PEOPLE TREAT A SKEPTIC

Having grown up with a deeply devout and sincere Christian faith I have been on a journey away from certainty and dogma, filled with many questions and reluctant skepticism, you can read some bits of it here (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5). I went from a passionate Pentecostal, to an ardent charismatic, then to a zealous evangelical, a sincerely pious Calvinist, later becoming a liberal Christian, finally ending up as a diligent questioner of all of the above. Certainly I remain open to it, but very skeptical as well.

Whatever else can be said, I should note that I have never done something halfheartedly, I gave it my all, and worked my mind, body, and emotions to their utmost. I was never the Pentecostal hiding in the back, chewing gum, sitting there because my parents forced me to. I was up in the front preaching my heart off. I was never the charismatic who goes to church once a Sunday and prays a lackluster prayer for prosperity, I was the one watching IHOP prayer rooms couple of hours a day and visiting local prophets, trying to receive an impartation to change the world with. I was not the lazy Calvinist who was once saved, and ready to hibernate until heaven, I passionately persuaded people to the gospel, and even wrote ¾ of a 35,000 word devotional book about God (granted this was never finished or published.) And now that I am questioning the reality of everything I did and believed in the past, I have also done this avidly and somewhat publically.

What does that mean for me?  I have encountered an interesting range of emotions, experiences, and personal interactions with people. Some of these have been really rewarding, others have left me with a sinking feeling in my stomach, and a lack of hope for the human race.

What does this mean for you? First, as a fellow human being you can learn from the bad and try to imitate the good. Or, second, as a fellow skeptic, before you tell others you have are doubtful of their religious claims, you should “count the cost” and understand that some people will treat you severely and unkindly.

1. They may threaten you with violence.

This is rarer than all the other kinds, but I have been threatened with violence by at least three people now, one of them a middleaged ministry leader at a local Slavic megachurch. I was told my teeth would be knocked out because that’s what Jesus wants. I was also warned that when a particular gentleman meets me in person, I will receive what I deserve and should be very afraid for my life. Besides the few threats of physical violence, I have had half a dozen threats of “spiritual violence” wherein people tell me they are praying for God to punish me, harm me, kill me, and send me to burn in hell.

2. They may call you names and insults

This is probably one of the most common responses I have received. From being labeled a heretic, atheist, scum, idiot, coward, and the usual slurs and hateful remarks, I have also been privy to some very creative labels. The literary ingenuity of some people still makes me smile. These include gems like “pathetic loser who PISSES me off,” “ignorant idiot who gets off on trying to be smarter than everyone,” and my favorite “stupid calvinist atheist.” (I still haven’t figured that one out.) That said, I’ve probably seen words like idiot and stupid show up quite a bit. It’s really surprising how much conservative Christians can use such rude language when someone asks them difficult questions about their faith-based ideology.

3. They may claim you are evil for asking questions

This is also fairly common, many people have an incessant need to label you, to herd you into some kind of box that they can understand and feel power over. When you fail to provide them with a self-label for which they have a scripted way of negating you, they begin to improvise, and usually do this by blaming your morals. I have had at least two dozen people try to pull the blame-game on me, some accused me of not praying enough, or having a rebellious heart, others claimed its various “secret sins” of pride, sexual sins and etc. Some others stated I had been a lying faker all along, while a few even said I was sinful enough to open the door to satan. In sum, their point is that they only reason I have doubts is because I have failed to be as holy as they are currently being, and because I have a dark, ugly, wicked heart.

4. They may recede into the distance and ignore you

A less common response is complete disownment and apparent indifference. A few people who were good friends or acquaintances just disappeared from my life. One or two even blocked/unfriended me on social media. The truth is, compared to the above three responses, I would much rather see this as it’s much kinder than the others. Still, it’s rather sad that some people can just disappear, but that said, I do understand this and hold no grudges.

5. They may remain as condescending “friends” with one goal

Some remain friends, which is pretty great, but do so in a severely condescending way. They begin to treat you as though you are broken, crippled, blind, foolish or mentally unstable, and they are here to nurse you back to health. Instead of taking your questions seriously, they treat you as though you have some kind of mental/spiritual problem, but loudly claim that they still love you,even while you have this dark problem. Conversations aren’t very open or honest, and most turn into debates where they again reiterate that X is not a real problem, but the problem is in your ugly, dirty, broken heart, and they are loving and praying for you to stop being so darn stubborn and accept their version of truth. Again, at least they stay friends, so that’s swell, but the condescension is a bit taxing.

6. They may be genuinely friendly, even while they disagree

Unfortunately this group is rather small especially compared to the rest. However, they make up for their small size with their big hearts. These people are exceptionally great and are a shining illustration of love and kindness. They genuinely understand where I am at and why I feel this way, they are good friends regardless of our disagreements. These people tend to be less dogmatic and certainly would not classify themselves as fundamentalists, however, many certainly are Christians. Ultimately I hope more of us can learn to be the kind of friends who kindly accept others when they disagree, perhaps trying to win them over by diligent debate, but always from a position of humility and kindness, never scorn or condescension.

good skeptic

What is the goal of a good skeptic?

What’s the aim of being a skeptic? Is it to a priori reject every source of knowledge in the world? Or just everything that you don’t like? Or something different altogether? Broadly speaking the ultimate goal is to accept as many true beliefs and reject as many false beliefs as possible. My aim as a skeptic is not to “be skeptical” for the sake of rejecting ideas, but rather to filter out every manner of falsehood, error, and distortion in order to arrive at the truth.

If the goal is truth, the road there is a careful and honest skepticism that rejects all the falsehoods to arrive at that which stands under scrutiny. 

What is the definition of a skeptic?

Where it gets really tricky is that while looking in assorted dictionaries you will find the word defined in a plethora of ways. We can find “skeptic” being used to refer to someone who strongly disagrees with religious claims, or habitually doubts all generally accepted conclusions, or even a member of the philosophical school of Pyrrho who doubts the ability to acquire any real knowledge at all! All of these definitions seem very negative! In fact there is a very undesirable association with the word skeptic, it’s as though these  definitions were written by proponents of some of these “generally accepted conclusions” who suffered the frustration of dealing with criticism from skeptics!

As Michael Shermer, the author of Skeptic magazine says: “I often hear, “Oh, you’re a skeptic, so you don’t believe anything?” to which he commonly replies “No, I believe lots of things, as long as there is reason and evidence to believe.” But if this is not the case, what is?

A skeptic is not one who rejects everything, but rather carefully rejects falsehoods, errors, mistakes, biases, and distortions of truth.

Ordinary claims vs Extra-ordinary claims

One thing that must be clear is that a good skeptic will not generally be skeptical of all ordinary claims, but will be skeptical of extraordinary claims.

Ordinary claims include things that we know frequently happen, like being pulled over by the police, recovering from an infection with the use of antibiotics, or even rarer things like seeing a “shooting star.” These things are all ordinary claims, because we already have definitive evidence that such things are possible. For example there are undoctored videos of people being pulled over by the police, in which we can see with a high degree of certainty that this is exactly whats happening, therefore we have the evidence. Certainly people can lie about ordinary claims, but unless there is a reason we should be skeptical (for example, knowing that someone is a pathological liar, or their ordinary story doesn’t make sense) we can accept ordinary claims on testimony, because we already have evidence that this is certainly possible.

Extraordinary claims include things that we don’t yet have evidence for, for example the existence of ghosts, the genuine magical abilities of shamans in Africa, the gift of faith healers to cure diseases using supernatural powers, and the capability of psychics to really talk to the dead. These are all extraordinary claims, meaning people have certainly asserted these are true, but careful scrutiny has never provided definitive evidence that this is exactly what happened in these cases. For example, we don’t have even one video of an amputated leg growing out at the beckon of a shaman or faith healer. We may have many testimonies and assertions that “I was healed” regarding diseases that are not visible or can resolve on their own (like some cancers), but later on, many of these people die from those same diseases they claimed to be healed of, so clearly the claim alone is not evidence. We need real evidence, not merely a testimony before we accept an extraordinary claim.

Lets test this: if I tell you my car broke down, do you have any alarm bells? Probably not. Now if I tell you that I saw a real fire-breathing-dragon in the woods? For such an outlandish claim, it seems rather easy to be skeptical. This is something we already do, however, we are prone to different biases, for example if we lived in the middle of a superstitious medieval culture that burned witches, the dragon thing may have not have been so obvious.  This is why we must be very careful to avoid being a bad skeptic.

What makes a bad skeptic?

1. Rejecting things simply because you don’t like them

If you are “skeptical” of something simply because you disagree with the conclusion of that thing, this is not genuine skepticism. For example, a Christian that is “skeptical “of mainstream academic biblical studies because he is frightened by their dire implications to his doctrine of inspiration/inerrancy or an atheist who is “skeptical” of the existence of Jesus simply because he doesn’t want this to be the case are born letting bias cloud their “skepticism.”

2. Rejecting things even if there is evidence to accept them

If you are reject some idea even while there is good evidence to accept it, you are not being a skeptic. For example, when you are “skeptical” about the fluoridation of water, and reject it as a vast conspiracy, even while there are mountains of solid evidence  to support it.

3. Rejecting things on the basis of bad arguments

If you are “skeptical” of something by using logical fallacies and bad arguments, you are not a good skeptic. This happens, for example, when you reject claims made by another person because of an attack on the person herself, by saying she is “a heathen” or a “zealot” instead of actually reviewing the claims she makes. Another example can be: “I’m not listening to the evidence for evolution, because it’s stupid.”

What makes a good skeptic?

1. Be severely skeptical of an extraordinary claim that has evidence against it

There are many things that have been conclusively disproven, and yet millions of people still think these things are true. Take for example astrology, there are wide-scale studies of twins born “under the same sign,” who have a very diverse range of personalities that don’t fit most astrological charts. Or take for example the topic of cancer, which is frequently rife with myths and beliefs that have been thoroughly debunked by solid evidence, it’s fine to be severely skeptical of these claims, because there exists strong evidence against them.

2. Be cautiously skeptical of an extraordinary claim that has no evidence for it

Some claims and assertions simply don’t have any evidence for or against them, in these cases its prudent to be cautiously open towards the claim, but still remain skeptical. Lets take, for example, that your friend reports he saw the Buddha in a vision. We don’t have definitive evidence that the being called Buddha cannot appear in a vision, but we also don’t have any evidence that it was indeed Buddha or that he can. It might seem like a stalemate, and that we should be agnostic on the issue, but this is not the case. Our options are (a) the extraordinary explanation that Buddha did sincerely visit our friend, or (b) ordinary explanation that our friend is mistaken by a  dream, has abnormal brain activity, or is deceiving us. All of these ordinary explanations are 100% possible, we have the definitive evidence, we know this for a fact. On the other hand the extraordinary claim of a genuine Buddha visitation is an unknown, it has no definitive evidence.

As originally shown by the philosopher Hume, unless we have strong evidence to the contrary,  it is always more likely that the ordinary natural explanation is the true one, rather than the extraordinary supernatural one. Whenever we review a testimony, we always have these two options, and because we already know the ordinary is possible, but don’t know if the extraordinary is possible, its always prudent to pick the ordinary explanation and be skeptical of the extraordinary.

3. Be skeptical of mere-testimony because of cognitive biases, including your own

It’s very intuitive to want to believe the testimony of friends and acquaintances if they seem very sincere about their claims. However, there have been numerous lines of evidence that show our brains are prone to a significant amount of cognitive biases, in fact, the list on Wikipedia contains over 160 biases and deficiencies that normal brains can be affected by. Some of the most important things to consider are (a) memory is very unreliable and we can often invent false memories, (b) we are prone to confirmation bias where we “see” things that we expect to be true, and (c) we often use motivated reasoning to defend something we have an emotional connection to, which we would never argue for without this relationship. Everyone is prone to these, including myself, and the best way to be skeptical is to be aware of these biases in yourself and others.

biblical slavery passages

This is a very uncomfortable topic to think about. It’s even more uncomfortable for those who believe in verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy of the biblical texts, or that each of the words in the Bible were specifically picked and inspired by God to contain ultimate and unchanging truth. This can cause all manner of logical gymnastics. I was involved in a few discussions about the biblical texts and slavery and to my dismay heard a few friends argue that the Old Testament affirms slavery for a good reason,  that slavery was a good way to order society at the time. (Unfortunately this was a real statement.)

Others, who are more astute look at the Biblical texts on slavery and cannot accept these at face value, so they make apt comparisons to indentured servitude, saying things like “slavery was a temporary form of indentured servitude, where you worked for seven years to pay off a debt.” (Yes, that’s another real statement). Unfortunately, this is not true, even if it sounds much softer and we would rather it be true. Instead of simply telling you this, let me show you.

OLD TESTAMENT SLAVE PASSAGES

 1. Hebrew slave

  • Hebrew free-persons could not sell themselves into slavery because of financial difficulty:
    If a countryman of yours becomes so poor with regard to you that he sells himself to you, you shall not subject him to a slave’s service. He shall be with you as a hired man(Leviticus 25:39-40)
  • Hebrew males would go free after seven years:“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment.”(Exodus 21:2)
  • Male Hebrew slaves could be provided a wife: “if his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters” (Exodus 21:4)
  • The wife and children are eternal property; slave families were separated, children were taken from the father:“If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone.” (Exodus 21:5)
  • The only way to keep from being separated from ones children/wife is to commit to a life of slavery:“But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.” (Exodus 21:6-7)
  • Daughter could be sold, but would never be liberated “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.” (Exodus 21:7)
  • However, there were safeguards against female abuse: “If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her.” (Exodus 21:8)
  • Girl slaves could be adopted as daughters, though keep in mind all women were treated like property (daughters were sold into slavery per Ex 21:7): “If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.” (Exodus 21:)
  • If a man owns a female slave, and obtains another woman he must provide food, clothing, and sex to the woman slave or else free her“If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. “If he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.”(Exodus 21:10-11)
  • Some slaves could be beat, as long as they survive a day or two: “If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. “If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for [slave] is his property.” (Exodus 21:21-22)
  • Permanent deformities led to the liberation of Hebrew slaves: “If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. “And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.” (Exodus 21:26-27)
  • A slaves life was worth 30 shekels of gold: “If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.” (Exodus 21:32)

2. Foreign captive / slave

  • Slaves are possessions not people: “As for your male and female slaves whom you may have—you may acquire male and female slaves from the pagan nations that are around you. 45‘Then, too, it is out of the sons of the sojourners who live as aliens among you that you may gain acquisition, and out of their families who are with you, whom they will have produced in your land; they also may become your possession. (Leviticus 25:44-45)
  • These are permanent possessions, even handed down through the generations:“You may even bequeath them to your sons after you, to receive as a possession; you can use them as permanent slaves. But in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.” (Leviticus 25:46)
  • These slaves can to be treated worse than the Hebrew slaves in Exodus 21: you can use them as permanent slaves but in respect to your countrymen, the sons of Israel, you shall not rule with severity over one another.” (Leviticus 25:46)
  • Slaves can be captured in war: “When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. “Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you.” (Deuteronomy 20:13–14)
  • Women could be captured, shaved bald, and enslaved as a wife: “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. “She shall also 1remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife.” (Deuteronomy 21:10–14)

3. Other interesting observations

  • There was indeed a difference between a slave bought with money, and a hired servant: “but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it.  A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it.”(Exodus 12:44-45)
  • The slave became property of the house, and got to eat the Passover meal: “But if a priest buys a slave as his property with his money, that one may eat of it, and those who are born in his house may eat of his food.” (Leviticus 22:11)
  • Premarital sex with a slave woman doesn’t lead to stoning for adultery because she wasn’t free: “Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free.” (Leviticus 19:20)
  • Slaves are punished with their masters “and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of the cattle as well.” (Exodus 11:5)
  • One biblical text allows slaves to escape and be free! This is probably my favorite one! It seems as if there was some development of doctrine and debate during this era, and at least one genuinely good idea made it. That said, this verse doesn’t simply invalidate the others, its a minority opinion in the text (yes there are different opinions in the Bible). “You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you.  He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him.” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)
  • Another Deuteronomist text also forbids Hebrews to be forced into slavery (though this only applies to men and only to those of the same nation): “If a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 24:7)
  • Virgin girls captured in war could be kept as spoils of war, likely for sexual abuse (this explains why boys are not kept): “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. “But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.” (Numbers 31:17–18)
  • Some people were bought, others born into slavery: “I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem.” Ecclesiastes 2:7

NEW TESTAMENT SLAVE PASSAGES

In the New Testament the power dynamics are different, because at the time Christianity was a minority religion without political power or standing armies (unlike the Hebrews of the Old Testament, and 1800 years of Christian history after the writing of the New Testament). This means the New Testament doesn’t actively in-state and regulate the institution of slavery, rather it merely accepts it. In addition, likely to avoid ill words from being spoken against Christian doctrine, the early church writers command slaves to remain slaves, in order that “our doctrine will not be spoken against.”

While there were hundreds of opportunities for the New Testament authors to renounce slavery, they did not. This is the most unspeakable fact that must be noted, they did not renounce slavery. To be fair, in one passage (Galatians 3:28), Paul did say that slaves spiritual worth is equitable to their masters, however, a dozen other places clearly promote and uphold slavery. There is no unison of voices speaking out against the ownership of people, though at least there are two commands for masters to be “fair.” Incidentally, in the Southern US era slavery, masters read these passages, and interpreted their actions as “fair,” because they only beat their slaves if they “deserved it.”

  • Jesus interacted with a slave and didn’t renounce the institution of slavery: “And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die.” (Luke, 7:2)
  • The epistles (that were written by deutero-Paul) commanded slaves to obey their masters: Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth” (Col 3:22-25)
  • Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling” (Eph 6:5-8)
  • Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything” (Titus 2:9-10)
  • The New Testament commands slaves to honor their slave-master because this promoted good Christian doctrine. All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.” (1 Timothy 6:1)
  • Peter commanded slaves to be submissive, even to abusive masters:“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.” (1 Peter 2:18)
  • In an exception to the passages above Paul advises some to become free if they have the opportunity. howerer, this is not a request for the total abolition of slavery, nor is it a condemnation of the practice: Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. (1 Cor 7:21)

Was slavery in Antiquity much better than Southern slavery?

For most contemporary Christians, slavery connotes nothing but a bitter distaste under the tongue. Very often the last resort is that “slavery in the Greco-roman world was not the same slavery we are familiar with, it is much better.” Unfortunately this is not wholly honest. Was it different? Yes, of course it was, time changes many traditions and customs. But the question we should be asking is “was it better?” The answer is no.

  • Slaves in the Greco-roman world could be beat and tortured. There is even a formal roman era law (AE1971) that created rules about how to pay someone to torture and beat your slaves.
  • The only slave testimony that was admissible to court was under torture. “The principle was that slaves, and only slaves, should have their evidence taken only if they were first subjected to torture”
  • Some slaves were indeed paid, but historians cite that this was rare, rather than the common situation, most weren’t given wages but just treated poorly. Workers in the same era, on the other hand, were always paid. Some apologists like to obscure this fact, but there indeed were two separate classes, (a) hired workers and (b) slaves.
  • Slaves were property sold and separated at will by their masters choices, children could be separated from parents, wives from husbands, and so forth.  Even in the Greco-Roman world, slaves were not people but property.

A few short thoughts

After 5800+ years of biblical history, after  1700+ years of New Testament Christianity, after hundreds of millions of people suffered miserable and cruel lives as slaves, before slavery was finally abolished. For some reason the Bible was never clearly against slavery. It certainly cannot be due to a desire for brevity, for there are thousands of words dedicated to ritualistic killing of animals and other obscure laws dealing with vaginal discourse and the like, but nothing that clearly forbids slavery. A simple “Don’t keep slaves, people are not property” would have sufficed, and not have taken up too much room, but its not there. Unfortunately this is our uncomfortable truth, and we have to live with it: (1) the Hebrew Bible establishes slavery, (2) the New Testament permits it, and (3) Christians for over a millennium and a half engaged in it.

The most widespread abolition of slavery happened in very close proximity to the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution and other modernist humanist movements. Even John Newton, the Christian, abolitionist, and author of “Amazing Grace” had first spent 4 years as a Christian slavetrader, a decade as a slave investor, until 34 years later, finally joining the abolitionist movement. In this movement were many devout Christians, humanists, freethinkers and more, but it was a movement rooted in humanistic ideals and a “love thy neighbor” method, it was a systematic Biblical teaching, nor part of nearly 6000 years of Hebrew-Christian history.

Before the church joined this movement, many Christians were against it. It was commot to see, as recorded in an era newspaper, abolitionists being rejected by churches: “Also in New Hampshire, in that same year, in a church in Northfield, George Storrs, was lifted from his knees while offering an anti-slavery prayer, and thrown out of the church.” Fortunately today the church has not offered apologies for racism and slavery,  the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptists, the Methodists, and the Episcopalians have all admitted their part in promoting slavery and racism. (Lest you think I’ve invented the idea).

In any case, the abolition of slavery was so connected with modernistic ideas of intellectual freedom, that James H Thornwell, a famous American preacher, wrote that abolitionists are “atheists, socialists, communists [and] red republicans.” And we should all be ashamed of this, that it wasn’t Paul, or Peter, or most Christians living during the first 17 centuries, but the “atheists, socialists, communists [and] red republicans” who ended mainstream acceptance for slavery.

Finally, while slavery has ended in Europe and America, it is still very much in action in other places on this globe, to this end there are organizations working diligently to end this horrific institution, and we ought to do all we can to help.

TOP TEN DELETED BIBLE VERSES

When I was in my mid-teens I was handed my first Bible-conspiracy pamphlet (See examples 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). This pamphlet spoke of the great dangers posed to Christianity by a large group of lesbian bible scholars that had fought their way into biblical societies and now were working deviously to corrupt the Bible. Part of their notorious lesbian agenda was the secret removal of bible verses that for thousands of years had contained Gods word! (Another part was making the language gender neutral, so that the New World Government can one day eradicate the sexes, or something like that.) This pamphlet warned that vital Bible verses were being secretly deleted and erased, our new Bibles were being printed missing God’s words! I was aghast, and spent many months discussing with my friends the impending satanic incursion in our world, this Verse-Removal-Conspiracy was surely a sign of the end times.

Ten years later, having learned a few things about the transmission, corruption, and restoration of the New Testament, I can slowly laugh at myself. There has never been a satanic conspiracy against the bible , in fact this “conspiracy” was perpetuated by the most conservative evangelical scholars who translated the NIV in order to try to save the Bible! The very conservative NIV translators often mistranslated and obscured the text to hide contradictions, problems, or other issues. The reason is that during the hundreds of years of biblical studies, academics have amassed irrefutable textual evidence that the Bible we have was heavily modified, edited, and miscopied on thousands of occasions.

Today, it is the job of biblical scholars to go through the thousands of manuscripts, align the differences/similarities, and try to estimate what was likely the original reading. In many cases what scholars have found is that a later copy of a particular passage includes extra phrases or sentences, while an earlier copy, dated to a few hundred years earlier, is missing those sentences. Because of this scholars have been forced to admit that for the last two millennia, we have been treating many verses, which are interpolations (additions of phrases to the text by a scribe), as thought they were the very words of God. As a result, scholars have been removing some of these passages. These passages were never original to the text, they were later additions.

While there are quite a few textual variants, alterations, interpolations, and etc, here is my personal “Top Ten” list of bible verses that that were never in the original text of the Bible.

1. “There are three that bear witness in heaven, the father, the word, and the holy spirit, and these three are one.” (1 John 5:7)

Interestingly enough this is the only passage in the Bible that clearly articulates the Trinity. While there are other passages that may hint at the Trinity this particular passage distilled hundreds of years of theology by the early church into a Bible verse added into the text. This is literally one of the more fascinating manuscript stories as it exists in our modern Bibles in part because the Catholics created a forged Greek text to provide to an 16th century scholar, Erasmus.

2. “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21)

This whole verse is omitted from most modern Bible translations, while the Mark 9:29 has the word “fasting” removed from it based on the earliest manuscripts. I have personally seen people testify of fasting for prolonged periods of time, to wage war with demons. I have also heard testimonies where this process did not work, and the preacher had to embellish another element to the story (“I wasn’t holy enough, etc.”) Ironically enough the whole command, which people devote days and weeks to, was never in the Bible.

3. “Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery… said to Him… the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do you say?… Jesus said “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

This particular story has become one of the defining portraits of Jesus yet, all 12 verses have been removed or footnoted in new translations. If there is one story that is most commonly associated with Jesus, it is, hands down, this one.  Everyone I know loves to quotes from these passages about Jesus. One of the most important doctrines regarding how to treat others who are sinners (“don’t judge them because you are not without sin”) is found only in this passage. Except it was never in the Bible but is a later addition, written down almost four hundred years after the death of Jesus.

4. “And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

I have witnessed countless preachers motioning triumphantly with agony and emotion on their face as they read these words. It’s as if they experience this exact sensation while they read about it. Some have even spoken of a possible medical condition where a person experiences so much stress that they sweat blood. Except, this was never in the original bible, so all the emotional sermons focusing on this were due to a passage that was almost certainly not biblical.

5. “These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons and they will speak with new tongues.” (Mark 16:17)

Pentecostals have only one mention of Jesus teaching about the act of speaking in tongues in the Gospels, this passage is Mark 16:17. However, most of this chapter in Mark is an interpolation, for the original text of Mark (the earliest Gospel to be written, about 10-20 years before Luke/Matthew) ended at 16:8. What is fascinating about this is that millions of Pentecostals have frequently preached that Jesus predicted their glossolaic speech in the Gospels. Unfortunately, this is not the case, it was merely secondary addition of a scribe who later added to the text what wasn’t there.

6. “And they will take up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any poison it will not harm them, and they will lay their hands on the sick and they will become well.” (Mark 16:18)

Another passage from the unoriginal ending to the Gospel of Mark. Unfortunately, people have literally died because of this interpolation. There have been hundreds of Pentecostal churches that have engaged in snake-handling, though today they are a dying breed.

7. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:13)

The Lord’s Prayer has been repeated by billions of people, trillions of times. It is probably the most repeated series of words in the history of the world (perhaps second only to the Shahada). And besides the fact that there are already two version of the Lord’s Prayer in the original texts, Matthew version (v6:9–13) has 65 words while Luke’s version (v11:2–4) only has 36 words, the ending (a doxology) of Matthew’s version, the one memorized by billions, was a later interpolation but not the original.

8. “And in the same way after supper Jesus took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)

This is a primary Gospel witness of the atoning intent (“for you”) of the crucifixion as well as the promise of a “new covenant.” These are essential Christian teachings that are found in most faith statements. Today most Bibles mention with a footnote that this passage is not found in the most ancient manuscripts, however a couple conservative scholars attempt to defend the idea that the original text had these words, then a scribe removed them and the original was lost, finally another scribe re-added it to explain why it’s missing from the earliest copies. Today we have six different versions of this passage, and only one supports the theological reading that conservatives want, but there is very strong evidence this was a later interpolation.

9. “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

The first of two Christian texts that command what is called “The Great Commission” to preach the gospel to all nations is certainly a later scribal interpolation, part of the “longer ending of Mark” that was not in the original. There is one more passage that commands the Great Commission, Matthew 28:19, so this whole doctrine of evangelism and missions is not completely lost once we remove Mark 16:15. However, when it comes to Matthew 28:19, there has been much debate whether this is an original text, some scholars have argued the whole text is not original. Others just say a part of the text was a later addition. Eusebius of Caesarea, and early church father, quoted this passage without the Trinitarian formula or request for baptism, so this is very strong evidence that, at the very least, “baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”, is a later addition, absent from the original Gospel. This means that the Great Commission is absent from the earliest Gospel, and the version present in a later gospel was uttered without a command to baptize people or a Trinitarian formula.

10. Many (not all) passages relating to the Substitutionary Atonement are interpolations.

Okay I cheated, this is more than ten verses, but it’s my blog so I’m the only one who can fire myself. Anyway, the phrases removed in newer Bible translations include “through his blood” in Colossians 1:14; “broken for you” in 1 Corinthians 11:24; “sacrificed for us” in 1 Corinthians 5:7; “suffered for us” in 1 Peter 4:1; “by himself purged our sins” in Hebrews 1:3. Others were edited (to reflect the earliest manuscripts) making changes from “purchased possession” to just “possession” in Ephesians 1:14 or from “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ” to “what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions” in Colossians 1:24, and etc.

In each of these cases, the verse in question, in traditional English translations, has said something like “Jesus was sacrificed for us” but manuscript tradition changes this into “Jesus was sacrificed. [the end]” or “Christ suffered for us” to “Christ suffered [the end].” Today the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is the dominant doctrine of the Cross in the Christian world, yet this doctrine was not prominent in the early church. While many passages are not originals, there are a handful that are likely authentic, like Ephesians 1:7, but this means the all-important doctrine of the substitutionary atonement is barely mentioned a few times, and is not present everywhere in the New Testament, which is strange for those who claim that it is, in fact, the whole point of the Gospel.