an innacurate description reality

After having hundreds of conversations about Christianity I have noticed many people perform the “faith flip-flop” maneuver. In the beginning they start off being quite confident, boldly proclaiming that the Bible has been proven to accurately describe reality. After further examination, when confronted with various biblical errors and inaccuracies, they flip flop to “you can’t prove or disprove it, you just have to take it on faith.” Many have even simply rejected the evidence by saying that it’s impossible to “disprove” the Bible, because it speaks in a spiritual magisteria, one that cannot be tested, analyzed, or examined by carnal means like science and reason. The Bible cannot be scrutinized, they say, but is that really the case?

Sure enough the Bible makes a plenitude of claims and assertions that we have no way of verifying or falsifying. For example, the Bible says that there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).  Is there any way we would be able to detect that? Can we look up in our telescopes and see angels rejoicing? Can we visit heaven? Are there echoes of angelic songs and dances that slowly ripple their way down to the earth? No. This claim is completely outside of the realm of verification and falsifiability, we simply have no way to examine it, rather it has to be accepted with blind faith.

Yet, there are other claims in the Bible that can indeed be tested, and are possible to falsify or verify. The Bible says that millions of Hebrews left Egypt in a mass exodus (600,000 men, not counting women and children; Exodus 12:37-38). Is this something that can be tested? Yes, we can examine the evidence for and against this claim. For example we can go to the described desert route and do archaeological excavations, seeking the physical traces of such a colossal emigration (which archaeologists assure us, would most definitely be there). We can also read the recorded histories of the ancient peoples in the region and time period to find corroborating evidence, if this massive migration is confirmed or mentioned.

It’s claims like these that interest us the most, the claims that can actually be inspected using an evidence based approach. If the Bible claims that a particular process cures cancer, let us employ this process and see if it works. If the Bible says that Belshazzar was the king after Nebuchadnezzar, let us can compare that to Babylonian historical records to see if it matches up (nope, they dont.)

And so, with no more ado, let’s briefly examine just a few claims of the Bible (we only have time for a few) to see if they are an accurate representation of reality. Spoiler alert, they don’t.



1. Prayer doesn’t really work

The Bible states that “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Mat 21:22). We can test this claim, we can observe people who do believe and pray, and we can see as their prayers are unanswered. I’m serious, pray that God would reveal himself to me, like he did to Apostle Paul, the Bible says “whatever you ask for” and that surely applies. Okay. Prayed? Why hasn’t it happened? If prayer works, why do people usually have only one or two examples of miracles, out of tens of thousands of people uttering tens of thousands of prayers? Why doesn’t it happen consistently? And these exceptions are usually cases of random selection, which is when ten people pray for something that always has a 10% chance of happening, of course one person always get an “answer.” Any of the more concrete sounding miracles out there, are always unverifiable, always based on testimony alone, usually in unreachable countries, brought to us by the world’s longest game of telephone.

Where are the cases with hard evidence? Person with an amputated limb walks into a prayer meeting, and limb grows back after prayer? Why hasn’t that happened even once in the history of the world? Instead of giving me a documented case, I’ve only ever seen lots of post hoc rationalizations that try to explain away why it’s not working (“oh, it’s not Gods plan”, “well you didn’t have faith”, etc). Let’s be honest, you claim prayer works, and yet, deep down, if I ask you to pray for God to heal all the little children in Seattle Children’s Hospital, you KNOW, for a damn fact, that it’s not really going to happen. You know it won’t work, in fact, you’re already inventing up excuses that explain why “it doesn’t work like that.” Stop and look around your city, every hospital you see is a monument to the epic and consistent failure of prayer. 

2. Obedience doesn’t work

The Bible states “honor your father and mother – which is the first commandment with a promise – so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6 :2-3). First I’d note that honoring ones parents is generally a good thing. However, claiming that it extends ones life is an erroneous way of describing how the real world works. There are thousands of examples of very elderly people who either didn’t have parents to honor, or failed to honor them. For example, the infamous killer Bradford Bishop, who killed his mother (obviously failing the “honor your parents” rule) and escaped to Switzerland, but is now 80 years old (Oh sure, you think, “but he’s gonna get it in hell soon,” but whether or not that happens is irrelevant to the fact that the Biblical claim that obedience is tied to longevity has failed). On the other hand, while walking through your local children’s hospital, you will find the utterly tragic and horrifying reality, hundreds of sweet and obedient children are dying from diseases that prayer can’t cure.  An acquaintance of mine lost a kind little girl to cancer, and a parent-killer lives to be 80. The Biblical claim in question is utterly false.

3. Fear of God doesn’t work

The Bible also states that “the fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.” (Prov 10:27) And yet, this is absolutely at odds with the reality before us. Third world countries without access to medical health, have significantly lower life expectancy than first world countries with better healthcare and sanitation. Are we really to conclude that all the people in Central African Republic are actually wicked Christians (having a life expectancy of 50, and a Christian population of 80%) while most of the people in Japan (having a life expectancy of 85, and a Christian Population of 2.3%) are actually obedient to God while being atheists?  The Bible provides an erroneous description of reality, fear God as much as you will, but if you don’t treat Ebola you will die. What determines length of life is access to sanitation, healthcare, technology, nutrition, and simply having good genes.



1. There was no Global Flood

The Bible states that there was a flood wherein “the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.” (Gen 7:19). First off, there are at least ten contradictions in the flood story itself (most scholars state it was two separate myths woven together. Second, a wooden ship the size of the ark is impossible to build, even by modern craftsmen, because wood warps at such sizes (which is why modern ships only increased in size after they were switched to metal).

Third, the logistics of loading the ark, living on the ark, and disembarking from the ark, are literally impossible, having one of every animal on board would produce so much excrement that eight people could not hope to clear it all, working 24 hours a day. Also consider other absurdities of the story, like that the kangaroos would need to swim from across the ocean to reach Australia, while the Amazonian tree frogs would have to hop all the way across an immense desert, and then cross an ocean.

Fourth, numerous civilizations lived and prospered right thought the middle of the date given for the flood, leaving tangible historical records. In fact Egypt has written history, going uninterrupted, that starts a thousand years before the date of the global flood. There is a written Indus script that was developed 200 years before the flood and was used four hundred years after, with no interruption. Famous conquerors like Sargon of Akkad ruled and conquered cities in the exact same time period as the flood. All of these historical facts completely invalidate the possibility of a global flood, but if that’s not enough, scientists say a global flood is physically impossible given our planet and our geological evidence.

2. There was no Egyptian plagues or Exodus

There is not one bit of corroborating evidence that the Hebrews were ever in Egypt, or wandered through the desert. In fact archaeologists say that “no Egyptian text mentions the Israelites except the famous inscription of Merneptah dated to about 1206 B.C.E. But those Israelites were in Canaan; they are not in Egypt, and nothing is said about them escaping from Egypt.”

  • Israel Finklestein, one of the leading archaeologists in Israel writes “there was no record of any Israelites being in Egypt at that time, and hundreds of thousands of people trekking the desert would likely not have been allowed by Egypt, which tightly controlled the area… There is also no evidence such a group camped for extended periods – including in the places mentioned in the Bible.”
  • This is echoed by  Ze’ev Herzog, Professor Emeritus/Director of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University who states: “This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel.”
  • Likewise, by William Dever, who is frequently referred to as the most prominent US archaeologist of the Ancient Near East. He writes: “archaeological investigation of Moses and the Exodus has similarly been discarded as a fruitless pursuit. Indeed, the overwhelming archaeological evidence today of largely indigenous origins for early Israel leaves no room for an exodus from Egypt or a 40-year pilgrimage through the Sinai wilderness.”

Also, obviously, if the Hebrews never left Egypt, then there was no Canaanite invasion, which is exactly what the records show, all the Canaanite cities were never razed or burned to the ground.

3. Solomon wasn’t the richest king

The Bible states that Yahweh told Solomon “And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (2 Chronicles 1:12). Is this accurate? The conservative Christian scholar Kenneth Kitchens estimated Solomon’s wealth (using a biblical description of Solomon’s annual income in talents) to be equivalent of 20 Billion USD. If that’s the case the King of Thailand has got Solomon beat, with his net worth of 30 Billion USD.

All that aside, seriously consider that Solomon’s Palestine was a tiny speck on the map, 10,000 square miles wide, and there were kings who ruled empires that comprised most of the world. In fact the Greek Empire ruled by Alexander the Great covered 2,000,000 square miles of land, which, ironically enough, included Palestine, but only as a small 0.5% of Alexander’s territory and resources. It is impossible that Solomon could have acquired more wealth than Alexander the Great with such a comparatively tiny land area with limited natural resources, limited citizens to tax, and a limited army.



1. A mythical creation story

The origin of the universe, God or no God, is a marvelous and fascinating thing, I will grant you that. In fact, there is nothing illogical about saying something like “God, the metaphysically necessary ground of all being is the source of all contingent being.” That is indeed a possibility, however, the Bible doesn’t say that, sophisticated philosophers do.

The Bible creation myth is very different. Besides the many contradictions in the story, it is written like a fairy tale,  including talking snakes, magical trees, psychic relationships with all the animals, and includes all manner of scientific inaccuracies. For example plants existing before the sun (someone didn’t know about photosynthesis), a flat earth with a firmament (snow globe cover) above it, and sloppy categorization of the sun & moon as big lights (only one is a light, the other a dead rock) and the stars as little lights (of those, many are hundreds of times larger than the sun.)

In addition there are other descriptions that clearly show a lack of scientific accuracy, for example the story shows Elohim splitting darkness from light, which is a common mythical idea (dualism), but in reality, light is energy, darkness is the absence of energy, you cannot have both the absence & presence of oxygen in the same room, and then split “oxygen” and “no-oxygen” into two rooms, that is logically impossible.

2. An inaccurate cosmology

The Bible describes a wholly inaccurate view of cosmology. The earth is said to be a stationary and immobile flat disc with a protective shell on top, set on pillars that can be shaken (in case you are wondering, no this is not the case). The heavens are the realm on top of this firmament, just like in other ancient myths, the Bible shows this as a real physical place, just above us (Job 22:12)). God is depicted as hiding in the clouds and walking on top of heavens (Job 22:14), causing rain to pour out of heavenly windows (Gen 8:2), releasing wind out of special storehouses (Psalm 135:7) and shooting lightning at the earth. Today we have learned that these phenomena are not supernatural, but rather completely natural. We have discovered that the accurate answers include the rain cycle, global wind patterns, and pressure changes conducive to lightning storms. Likewise, as Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut, said upon breaching the atmosphere, “I don’t see God up here.” Now, while I’ve included this mainly as a joke, the reality is that the Bible indeed says God is above the clouds, it literally says that, and that is an erroneous description of reality.

We have also discovered the earth is not flat, nor firmly and immovably planted on pillars, but rather flying through space at immense speeds. In the last few hundred years, we have discovered even more things that the Bible states in error. Stars are not really tiny lights that can fall to the earth (Rev 6:12-13), they don’t exist in a small firmament layer under heaven (Isaiah 14:13), but are giant suns, billions of light years away into the distance. Recently when we began building even stronger telescopes, we discovered that there were hundreds of billions of stars, not a few thousand, like the Bible states (Deut 28:62). In fact, when it comes to cosmology, the Bible describes almost everything incorrectly!

At this point you can probably say “well, that’s all metaphor” but the reality is, until we discovered it was false, everyone believed it was literal. It was believed by the ancient Hebrews as literal. Why would God write in such an imprecise way that is causes misunderstanding? If people can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s a metaphor, until we verify it apart from the Bible, what use is the bible anyway?

3. An erroneous view of mind

While solving the puzzle of human consciousness is not by any means reaching its end goal, we have certainly learned quite a bit about what kinds of things humans are. The Bible describes human beings in a way that’s not accurate. The Bible never alludes or even mentions the brain, even though this is the very organ that produces our ability to reason, think, and be self-aware.

Instead the Biblical texts place the mind as being located inside the heart.  This is patently not true. We have conducted many heart replacement surgeries, and nobody lost their mind during such a procedure (except maybe the family members from worry.) The Bible doesn’t just associate the heart with the mind, it clearly describes all of our mental functions with the heart.

The Bible states that we use our hearts to remember skills (Ex 31:6), to love (Deut 6:5), to grieve (1 Sam 1:8), to write music (Eph 5:19), to keep secrets (1 Corinthians 14:25), to think (Mat 9:4) and ask questions (Mark 2:8), and make decisions (1 Corinthians 7:37). In actuality we know that all of these things are done by the brain. A person can survive with an artificial heart, but take out the brain, and they cease to be a person. The Biblical authors were completely ignorant of this, and this serves as yet another instance of a Biblical failure to correctly describe reality.


The unfortunate reality is that a large number of Christians are not biblically literate. I frequently encourage, and even push, Christians into reading the Bible, cover to cover, because whatever your stance is, its important to know whats in this book that is often seen as the cornerstone of Western Civilization. However, besides knowing what is in the Bible, an even larger amount of people don’t know how it got into their Bible; arguably the vast majority of believers don’t really know how the Bible came to be. If you ask your friend or family member, “where did the Bible come from?” their answer would be something like “God inspired it, people wrote it down, and we have a translation.”

This is ostensibly not the case.

This is like telling people that the United States was founded when “the Pilgrims came to find religious freedom, had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with the Indians, and from that, they made a wonderful nation!” Someone who has such a view of American history and relations with the Native Americans should not be allowed to teach history. Yet, Christians who know the equivalent version of biblical studies are frequently found in the pulpit preaching the Bible, implanting these naïve ideas upon young and impressionable minds.

I contend that if you were to fully know the history of the Bible, you would see that it strongly resembles a human book, not a perfect divine revelation.



1. God inspired people to write divine revelation, without error; they wrote this down in Greek or Hebrew, put it together in a book called the Bible.

2. This Greek and Hebrew Bible was translated into English, and you have a copy in your hands.



1. We have many different English Bible translations with sizable differences

The American Bible society states that “the number of printed English translations and paraphrases of the Bible, whether complete or not, is about 900.” This includes a whole range of kinds of translations (in simple terms, these are often referred to as “word for word,” “thought-for-thought,” & “paraphrase”). Also included are translations based on significantly different Greek texts, translations that update the Bible with new discoveries of Greek manuscripts, offer a “better” interpretation of certain words or phrases, and those update the Bible to fit modern language. Ask yourself, which of these translation contains the most accurate rendition of Gods words? And if we have one, then why do we need all the others?

The reality most people are not aware of, is that there are indeed very significant differences that are often introduced or hidden through translations. For example, there are over a hundred translation differences by the conservative NIV committee that obscure difficult passages and contradictions in the original texts.

  • “Every translation involves many decisions by the translator about the Hebrew, Greek, or (in a few cases) Aramaic text. Scholars are still not sure about the meaning for some words, and the biblical languages do not translate precisely into English (or other modern languages.) In addition, we have no original manuscript of any biblical book, and the existing biblical manuscripts disagree with each other at many points.” (An Introduction to the Bible: Sacred Texts and Imperial Contexts By David M. Carr, Colleen M. Conway)


2. These translations come from significantly different ‘Printed Greek Bibles’

Your Bible was not translated directly from the handwritten Greek manuscripts (a manuscript is a piece of papyrus or animal skin with writing on it), but instead your Bible was translated from a modern printed Greek text (an actual book, produced by a printer on modern paper). Before we can translate the Greek New Testament into English, we must first figure out what it is, so scholars first create a Printed Greek Bible. These printed Greek texts are put together by combining and compiling various handwritten manuscript copies of New Testament books, essentially taking tid-bits from hundreds of different handwritten Greek manuscripts and documents, sometimes even merging different sentences from two sources into one.

  • We do not have one printed Greek text that everyone agrees is “the original Greek Bible,” instead we have dozens of different scholarly reconstructions, each having many differences and updates. 

As an example, when comparing four versions of these printed Greek texts, Tregelles 1857, Tischendorf 1869, Westcott & Hort 1881, or Nestle-Aland 1979, one will find over four thousand translatable differences between them, and though many of these are fairly small differences like the omission of one word, or substation with another word, other differences are significant. Matthew 20:16 in the Majority Text says “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” While the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece, merely says “So the last will be first, and the first last” (without the many are called/few are chosen addition). For some more examples of differences found in comparing two of these printed Greek texts against each other see this link. Not only are there various different Greek Bibles, these go through many updates and changes, for example the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece (which is the source for the NIV) has now been updated 28 times; we are on the 28th version of this Bible.


3. These ‘Printed Greek Bibles’ are compiled from disagreeing families of manuscripts

As scribes made more and more copies, thousands of errors and additions crept into the texts, some of these were accidental, but many were deliberate. For example, the famous story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, was a later addition to the text (the earliest manuscripts don’t have it) and obviously an intentional one, you cannot accidentally insert a chapter. Because scribes would make a copy of the manuscripts they had in their local region, many of the copies can be grouped into categories or families. These families are groups of texts that were copied in roughly the same time period and geographical location, some examples include the Byzantine, Caesarian, Western, & Alexandrian families.

Below is a highly simplified chart of what this looks like, as you can see, doing textual criticism, to figure out what the New Testament should contain, requires thousands of hours of diligent work as well as human ingenuity and skill.

new testament manuscript chart

Simplified stemma (geneological chart) of New Testament manuscript families

Today, theologians and scholars select a family tree of handwritten manuscripts and use these texts (not others) to create a Printed Greek Bible, from which they make an English translation. There are various academic arguments for which family is superior, but there is disagreement about which arguments are more persuasive: there are two very different schools of thought on this.

  • This literally means there are two very different sets of Greek texts from which modern Bibles are translated. As a result there are two different Greek New Testaments, and various Christian scholars support one or the other is the “real” New Testament. One of these is the KJV/NKJV/WEB family of translations, based on the Byzantine manuscript family, the other is the NIV/NASB/NSRV family of translations, based on the Alexandrian family of manuscripts. Which family is closer to the original? Many scholars make many arguments, and the Alexandrian side seems to have better arguments, but we can’t know for sure. (If we did, there would be no disagreement).


4. These families are composed of many disagreeing handwritten manuscripts

At the core of everything are over 5,800 handwritten Greek manuscripts, some of which are nearly whole “bibles,” while others are small fragments, just one verse in length. It is very difficult to go through all of these manuscripts, and compare where they agree or disagree, but some of the leading textual scholars have estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of differences! These differences are called “textual variants” and, to be fair, most of them are fairly small. Almost 75% of these are simply misspellings of words, misplacement of words/phrases, however others are far more significant, like the inclusion of a whole new sentence into the text.

  • The more manuscripts we find, the more differences we likewise find.  For example in the 18th century John Mill estimated 30,000 thousand differences, based on 100 manuscripts. About a hundred years ago the great Edward Nestle estimated 200,000. Today the leading textual scholars like Bart Ehrman and even leading Christian textual scholars like Daniel Wallace, estimate up to 400,000 differences in these manuscripts!

Evangelicals will often say that only 1% of these differences are viable and translatable difference, however, what is often obscured is that 1% of 400,000 variants gives us up to 4,000 significant and translatable differences! Imagine your pastor telling you there are a few thousand significant differences in the manuscripts from which the Bible comes from!

In any case, while the vast majority of these are indeed insignificant things, like spelling mistakes, inserting the a different word or a synonym, accidentally missing one word, and etc. many differences are indeed very significant. For example, there is only one verse in the Bible that explicitly teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, and yet this verse is based on a textual variant! (Scholars argue that the manuscripts with this verse are much later copies than those manuscripts missing this verse, but it is the scholars who are left to figure this out out using investigative methodologies and human reason. It is not a supernatural method, but human reason that recreates “the Bible.”


5. Most of these manuscripts are thousand year old copies of original documents that are lost

The original New Testament documents were written in the 1st century (most estimates say between 50CE to 100CE). The earliest fragment of the New Testament is P52, which is an early copy of Johns Gospel, probably only about 30 years after the original! While a lot can of changes can happen in three decades of copying, that is still very early! Alas, it is only 3 verses.

Unfortunately we have very few early copies, there are only about six fragments from the 2th century, and only a few hundred that were copied in the first half-millennium. The earliest complete manuscript of the New Testament that we have is the Codex Sinaiticus which was copied sometime during the 4th century, hundreds of years after the originals were written.

Christian apologists frequently argue that we can trust the Bible because there are thousands of manuscript copies of it, and these are a few decades after the originals, unlike some other historical writings, of which there are mere hundreds and dozens manuscript copies. This argument is ultimately dishonest, because it is focused on throwing out a large number to overwhelm the senses. The problem is that the vast majority of those “thousands of manuscripts” they cite are copies made a thousand years after the originals. Most of these thousands of copies are not helpful, because they are copies of copies of copies of copies, vastly removed from the originals. The manuscripts that actually matter the most, are form the first few centuries and represent less than 10% of these “thousands of manuscripts.”

  • In any case, the largest problem is this: we simply don’t have the original manuscripts! We have no idea what happened between the original document, the first dozens and hundreds of years of copying. We don’t know if Paul’s secretary wrote down Paul’s words correctly! We don’t know if the first copy that was made of Paul’s letter, from which the other copies came, had an error, edit, or addition. We don’t know and cannot know because all those early documents are missing! Decades and centuries are missing! Its possible there were no errors in the missing decades/centuries, but it’s just as possible that hundreds of radical changes happened. We can’t know without the originals.


6. These handwritten manuscripts came bundled in radically different canons

A biblical canon is a list of books that are considered to be ‘inspired by God.’ While most Christians think that there is only one biblical canon, and this has always been the same, there are actually 10 different cannons in existence today! However, most of their differences are regarding Old Testament books and are pretty minor in comparison to the situation for the first 500 years of Christian history. There were many more canons in the past, and these included very different New Testament books. How do you know which canon is the right one?

In the first few hundred years of Church history, there were hundreds of books circulating that were purported to be gospels and epistles of the apostles. Some are obvious fakes and forgeries. Others had a very long tradition of authoritative use in the early church. The first time in human history that a list with all of our current NT books was written was in the late 4th century. In a letter admonishing his churches, Bishop Athanasius wrote a request that his church read these books, including our current books. But he also excluded Esther and added Baruch plus the “Letter of Jeremiah” (different than the book of Jeremiah) to his version of the Old Testament.

  • The Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest complete manuscript of the whole Bible, includes the epistle of Barnabas & Shepherd of Hermas right in the middle of the of the New Testament, and excludes many sections of Mark, Matthew, Acts, and so on. The Codex Claromontanus (6th century) excludes Philippians and Hebrews, but includes Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Acts of Peter, and Revelation of Peter.

Which of these canons are the “one true canon?” How can we know? Do we trust church history and tradition? Which church tradition? The Catholic church? Coptic Church? Eastern Orthdox? Protestant? Which early church fathers do we trust? If we trust Bishop Athanasius who first wrote our list, should we not replace Esther with Baruch, and include the letter of Jeremiah? If we go for the earliest sources, should we not add the epistle of Barnabas & Shepherd of Hermas to our bible? How can we be sure? We cannot.


7. These handwritten manuscripts cite wildly different Hebrew manuscripts

In many places the New Testament authors cited the Old Testament. However, at the time there were multiple versions of the Old Testament, including many Hebrew versions and a Greek translation of the Hebrew called the Septuagint. There are hundreds of cases where there are very significant differences between the commonly accepted Hebrew Masoretic text and the ancient Septuagint, because the Septuagiant was translated from a regional version of Hebrew Bible (in Alexandria) that decidedly differs from today’s Masoretic Hebrew Bible.

What this means is that if you compared many new testament quotes of the Old Testament, to your Old testament, you will find the most incomprehensible of differences, and many of these are quite significant:Septuagint vs masoretic text differences


At the end of the day, many scholars state that we can be fairly certain about which manuscripts are the earliest and best, but all of them agree that we simply do not have the “original Bible.” We can make a very good educated guess about what the originals contain, based on more than a hundred years of academic work in textual criticism (the science of dating and tracing the history of various handwritten manuscripts of ancient documents). Yet, we simply cannot know what was in the originals because we don’t have them. What we have are reconstructions, made by humans, using logic, reason, and human science (that thing many fideistic religious people just don’t like to trust.)

  • What we dont have, is the original Bible, and we can’t be 100% certain about the exact contents of it.
  • What we do have, tells us that ancient documents, including the Bible saw many edits and alterations during copying and transmission.
  • What we do have, tells us that there is a high chance for many changes to have occurred between the originals and the earliest copies we have.
  • What we do have, tells us we cannot be sure what those changes are, or are not.
  • What we do have, is a very good educated reconstruction that attempts to reconstruct the original Bible. Your Bible is the best possible scientific recreation, based on a scientific theory (yes, just like the theory of evolution, which also attempts to reconstruct the past based on available evidence, without access to complete evidence.)
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.



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.



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.



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.