A previous post about the name Goliath prompted a few inquiries about my personal views on religion and the Bible. That topic is too broad for one post, but looking at a common claim regarding Christianity that “the Bible is the perfect word of God” seems to be a good place to start.
As someone who has read three different translations from front cover to back cover, I can say with little doubt anyone making this assertion is either trying to deceive those around them or has been deceived themselves. This is not a conclusion arrived at lightly or lacking “proper context”. When it comes to belief, for me and many others, it’s not a choice. It’s better described as a compulsion based primarily on evidence and supplemented with convincing arguments. For example, I can’t decide to believe the world is flat. Even if my life (or eternal soul) depended on me accepting that claim, I would need to see very convincing evidence. When it comes to the Bible, the same applies.
For clarity, this is strictly assessing very specific passages in the Bible to highlight the most indefensible writings. The belief in a god or any personal connection an individual believes they have with a higher power is not in question. This is also not claiming that everything in the Bible is fake or made up. Most religious texts (including the Bible) contain portions are historically accurate, but certain parts being true does not mean everything in them is true. Keeping that in mind, the most efficient way to reveal the flaws is achieved by studying the text and flagging verses into four categories: cruel, plagiarized, false, and silly.
Part 1: The Cruel
The Israelites kill women and children prisoners, but spare enemy virgin girls “for themselves”.
17 “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
One thing that has always baffled me about religion is the obsession with virginity. After defeating the Midianites, the Israelite army takes the women, children, as prisoners. Moses (who had been speaking with God) becomes angry and demands they kill the women and children prisoners but keep the virgins “for themselves” (what exactly were they doing with those virgins?). God never stops or rebukes the cruel and callous murders committed. At no point does the Bible imply these actions were wrong or even frowned upon. As expected, there is no shortage of apologists fumbling to justify this story. After reading these “explanations” it becomes clear the only thing more depraved than the details of this story are the rationalizations given.
“Complaining about Jehovah’s order to destroy innocent children is a vain gesture when one realizes that the children were spared an even worse fate of being reared as slaves under the domination of sin. Instead of having to endure the scourge of a life of immorality and wickedness, these innocents were ushered early into the bliss of Paradise. If the male children had been allowed to mature, they most likely would have followed the pagan ways of their forefathers, and eventually would have taken vengeance on the Israelites” (Full article)
Sadly, that is not a satirical website, I encourage everyone to read the full article. They legitimately claim killing children was a moral act because they would have lived a sinful life. None of the boys could live because they might have wanted to take revenge upon the Israelites for killing their entire nation. The logic which allows anyone to claim the truly evil act would have been allowing children to live is nothing short of sick, twisted, and outright dangerous. They also make the case that all women had to be killed because earlier (in Numbers 25) some Midianite women convinced some of the Israelites to convert their religion and worship Baal of Peor. If anyone believed that death is an appropriate punishment for apostasy/encouraging apostasy it would follow that the specific women who did this should be killed but to say this justifies killing all women? Completely absurd.
They are not alone in defending this passage
“…But this idolatry, though bad enough, was accompanied by the pagan and licentious practices of the pagan women who were seducing the people of God. This would ultimately result in the destruction of Israel as well as the destruction of the messianic line. This is why God ordered the destruction of this nation. It was pagan, participated in vile and grotesque sins, was idolatrous, and was posing a serious threat to the national identity and sanctity of Israel.”
– Matt Slick –
“It was in mercy that the children were taken. But God ordered their extermination, lest they would become a polluting influence to His people and His own people would be dragged down into the same moral pits that these people were living in. God used the children of Israel as His instruments of judgement to destroy an exceedingly vile group of people.” (Full article)
– Charles Ward “Chuck” Smith -Founder Calvary Chapel
God orders the Isrealites to kill women, children, infants and livestock
3 “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
Here’s another scenario where women, children, and babies are killed. This time at God’s direct command. Matt Slick and Chuck Smith are back in action attempting to justify the killings
“God lawfully has the right to execute judgment upon anyone. The Bible says that all people have sinned against God and are under his righteous judgment. Therefore, their execution is not an arbitrary killing nor is it murder…When God authorizes the nation of Israel to wipe out a people, it is a lawful execution due to their rebellion and sin against God. Furthermore, such an extermination can be seen to be merciful by delivering the young into the hands of the Lord and possibly saving their souls by not giving them time to become “utterly sinful”. Additionally, further generations that would have arisen from the perverse culture, are likewise prevented from coming into existence and spreading their sin.”
“History tells us how exceedingly wicked and vile the Amalekites were.1. They were a cunning and cruel race of people.2. Their religious and moral practices were so vile that in time they would have self destructed with venereal diseases.3. Evil has a way of proliferating very rapidly, they could soon infect God’s children.”– Charles Ward “Chuck” Smith – Founder Calvary Chapel movement
It’s impossible to ignore the underlying implication that people can be killed to prevent them from sinning in the future and/or causing others to sin. The idea that any rational person can claim it’s an act of mercy blows my mind. I must stress, this is not satire. These are not fringe extremists, they are respected “intellectuals” in religious circles who seem to go largely unchallenged. Even if one were to grant the absurd premise, neither of them address the killing of livestock which was certainly unwarranted as the animals lacked the necessary capacity to be guilty of the current and potential future sins the humans were accused of.
God allows slavery
God gives direct, explicit approval to own slaves coming from other nations.
44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
The last sentence protects fellow Israelites from being ruled over ruthlessly, but does not protect the foreign slaves. Many southerners in the United States including Rev Thornton Stringfellow used this passage to show slavery was perfectly moral and permitted by God himself. Remarkably, God chose to not forbid slavery which could have been a simple “do not own another person as property” command with a follow up to ensure voluntary servitude could still be allowed. The clear “do not…” style commands were done with many things that God supposedly felt needed to be unambiguous to ensure they did not happen. Examples include cutting your hair (Lev 19:27), wearing clothing made from both wool and linen (Deut 22:11), getting tattoos (Lev 19:28), allowing a sorceress to live (Ex 22:18). This seems to be a huge oversight from a supposedly omniscient being. This passage seems to be something from the mind of a human living in the primitive biblical culture.
“Verse 44 discusses slaves that they may already have from nations around them. They can be bought and sold. It doesn’t say to seek them out or have forced slavery. Hence, it is not giving an endorsement of seeking new slaves or encouraging the slave trade.” (Full Article)
One must only read the verse to see “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.” This is not past tense and the fact that they are not being commanded to actively seek out slaves does nothing to address the issue: they are permitted to buy slaves and make them property for life. Other feeble defenses given in the article require some mental gymnastics, highlighting passages in other parts of the Bible such as Exodus 21:2-6 which allows for Hebrew indentured servants to go free after 6 years if they want to (but allows their master to keep their wife and kids which is outright cruel). However this rule applies to other Israelites who voluntarily chose to become a bond-servant and not foreign slaves so the concerns with Lev 25:44-46 remain unaddressed.
An alternative attempt to justify this comes from Wayne Jackson
Hebrew law was not designed to violently disrupt the master-servant relationship of the ancient world in an abbreviated period of time….No one, who considers all the evidence, and puts the matter into a proper historical perspective, can legitimately fault the biblical record with reference to the issue of human bondage. (Full Article)
-Wayne Jackson – Christian Courier
I respectfully submit that legitimate fault can indeed be found with the way the Bible deals with slavery. The suggestion that God was trying to use incrementalism is not in line with his nature. He knew what was righteous and good, and what was evil and put into place extremely black and white laws that disrupted many of the norms at the time including not sitting on a chair after a menstruating woman sat on it (Lev 15:19-23) not eating shellfish (Lev 11:9-12), killing homosexuals (Lev 20:13), exiling men who do not cut off portions of their genitals (Gen 17:14), killing those who worked on the sabbath (Ex 31:12-15) there is not shortage of really silly acts that God had no problem commanding the Israelites to adhere to with strict punishments for disobeying. Slavery should have been at (or at least near) the top of this list.
Subjugation of women
Paul openly espoused sexist views in the new testament saying
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
Similar sentiment is repeated in 1 Corinthians 14: 34-38 but to ensure churches uphold this ridiculous teaching the bible states
37 If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored
On every topic (including Biblical one) there are countless women with valuable insights. They can and should be allowed to teach everyone. To argue anything otherwise is sexist, full stop. Christian apologists insist on rationalizing this by pointing out that women can still teach children.
“But, notwithstanding this prohibition, good women may and ought to teach their children at home the principles of religion… Here are two very good reasons given for the man’s authority over the woman, and her subjection to the man, v. 13, v. 14. Adam was first formed, then Eve; she was created for the man, and not the man for the woman” (Full Article)
–Matthew Henry– English minister and Bible commentator
The ability to teach children at home is irrelevant and does nothing to make this passage less sexist. Others point to Esther, Ruth, Phoebe, and other women God used in an attempt to show the verse didn’t mean all women, only the women in that particular church. This argument falls flat because the claim is not that God doesn’t speak to or use women. The issue is that Women are barred from having formal positions of leadership over men in church. None of the women in the Bible God used had an official position over men in the church.
Wayne Jackson has looked at many of the individual cases and shows why, from a Biblical perspective modern Christians can not disregard the prohibition of women from church leadership concluding
Some in the body of Christ are militantly pushing for a broader role for Christian women in preaching and leadership activities of the church. They no longer respect the authority of the Bible and feel free to adapt the church to their personal preferences or the whims of culture…Meanwhile, those who respect the authority of the Holy Scriptures will continue to honor women in harmony with the instruction of the New Testament. They will not degrade godly Christian ladies by imposing upon them roles which are not ordained of God. (Full article)
-Wayne Jackson – Christian Courier
Others use 2 Timothy 3:6-7 to claim some gullible women in the church were being deceived into wickedness and still insist the verse only applied to women in a single church. However reading the entire chapter reveals this is a prophecy of the last days, and not describing the current situation of a specific church.
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.”
The full text clearly does nothing to support the claim that the women in this church were particular problematic.
“These restrictions are permanent, authoritative for the church in all times and places and circumstances as long as men and women are descended from Adam and Eve.” (Full article)
– Dr. Douglas Moo – Author & Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College
While the article suggests that there is nothing wrong with the sexist teachings of the verses, I urge everyone who reads this to see these passages for what they are and reject the inherent sexism contained in the verses, as well as the application of the teachings in many modern places of worship.
Heavy-handed capital punishment
God orders death as the punishment for the most innocuous actions. The full list is too long to include here, but a few examples are listed below.
- Homosexuality (Lev 20:13)
- Working on the sabbath (Ex 31:12-15)
- Fortune telling/practicing magic (Lev 20:27)
- Apostasy (Deut 13:6-10)
- Cursing at a parent (Lev 20:9)
- Not listening to a priest (Deut 17:12)
- Adultery (Lev 20:10)
- Not seeking the Lord God of Israel (2 Chron 15:12-13)
- Fornication (Lev 21:9)
- Prophesying falsely (Zech 13:3)
- Taking the Lord’s name in vain/Blasphemy (Lev 24:15-16)
- Trying to convert people to another religion (Duet 13: 13-16)
It should come as no surprise that Christians defend even these passages.
“Before attempting to answer the questions raised by our text, we must begin by establishing a fundamental premise: CAPITAL CRIMES REFLECT A GIVEN SYSTEM OF VALUES… If it happens that we are troubled by what God has condemned as worthy of death, then we must recognize that our value system must be “out of sync” with God’s… The first tension raised by our text was the fact that capital punishment seems to be prescribed for offenses which are not all that serious. The solution to this dilemma is to be found in our first principle. PRINCIPLE ONE: GOD VIEWS EVERY SIN AS A CAPITAL CRIME, WORTHY OF DEATH…PRINCIPLE TWO: GOD’S LAW REFUSED TO DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN SINS AND CRIMES…PRINCIPLE THREE: THE CAPITAL CRIMES OF LEVITICUS 20 ARE VIOLATIONS OF GOD’S COVENANT WITH ISRAEL.” (Full article)
– Robert “Bob” Deffinbaugh – Dallas Theological Seminary graduate. Pastor/teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel
Basically, every sin is deserving of death, so commanding death for any given sin is part of God’s perfect nature and not cruel. This raises so many questions such as why only certain sins were outlined as being worthy of death, while others (such as owning slaves) were permitted. I feel the need to once again point out this is an extremely dangerous line of reasoning and is the very defense used to justify suicide bombings and modern cruel/inhumane rituals currently being practiced in the middle east. We should all reject these passages and justifications as damaging and having no place in society yesterday, today, or ever.
Part 2: The Silly
To be clear, the following stories are also incredible cruel. They are classified as silly because the details are so over-the-top it’s difficult to have a serious conversation about the moral implications.
God sends bears to maul kids who were teasing his prophet for male pattern baldness.
23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.
For some reason, Sunday school classes typically never get around to studying this particular passage. However, there are “legitimate” attempts by sites like Answers in Genesis to defend this story. The argument is that in the original language the “kids” referred to might have really been young adults, short men, or adults of low standing in society. It’s also claimed that the wording leaves open the possibility that not all of them died in the attack. This explanation fails to even address the point. Changing the kids in the story to adults does nothing to make it any less laughable. Even assuming some survived the attack, an explanation is still needed for how getting bears to maul humans is a reasonable punishment for teasing a man for losing his hair.
God sends lions to kill people who refuse to randomly maim his prophet.
35 By the word of the Lord one of the company of the prophets said to his companion, “Strike me with your weapon,” but he refused. 36 So the prophet said, “Because you have not obeyed the Lord, as soon as you leave me a lion will kill you.” And after the man went away, a lion found him and killed him.
This cheery tale is another example indicating that God loves sending wild animals to kill people for trivial reasons.
***EDITOR’S NOTE – Lions and bears but no tigers? Lame! At least give me a liger.***
For context, the prophet was trying to disguise himself as a soldier who had been through battle and thought real battle damage would make his deception more credible. It is easy to see why a reasonable person would have reservations upon receiving a request to slash up their fellow man. Simply claiming the Lord said it was cool may not be enough. Perhaps a better approach would have involved getting the garb of a soldier or putting bloody clothing on. If real battle damage was needed, the prophet could have self-inflicted the wounds since it is unlikely the forensics of that time were advanced enough to discern self inflicted wounds from real ones. It’s difficult to take this story seriously enough to have an intellectual conversation about it. I haven’t seen any in depth articles or sermons attempting to explain this particular story, but general commentary for can be found on Bible Hub.
God kills a man who was trying to prevent the Ark of the Covenant from falling over
3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act;therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.
Brian Ricks from The Religious Studies Center released a full write up attempting to defend this lovely passage inspired by earlier works of Elder Neal A. Maxwell. He points out that in Exodus 25:12–14 instructions were given to transport the ark by carrying it with staves, and that in Numbers 4:15 only the Kohathites were permitted to transport it. The conclusion is that because Uzzah was not a Kohathite and was using oxen to transport the ark instead of using staves to carry it, he was in direct defiance of God, and deserved death. The problem with this justification (aside from the excessive punishment for deviating from the arbitrary rules) is that at no point is it clear that Uzzah was even aware of the previous instructions given to Aaron and Moses (long before he was even alive). Subsequent verses after Uzzah’s death show that even David (who regularly spoke to God) seemed to be unaware of these rules and was angry/confused by God’s decision to kill Uzzah. There is nothing to indicate Uzzah had any evil or rebellious intent. But none of that even matters. Having the conversation about how much anyone in the story knew shows a lack of perspective, since it assumes touching a structure or using an Ox to carry it is deserving of capital punishment.
Countless other examples exist, including when God threatened to smear poop in the face of those who disobey him (Malachi 2:3), threatened to smite people with mildew (Deuteronomy 28:22, Amos 4:9, 1 Kings 8:37, 2 Chronicles 6:28), and in Mark 11:12-14, 20-21 Jesus got upset that a fig tree did not have fruit and cursed it, which caused the tree to whither and die (20-21) even though verse 13 explicitly states that figs were out of season!
The silly stories contained in the Bible and the laughable attempts to justify them are not in short supply. Rather than doing mental gymnastics to find the “deeper meaning” of smearing feces on people, a better response is to chuckle and move on.
Coming Soon- Part 3: The Plagiarized