Related Pages: Why Christianity | Bible: criticism | inerrancy | Faith and Reason | Fundamentalism | Fundamentalist
On this page and the Inerrancy and Authority of the bible page we discuss some of the criticisms of the Bible and Christianity.
I am not an biblical apologist and make no attempt to counter these criticisms; There are other places to look for that (see links below).
Most people, even of other religions, believe the Bible is at least inspired by God, if not the literal "Word of God".
Although there are inconsistencies in some details in the bible (Fundamentalist Christians refute this saying it is just our lack of understanding)
it is generally very consistent considering more than 40 authors wrote it over more than a thousand years.
The people who make the most sense to me in this discussion claim you cannot prove or disprove the bible.
There are mysteries in the Bible that the human mind can't resolve. Reason will only get you so far; A certain amount of faith is required.
In fact some make the distinction that Christianity is not
See Faith vs Reason
Some say Christianity is not a religion but a faith/belief system:
Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church, Seattle) says,
"Religion is a system of beliefs or a code of moral conduct that judges (qualifies or disqualifies) a person based on their adherence and obedience to certain codes, rules, laws, traditions, or the performance of required acts."
Christian law can be summed up in love; love for God and love for others.
Some apparent contradictions:
See supposed mistakes at the Inerrancy page.
- Predestination vs Free Will. - One of the major controversies among Christians is the extent of predestination that God has ordained. At the extremes are those who claim that God uses only one to the exclusion of the other. Either extreme is wrong, since the Bible clearly indicates that both are in operation. See Predestination vs Free Will
- Some things that appear to be contradicitons have explinations. Consider the times and people for whom it was originally written. This may explain things that are hard to understand in a modern context.
The eye for an eye [Exodus 21:23-27] philosophy of the old testament vs the "turn the other cheek" [Matt 5:38-42] philosophy of Christ. Actually this is part of continuum to make people more forgiving. In ancient times when a person of one tribe was injured by another tribe, vengeance was taken out on the whole tribe, so the eye for an eye rule was a toned down version of this. The turn the other cheek took it a step further.
- Paul seems to be inconsistent in some of his letters. e.g.
"Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church." [1 Corinthians 14:34-35]
"Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord." [Colossians 3:22]
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." [Galatians 3:28]
The Bible has several places which seem to be inconsistent with the moral message.
Passages added later:
- Moses commands troups to kill women and children in Midian Numbers 31:17-18
- Moses commands his people to kill their brothers, sons and neighbors who worshiped improperly. Exodus 32:27
- Elisha calls down a curse on some youths who mocked his baldness, and 42 are killed by a bear. [2 Kings 2:23-24]
- Uzza is killed for trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling. [1Chronicles 13:7-11]]
- You can't be my disciple unless you hate your family [Luke 14:26-27].
Mark 16:9-20 (appearance after the crucifiction) and John 7:53-8:11 (he who is without sin cast the first stone) are the most significant textual variants in the New Testament. The earliest and best manuscripts lack these verses. In addition, these passages do not fit well with the authors' style. Although much emotional baggage is attached to these two texts for many Christians, no essential truths are lost if these verses are not authentic"
See: questions below and
A study Bible with comments and explanations at the bottom of each page can help to resolve some difficult passages.
Joining a Bible study group is a good way to get help in understanding it.
Make sure you read the whole chapter so you get the complete context of a verse.
Here are some opposing views I ran across. I have not taken time to critically analyze them and many may contain half truths, so you should not take them at face value.
At Alternative interpretations of the Bible
People who have lost their faith and deconverted to become agnostic or atheists:
In "Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief", Dr. Ruth Tucker, an evangelical and a former professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, lists some of the real reasons people give for leaving their faith.
At de-conversion.com they list Kieran Bennett's study of 94 de-conversion stories on the Internet:
- The study of science & philosophy
- The sense of absence of any caring God
- The critical examination of the scriptures.
- Disappointment in God
- The hypocrisy of Christians
- The perception of a dogmatic anti-feminist and anti-homosexual stance of fundamentalist Christianity.
- Dissatisfaction with the answers to simple questions proffered by the religion was the most common reason cited for de-conversion amongst the sample (14.89%).
- The realisation that religious dogma contradicted observable reality was an equally common reason for de-conversion cited within the sample (also at 14.89%).
- 12.76% of the de-converted Christians in the sample spoke about realising the contradictions within the dogma itself.
- For 10.63% of people in the sample, reading the bible was significant in ending their faith.
- Only 8.51% of people in the sample attributed their de-conversion to the hypocrisy of the church.
- In another 8.51% of the de-conversion stories, people tried to speak to god and they now credit god's lack of an answer for their de-conversion
- And finally, stumbling across the realisation that many religions were just like theirs caused deep doubts for 8.5% of the sample he read.
1. The study of science & philosophy
Edward O. Wilson, Harvard professor and winner of two Pulitzer prizes started his life, like Darwin as a devoted Christian believer. He made the following comments in Intelligent Evolution, an article in the Nov. 2005 Harvard Magazine.
"It is surpassingly strange that half of Americans recently polled (2004) not only do not believe in evolution by natural selection but do not believe in evolution at all."
"So, will science and religion find common ground, or at least agree to divide the fundamentals into mutually exclusive domains? A great many well-meaning scholars believe that such rapprochement is both possible and desirable. A few disagree, and I am one of them. I think Darwin would have held to the same position. The battle line is, as it has ever been, in biology. The inexorable growth of this science continues to widen, not to close, the tectonic gap between science and faith-based religion."
2. The sense of absence of any caring God
Recent disclosure of Mother Teresa's letters show that she suffered from this.
See: Daylight Atheism > Mother Teresa's Loss of Faith
3. The critical examination of the scriptures.
At the age of 38 going thru a personal crisis Julia Sweeney signed up for a Bible study class to renew her Christian roots and found a lot of contradictions in the Bible. This starts her on a journey in search of evidence for there being a God. She finds more evidence of there not being a God.
Julia Sweeney's Book, CD and off Broadway show "Letting Go of God",
is a comedic presentation of her search for and loss of faith.
Her 2005 book "My Beautiful Loss of Faith Story" is a more sober description of her journey.
See: The most influential books I read as I let go of god.
4. Disappointment in God.
Bart Ehrman was a seminarian and graduate of the Moody Bible Institute, a pillar of conservative Christianity. Its doctrine states that the Bible "is a divine revelation, the original autographs of which were verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit." But after three decades of research into that divine revelation, Ehrman became an agnostic.
While teaching a class at Rutgers University on "The Problem of Suffering in Biblical Traditions" came to believe that not only was there no evidence of Jesus being divine, but neither was there a God paying attention. It was in the mid-1980s, the Ethiopian famine was in full swing. Starving infants, mass death.
His book, Misquoting Jesus: : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, was a best seller.
See: The Book of Bart at the Washington Post.
5. The hypocrisy of Christians
Only 8.51% of people in the sample attributed their de-conversion to the hypocrisy of the church. Source: de-conversion.com
See: The hypocrisy of today's Christian Leaders at de-conversion.com
Other common reasons for deconversion:
The Church Is Full of Hypocrites:
There are many examples:
Arrogance of many Church leaders.
Murder of abortion clinic doctors by fervent Christians
The association of the Church and KKK 100 years ago.
The Catholic sex abuse issue.
A frequent quote on blogs for this subject is:
French philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) wrote that "Men who believe absurdities will commit atrocities" - and this truth is reflected throughout the events of history.
See: "The Church Is Full of Hypocrites"
"The Loss of Faith: Reasons for Unbelief among Members of the Secular Movement in England, 1850-1950" at OxfordJournals.org.
de-conversion - Resources for skeptical, de-converting or former Christians
People who argue for a middle ground:
"Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism" by John Shelby Spong, an Episcopal Bishop
Spong argues that the Bible and Christianity are still relevant without a literal interpretation of the Bible. He points out some of the obvious inconsistencies in details which make it imposible to claim inerrancy. He argues that fundamentalists who make inerrancy claims are turning people away from Christianity.
In "How to Read the Bible: History, Prophecy, Literature--Why Modern Readers Need to Know the Difference and What It Means for Faith Today" (2005), Steven McKenzie says:
"The fact that so much of the Bible's early history appears, in the light of scientific analysis and historical investigation, not to have happened in the way that the Bible claims raises a question about the Bible's nature. The problem may lie not with the Bible but with the way readers have approached it."
He makes a case that much of the Old Testament is an etology, a story that explains the cause or origin of a given phenomenon - a cultural practice or social custom, a biological circumstance, even a geological formation. It is not science or history but a story that "renders an Account" by offering some explanation of present conditions and circumstances based on past causes. He gives as examples Rudyard Kipling's Just So stories, "How the camel Got His Hump, ...
He says the Bible must be read in light of these motivations for its creation.
* See McKenzie on the inerrancy page.
"Oh My God" (documentary), 2009, Peter Rodger
Religulous (comedy), 2008, Bill Maher
Some biblical apologists (A person who argues in defense or justification of something)
resort to bible quotes like:
1 Corinthians 1:25-27: For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom.
and Matthew 11:25: "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children."
i.e. We're not smart enough to figure it out.
Others use the "words have a different meaning in the original Hebrew or Greek".
You might expect these problems with
the King James Version (KJV), which follows a "formal equivalence" (word-for-word) translation principle rather than a "dynamic equivalence" (thought for thought) principle of other modern translations. But this argument is used for the newer translations also.
Some questions - things I am trying to resolve:
The birth and resurrection of Christ
The vigin birth and resurrection of the body are two things which seem to defy modern science and have caused many controversies between the moderate and conservative wings of the Church. Mark, the first gospel to be written, does not contain either story (Note Mark 16:9-20 was not in the original version).
Hebrew has a specific word, betulah "בתולה", for a virgin, and a more general word, ha almah "העלמה", a young woman. Since ha almah is the word used in the Hebrew text of Isaiah 7:14, some commentators have believed it at least possible that Isaiah had in mind only a normal conception by a young mother.
The King James version and New Internal Standard version translate העלמה as virgin. The New Revised Standard Version translates it as "young woman".
Matthew used the Greek translation of the old testament which uses the Greek word parthenos "Παρθένος", which can mean either young woman or virgin. Some think Matthew may have been influenced by Greek Mythology where the God Zeus as a swan impregnated Leda or Nemesis and decided to use the virgin meaning.
Mark, the first Gospel written, and John do not have any accounts of Jesus birth.
The Gospel of Mark, which most agree was the first one written in 65-75 AD, contained no appearance stories, but only the account of the angel telling the two women at the tomb that he would appear [Mark 16:7]. [The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20, which has the appearance stories.]
According to Reginald Fuller  "The appearance stories seem to have grown up as isolated units."
The original Greek uses the word "ophthe" which can describe either a physical appearance or a nonphysical vision.
However, there are accounts of resurrection in [1 Cor 15:5-8], which Paul wrote in 50-60 AD.
A lot of the Deity proof lies in the Resurrection Stories, however some point out that Mark, the first gosple, did not originally have any sightings.
The Historicity of the Empty Tomb Evaluated: Dependence on Mark
Resurrection of Jesus @ Wikipedia
See also Tough Questions
- Why did God only reveal himself to the house of Israel (initially) and Gentiles in the Mideast and Europe. Couldn't he have done the same in Asia, Africa, the Americas?
This is related to the question "Why would a just God condemn "good" people who never had a chance to hear about Christ. above.
- Why is there no record of the Plagues in Exodus 9 or the Exodus in general in Egyptian history.
- Archaology which doesn't support the bible:
- No evidence of Exodus, kingdoms of David or Solomon or much of anything about ancient Israel until the seventh century B.C.
- Camels mentioned in [Genesis 24:10] (2000 BC) were not widely used until after 1000 BC
- Why is there no mention of dionsaurs?
The related question is why did God let many species go extinct.
- What about the churches persecution of scientists who discovered the helliocentric (sun centered) nature solar system. This was mainly the churches view the only thing in the Bible about it is in [Joshua 10:12-13]: "So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped, "
- The Torah (first 5 books of the old testament) attributed to Moses, who lived about 1,500 BCE. The hebrew language only came about in the 9th or 10th century BCE, so it was passed down by word of mouth.
Most of us have played the game variously known as Chinese whispers, Telephone, Broken Telephone starts with one player whispering a phrase to the next successively down the line. What ends up usually is very different. The argument is that jews memorized it exactly as part of their religious training .
and Bible Inerrancy.
Violence and Anger:
These organizations and comments by main line personalities (Pat Buchanan said Breivik's views "may be right". Newt Gingrich compared Muslims to Nazis.) may help to justify violence in people who are unbalanced to begin with.
In addition to religious wars there has been a lot of violence and anger associated with the religious right. A few are:
It is the same right wing groups which oppose minorities, who also spread the anti-government rhetoric which has become popular.
In January of 2011 A 22-year-old Tucson man, Jared Lee Loughner, shot nineteen people, six of them fatally, during an open meeting held by U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a jewish democrat.
Although there did not seem to be any direct link between Loughner and right wing groups (some evidence will not come out until a trial), my personal opinion is that all the hate rhetoric couldn't have helped.
Sarah Palin accused the press of manufacturing a "blood libel" to blame her and the right wing for the attacks.
Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, who claimed 168 lives, was probably influenced by this anti-government talk also.
In Violence and the Sacred by
René Girard, 1972, he
links mimetic desire (The deliberate imitation of the behavior of one group of people by another as a factor in social change.), our tendency to marginalize and scapegoat those who are "different," our tendency toward violence, and our experience of ultimate otherness (the sacred).
Girard is a Christian, and has progressed from literary criticism to critical theory to active efforts to promote methods of constructive, peaceful conflict resolution.
"The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity"
Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, by Elaine Pagels.
Thomas' gospel was rejected, when the New Testament
canon was fixed in 357. Like John his gospel centers its theme on a
higher knowledge available in Jesus' words and message, but Thomas
claimed that light of God is in everyone not just Jesus. Pagels uses this to point out the startling diversity in early Christian thought.
Misquoting Jesus: : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Bart Ehrman
The result of years of reading the texts in their original languages.
Ehrman says the modern Bible was shaped by mistakes and intentional alterations that were made by early scribes who copied the texts.
Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible by David Plotz
Oxford Guide to the Bible, Ed. Bruce M. Metzger & Michael D. Coogan
Reginald H. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980),
"In God, Distrust: How Religion Poisons Everything", 2007, Cristopher Hitchens
Julia Sweeney's Book, CD and off Broadway show "Letting Go of God",
describe how she lost her faith.
"Ministers Do More Than Lay People'", by Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Baker :-)
Survey on Beliefs of protestant Ministers
Is the Bible True at (www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t003.html)
Alleged Bible Discrepancies at ApologeticsPress.org
Jesus at (www.apologeticsindex.org/j20.html)
Christianity is not going away Washington Post
campus.fortunecity.com/defiant/666/essays.html by GR Gaudreau.
List of "Biblical Inconsistencies"
Bible contradictions - by category
What The Christian Fundamentalist Doesn't Want You To Know: A Brief Survey of Biblical Errancy
Answers to so called Bible contradictions
An Atheist in the Pulpit | Psychology Today
Why I De-Converted from Evangelical Christianity
Christian Deconversion - How Strong Are Their Reasons - Berea-Portal Discussion Forum
Top 50 Atheism Quotes
Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire: A Look into the World of the Gospels
Alleged Errors in the Bible Part Two, Part Three, Part Four (couldn't find Part 1)
Bible Secrets Revealed - Episodes, Video & Schedule - HISTORY.com
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