which, in the end, still just means “if your father sinned, you get punished for him.” In the end, whatever fancy lingo we dream up, the fact is I did not choose to have a sin nature, it was *forced* upon me because of some guy named Adam, so why am I judged for it?

Case study 4 – injustice for humanity in an eternal hell

No finite being is good enough to deserve eternal pleasure, and no finite being is bad enough to deserve eternal torture. To deserve eternal punishment or reward, your crime or virtue must also be infinite, but we are finite creatures who are only capable of finite crimes. The end. The clever theology to explain all that away is that “our crime is against an infinite being so deserves infinite torture.” But this is rather silly, it matters not who the crime was against, but what it was! Otherwise you end up with an absurdity like this: Steal a dollar from a poor man, and you owe him two dollars as compensation. Steal one dollar from an infinitely rich man who has infinite money, and you now owe him infinite money as compensation. What?! This is absurd and foolish! In fact, if the infinitely rich man has infinite money, you cant even harm him by stealing anyhow.

Here is a quick analogy to elucidate this: If you shoot two people in the leg, a child who can be harmed, and superman who cannot, ought you really deserve more punishment shooting superman? Not at all, since superman can’t even be harmed by this in the first place. Why should he avenge himself? For what exactly? Since he’s impossible to harm, can it even be called attempted harm? It would be rather cruel of superman to try to punish you by torturing you forever and ever because “you dared shoot me, and even if it can’t hurt me, you still deserve eternal punishment!” Only those who are harmed can seek retribution, God is by definition, unharmable.

In any case, torturing someone for trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions for trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions for trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillion of trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of years, because of a few minutes of “sin” is completely unjust, and frankly, evil.

Case study 5 – Injustice of substitutionary atonement

The very idea that slaughtering innocent animals can alleviate guilt is patently irrational. Guilt does not transfer persons, moral responsibility cannot be transferred without destroying the whole foundation of justice and fairness. If John raped and murdered a little child, and in court he pulls out a lamb, cuts its neck, and proudly asserts “don’t worry judge, this lamb just took my guilt, so I’m free now, right?” all of us would look at him with disgust and bewilderment. And yet that is exactly what Biblical justice is.

In the case of sacrificial animals in the Old Testament, there is extra harm in the fact that these animals are unwilling victims. In the story of Jesus and the substitutionary sacrifice, at least Jesus is depicted as dying voluntarily. And honestly, I admit, it’s a valiant and immensely noble idea, that someone would choose to die to save me. But at its core the theology is utterly unjust. How does Jesus dying make a rapist no longer guilty of rape? Or a murderer no longer guilty? How can guilt transfer? How can a person who lived a long evil life, raping and murdering millions simply say a prayer, and never be held responsible for his sever evil? How can another who strives to be good his whole life, makes one small mistake, and doesn’t say a prayer, is now considered more guilty than the former?

If you were in court, and a serial killer was freed because his innocent father chose to receive the punishment of lethal injection instead, would you think that justice? No! Its double injustice! Not only did (a) the criminal go unpunished, but (b) an innocent person was punished! Two wrongs don’t correct one wrong!

Consider that this theology means the following story is “perfectly just”: There is a Nazi officer who brutally rapes, mutilates, and tortures helpless Jewish women for years. One particular woman is begging and screaming “God help me” as she is being tortured and raped, and in the last few moments of her agony, she says “since God did not help me I refuse to believe in him” and dies. Her Nazi rapist later escapes to Brazil, lives a long happy, healthy life, and finally, before death prays to Jesus for forgiveness. According to Biblical theology, the victim is now burning in hell, feeling the most horrendous torture, while the Nazi tormentor simply took off his guilt like a coat, and is now enjoying paradise. Is this fair? Christianity says yes. I say its miserable, cruel, ugly, and the very definition of injustice and evil.

Concluding remarks

Ultimately if this book that claims to speak for God, and claims to promote justice is filled with so much injustice, and fails its own ethical standards, I believe we should reject that this book is written or inspired by God.

TRUST BIBLE 1

Let me be honest and upfront with you: I have always loved the Bible, and I do still enjoy it as literature (I probably read it more than most of my Christian friends), alas I simply cannot trust it as a divinely inspired book.

Why? The answer is long, and a little complicated, so I hope I won’t bore you, in fact, it’s because of this that I have been putting off this series of posts for a very long time. When it comes to detailed and controversial topics like this, I tend to wear out half of my audience and enrage the other.

  • Because questions like these tend to get very hostile, very fast, let me first assure you, I am not writing out of enmity, hatred, or strife, rather I write from sincerity and a deep longing to accept things that are true and reject things that are false. I likewise wish for you to do the same. I am willing to believe anything, so long as I can at least be somewhat confident that its the truth. You may not agree with my conclusions, but at least you may see that these are reached after careful and honest investigation.

It took a very unrelated event to finally force me into writing this. It all began as I was listening through an obtuse lecture series on the epistemic problem of induction (I’m not boring, I promise). Grappling with difficult questions made me recall how easy things once were, and for a second I began to wish that I could yet again just accept the Bible as a divinely inspired book which contains God’s word. Things would be so simple and easy! There is so much comfort found in such an idea: “God wrote a book” and we have it. Believing that you have “Gods book” provides you  with an epistemic foundation, an existential anchor, and reassuring solace when dealing with the unknown. In fact, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, and others who claim to have divine writings from around the world attest to this feeling every day.

This made me wonder: so why did I choose to take the difficult path? Why can’t I just take the easy way? Why can’t I just believe what I was taught and quietly live my life? What is it within me that burns and hungers for truth?

Why can’t I just believe in the “good book” like most of my friends? Why must I spend thousands of hours of my life searching for answers, critically thinking, analyzing, and questioning? It’s so much easier to just think “(my version of) God said it, I believe it, that settles it!”

This question pulled me away from the lecture series, and I went and picked up my Bible, yet again, almost crossing my fingers, with the eager hope that I would see something new and wonderful. As I read a few pages I was quickly reminded: I chose the only path I could choose while remaining honest. 

  • This actually happens to me all the time. I wonder if I am crazy, and think perhaps I’ve just been deceived by the devil. I wonder if the Bible is indeed Gods inerrant word and I’m just crazy or blind. In this panic I rush to pick up my Bible, eagerly read it for 15-30 minutes, and every single time I put it down, being even more certain: The Bible, for all intents and purposes, looks nothing like a perfect book written by God, it’s utterly human and flawed.

This series of posts will explain why.

WHAT OPTIONS DO WE HAVE?

When we approach the Bible, we generally have two options, either

  1. It was divinely inspired or influenced by God (at least at some level), or
  2. It was composed only by human means without any divine involvement

I contend that when one honestly examines the evidence, its undeniable that #2 is the only honest answer.

THE BIBLE CONTAINS MANY VOICES THAT DISAGREE AND CONTRADICT

The most dishonest words I ever uttered from the pulpit are these: “As proof that the Bible is real, consider that it is perfectly consistent, even though it’s written by 40 authors over 1,500 years. It tells one cohesive story with one consistent theme!” This is a Christian meme, a viral transmitted idea, that dominates Protestant culture. The more fundamentalist one is, the more likely she is to hear this, believe it, and re-transmit this meme to others. And yet, scholars of the Bible tell a vastly different story. (And here, allow me to cite the scholars, because one can try to argue that I am wrong, but the true experts don’t think like me.)

Michael Carasik, a Jewish scholar of the Bible writes:

  • “The different parts of the Bible were written at different times, in different styles, by different people with differing perspectives. That world, like our own, was on in which people disagreed, often loudly, about politics and about religion. These disagreements, along with other compositions that can sometimes be very personal are all found today lumped together in what we call “the bible.” (1)

Jacques Berlinerblau, another scholar of ancient Hebrew literature says:

  • “One of the greatest challenges that a college professor of Bible faces is getting his or her bewildered charges to not think of the Bible as they would a modern book. The Bible is an anthology. It is a collection of discrete documents written by different people, with different perspectives, living at different times, and beholden to completely different worldviews… This would account, in part, for that jarring inconsistencies, puzzling contradictions, and thematic tensions found in the finished product.”  (2)

This is a also attested to by the prestigious Oxford Companion to the Bible, which includes among it’s editors some of the most prestigious Christian scholars of our era, including Bruce Metzger (3)

bible contradictions

This same idea is echoed by most textbooks on the Bible, including those used in Christian seminaries, see for example Robert Kugler and Patrick Hartin’s seminary textbook, titled “An Introduction to the Bible”

  • “Readers of the Pentateuch, Genesis though Deuteronomy have long observed the presence of double version of narratives, contradictions of fact, and variations of vocabulary and styles.” (4)

Yoram Hazony, in his award award winning book “The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture” declares that;

  • The biblical authors disagree among themselves time and time again, even over what might seem to be issues of the greatest importance. No one can harmonize Isaiah’s claim that in the time of the king-to-come all the earth will have one God with the prophet Micha’s vision, in which each nation will walk with its own god, and Israel will walk with theirs. Similarly, Isaiah sees mankind beating their swords into plowshares and coming to be judged at Jerusalem. But the vision of Joel is different, and he writes that when the nations come to Jerusalem to be judged, they will beat their plowshares into swords – for judgment will come on the battlefield. To understand the Hebrew Bible, then, is first to recognize it as an artful compendium, whose purpose is not – and never was – to present a single viewpoint.”   (5)

Yet if you go into a Christian bookstore, you will find dozens of books by popular fundamentalist leaders that claim to resolve all of the “alleged contradiction,” though most of these are written by authors who are not biblical scholars. For example, Ken Ham (who is an anti-evolutionist minister), Norman Giesler (a minister and philosopher), Josh McDowell (a minister and apologist), Henry Morris (a minister and engineer), though there are a few cases where real biblical scholars publish this as well, like the Harvard trained Gleason Leonard Archer, Jr (pastor, theologian, and biblical scholar). Because there are thousands of biblical scholars, one can always find some ultra conservative theologians that have a commitment to biblical inerrancy, but this position is in the minority among Jews/Christians in biblical studies, and completely absent among scholars of all other backgrounds. 

In fact, many believers are comfortable with admitting these discrepancies as part of their theology. This is what a Marc Zvi Brettler, a Hebrew scholar and a practicing Jew writes:

  • According to my view of biblical authority, it is within my rights to “select” particular biblical texts as more important than others. I perform this selection out of an awareness that the Bible is a contradictory anthology, and thus speaks in many voices… I must decide which voice is authoritative… I must decide if I should “hold the feast of Booths for seven days” (Deut. 16:13) or if I should append it to “a complete rest on the eight day” (Lev 23:39. Similarly, I would have to decide whether the prohibition against eating nonslaughtered meat applies to me (Deut 14:21) or only to priests, and whether as a nonpriest I may eat a cow found dead by the side of the road (see Lev 17:15). These texts are to my mind irreconcilable, and along with many other examples, offer clear proof of the validity of the documentary hypothesis, the theory that the Torah is a composite document, written by different authors at different times and reflecting different interests.” Engaging Biblical Authority: Perspectives on the Bible as Scripture edited by William P. Brown, Marc Zvi Brettler  (link)

Or the Christians Seminary professors Ronald J. Allen, Joseph R. Jeter, in their textbook “One Gospel Many Ears”:

  • “Some biblical writers disagree with one another. The Deuteronomist, for instance, assumes that obedience begets prosperity while disobedience calls forth a curse, but the book of Job says, “not necessarily.” Readers are advised in 1 Peter to be obedient to the emperor since the emperor is Gods agent, but the book of Revelation regards the Roman empire as an instrument of Satan. The Bible is not a rigid anvil… [there are] many forms of pluralism in the Bible.” (6)

And as previously mentioned, Bruce Metzger a leading biblical scholar and who was himself a deeply devout Christian, wrote that:

  • “The Bible thus speaks with many voices, and, from the time of its emergence as an authoritative sacred text, readers and interpreters have noted its many repetitions, inconsistencies, and contradictions.” (7)

WHAT TYPES OF BIBLICAL DISCREPANCIES ARE THERE?

There are hundreds of instances where different biblical authors narrate the same sequence of events or doctrines with significant and irreconcilable differences. There are many lists and examples of this, for examples, visit BibleViz. Generally speaking, biblical discrepancies occur because of two issues, (a) when some historical event did indeed occur but due to the unreliability of human memory and oral tradition, this is retold quite differently by various authors, and (b) because of the fact that the Bible was written over such a wide range of cultures, political views, and time periods, that in many cases historical (or mythical) events, and doctrines/teachings, were reinterpreted by different authors in their own context.

A chart showing some of the self-contradictions of the Bible

 

1. Historical discrepancies

As an example, there are two stories regarding the death of Judas, with radically different storylines, locations, and events portrayed. In one story Judas returns the money to the temple and hangs himself, in another story, he keeps the money –using it to purchase some property, but falls headfirst and is killed by the fall. While some creative attempts by conservative Christians have been employed to try to explain how one can both hang himself, and die by falling headfirst, these always fail to account the many other differences (i.e. Did he return/keep the money? Did he purchase the field or did the Pharisees purchase it? Why was it bought and named?). Some other examples include the discrepancy as to when Jesus was seized in the Garden of Gethsemane, the two different times during which Jesus died, the differing dates of the Nativity, as well as the radically different Nativity stories as a whole

Both of these are historical discrepancies. The event that the stories are based on likely did happen, in some form, however, because humans are prone to misremembering, embellishing a story, theologizing, and retelling it incorrectly, we see very different versions of the story.

2.Theological inconsistencies

As an example, the earlier writings of the Torah contain many instances where the text depicts Yahweh giving the Hebrews ceremonial laws regarding burnt offerings (Ex 20:24, 29:10-42, Lev 1:1-7:38, Num 28:1-29:40). Yet, during a different period in Hebrew culture, we see another set of authors claim otherwise, the book of Jeremiah depicts God saying “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God.” (Jer 7:22-23). It’s patently obvious there are two very different views on what God actually said, this cannot be denied without resorting to blatant dishonesty. In this case, its clear that we are seeing two sets of biblical authors in a debate over what Yahweh actually said in the past.

There are many even bigger theological discrepancies, for example, should a follower of Yahweh kill ones enemy, murder their children, and take their girls into slavery (Exodus 32:27–29, Ezekiel 9:4-6, Numbers 31:17–18 , 1 Samuel 15:2-3) or should a follower of Yahweh love their enemy, turn the other cheek, and give prayer and wealth to ones enemies? (Matthew 5:38-47). Other theological disagreements are centered on the questions like whether God can deceive people or not, and whether the Gospels teach salvation by faith or salvation by works. These kinds of theological discrepancies, in my opinion, are far worse than narrative or historical discrepancies.

WHY IS THIS A BIG DEAL?

In the beginning of this post I laid out two possibilities (and these may represent a range of positions, not so much a black/white dichotomy).

1.The Bible was divinely inspired or influenced

2.The Bible was composed only by human means (no divine influence)

In the end it is the goal of any intellectually honest individual to survey the Bible and to see what theory the evidence fits better.

Here is an undeniable fact:

  • The Bible has discrepancies and contradictions. Or at the very least, it’s written in such a way that there are hundreds of verses that seem to be contradictions (even though for some unknown reason are not) which has led almost all biblical scholars and countless readers to become convinced the bible has contradictions. This surely could have been avoided by a divine author seeking to clearly convey the truth in a way that avoids confusion. Surely if God were the author he would have known the two stories of Judas’ death seem to be impossible to reconcile, and would have written them more clearly? 

Ask yourself, which theory does this fact fit better? The first or the second? Are historical discrepancies and theological inconsistencies a better fit for the “divine hypothesis” or the “human hypothesis”? I strongly believe that if we are to be fair, we must admit the inability of the Bible to present a cohesive and consistent voice is very strong evidence that it lacks divine inspiration. Humans make historical mistakes, are highly inaccurate, change their mind regarding theology; God does not.

(To be continued)

WHY DO I WRITE

After years of blogging/talking/dialoguing about religion, I am ashamed that I have not been able to clearly communicate my “heart.” In the last few years I have seen so many responses riddled with spite & condescension. I have heard dozens of stories of gossip and ugly rumors that have been spread about me. On days like these I am deeply disappointed in humanity, but also hopeful that we can restart everything from the beginning.

So this is my clumsy-and-sentimental open letter to all of you who are religious believers. I earnestly hope you will hear my “heart of hearts.”

 

Dear religious believer,

It’s no secret that I sincerely think that some of your beliefs are not correct, a position which I accepted very reluctantly in an effort to be as intellectually honest as possible, no matter the cost. Yet my disagreement with you doesn’t mean that I harbor hatred or spitefulness towards you.

I am not at war against you.

I am not on the side of the enemy. (In fact, our real enemy, I believe, is the cowardly intolerance, brutish unkindness, and unneeded aggression we as humans often exhibit in our foolishness.)

As strange as this may sound, I am on your side, because I care about you enough to hope you believe the truth.

Deep down, at the core of my being, I genuinely want us to share an earnest pursuit of truth together. I want us to join hands as we explore the fabric of reality and strive to understand the universe as it is. You think the answer to everything is your religion, and because I was once a deeply devout preacher who believed it with all of my heart, I totally get that and understand how it feels. And if that answer is indeed true, I sincerely want to accept it and believe it. And likewise, if its false, I want to reject it so that we can move on and discover the more accurate answers, even if we don’t like them.

I promise you this.

I really need you to understand this: I did not come to my conclusions because I am evil, wicked, stupid, daft, and most assuredly not because I hate you or want to offend you.

I am not here to cram some ideology down your throat or to promote a sinister agenda. I am not here to justify some secret sins, nor because I am angry and want to bring about revenge against someone that hurt me.

I really don’t have a wicked plan to wage war against all the infidels, heathen, sinners, or fools, in fact, I hate all those words. I certainly don’t want to make a deep line of division that will separate people into camps, “sinners vs saints” or “smart vs dumb.” As strange as it may be for you to believe this, the fact of the matter is, I want the very opposite.

I earnestly believe we can make the world a better place, where religious and existential dialogue is kind, friendly, helpful, and most importantly, honest. Where people are not degraded for their beliefs, even as these beliefs are challenged. I want to live in a world where people are are not indoctrinated, nor shamed, shunned, mocked, or frightened into submission, but instead share a deep passion for seeing the world as it really is.

This is why I “waste” so much of my time writing and discussing these matters. It’s not to offend you or degrade you, but because I want to be helpful to you.

Deep down, I really do care for you. When you try to “evangelize me,” do you not do this because you care for me and want to “save my soul”? In the same way, when I try to persuade you, I do this because I really do care about you and I care about the truth.

What do I want?

If I am wrong, I sincerely want you to use sound reason and good evidence to convince me of that, so I may join you (don’t merely call me names, gossip about me behind my back, or threaten me with hell – as is unfortunately all too common). If I am wrong, at least I will have sharpened your thinking, and helped you correct some serious flaws in your theology (surely you don’t claim to have all of the perfect answers, perhaps there is something you can learn from me).

If you are wrong, I want you to become aware of this, so that you may join me in being “less wrong” and seeing our universe as it really is instead of believing the wrong answers. Consider that billions of people in the past believed things you now accept are false, surely if you were an ancient Greek polytheist, you would have wanted me to tell you Zeus doesn’t really exist, even if that would upset your worldview? No?

Surely if you are wrong, you want to know that? Don’t you? I certainly do.

I want to make you think, carefully and critically. I want to help you consider your faith with as much scrutiny as you consider the beliefs of other religions or philosophies. I want to make you care more about the truth than what people will think of you. I want to encourage you prefer the truth over comfort and safety. I wish that you would learn to be more fair when examining other peoples religions and perspectives, and learn to be more critical of your own. And I want you to kindly encourage me do the same.

At the end of the day, I want you to join me on this honest journey to pursue the truth, and whether it takes us to Christianity, Buddhism, Atheism, or something even stranger, I want us to walk together in honesty and kindness, willing to accept the truth, whatever it  really is, even if we don’t like it.