Millions believe that the Bible is the word of God. That fact alone makes it an important book. But as the Bible is still read, studied and sold in vast quantities, and is still being used to justify the oppression of women and homosexuals, we must not ignore it, nor should we forget the history of the struggle against it.
From the Middle Ages on our civilization has battled to free itself from Biblical ideas or ideas derived from Bible teaching. In both science and ethics, progress has often had to be made in disregard of, and sometimes in defiance of, Biblical texts and teachings.
This is not to say that you can’t draw a message of love from the Bible. The Bible is so vast and so varied that you can draw virtually anything from it. That is why most of this pamphlet simply examines the Bible in the light of its own contents.
The Bible gives two contradictory accounts of creation. The first one has the world created in six days (Genesis 1:31), while the second one has it happen in a day (Genesis 2:4-7). In the first account the animals are created before humans (Genesis 1:24-27), while the second one has man – but not woman – created before the animals. (Genesis 2:7, 18-23). The order of creation in both accounts is quite different. Nowadays these contradictions are of little concern. Modern creation myths are now based on the theory of evolution.
3. Life After Death
Jesus disagreed with the Saducees, a body of Jews who did not believe in life after death (Matthew 22:23-33). The apostle Paul went so far as to say that if there was no resurrection, then Christ was not risen and the Christian faith was in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). The Old Testament, however, says plenty against the idea of life after death:
O spare me, that I may recover strength,
before I go hence, and be no more. Psalm 39:13
Put not your trust in princes,
Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish. Psalm 146:3-4
For him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:4-6.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. Ecclesiastes 9:10.
Similar denials are to be found in Psalm 6:5 and Isaiah 38:12. But the Saducees don’t get it all their own way in the Old Testament. There is the story of the witch of En-dor calling up the ghost of Samuel (1 Samuel 28:7-20), and the translations of Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11). Nevertheless it should be pointed out that the supposedly pro-resurrection passage in Job (Job 19:25-27) disappears in modern translations, while the passages doubting the resurrection of the dead remain. (Job 7:9, 14:7-12).
The law of Moses claims to be from God (Deuteronomy 6:1, 26:16, 28:1, 28:15), and it allows a man to divorce his wife if he finds some “uncleanness” in her. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). But if the woman had been captured in war, the man could send her away merely if he had “no delight in her”. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). In the Law of Moses a ban on divorce was a punishment for two things: a man falsely charging his wife with unchastity (Deuteronomy 22:13-19); and if a man raped an unbetrothed virgin the punishment was to force the man to marry the woman with no right of divorce. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).
The Several Old Testament prophets recognised the legitimacy of divorce (Isaiah 50:1, Jeremiah 3:1, Hosea 1:1-2:13). Ezra, reflecting the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 23:3, 7:1-6, demanded that Jewish men who had married foreign women must send them and their children packing. (Ezra 9 and 10. See also Nehemiah 13:23-31).
[Those particular provisions in Deuteronomy, Ezra and Nehemiah are at variance with the book of Ruth, where the ancestry of King David is traced from Ruth, a Moabite woman. (Ruth 1:14, 4:13-22).].
Finally, Malachi combines a condemnation of foreign marriages (Malachi 2:11-12) with a condemnation of divorce when the marriage was within the people of Israel. (Malachi 2:13-16).
The New Testament adds even more opinions on divorce. With Mark and Matthew implying that the Law of Moses did not come from God (Mark 10:2-9, Matthew 5:31-32), Mark (and also Luke) forbid divorce entirely (Mark 10:5-12, Luke 16:18). Matthew, however, allows it in the case of “fornication”. (See 5:31-32, 19:3-9). The apostle Paul gives further ground by suggesting that a Christian might be free to marry again if an unbelieving spouse deserts the believer. (1 Corinthians 7:15).
Little wonder that the different churches have different teachings about divorce.
“Let my people go…” (Exodus 5:1 and other passages).
These words regardless, the Bible, both Old Testament and New, is firmly on the side of the slave owner.
As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever; you may make slaves of them; but over your brethren the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another, with harshness. Leviticus 25:44-46 (Revised Standard Version).
Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brethren; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Revised Standard Version. (See also Exodus 21:2-6, 1 Corinthians 7:20-22, Ephesians 6:5-9 and Titus 2:9-10.)
In a way, the New Testament is more oppressive towards slaves because it allows Christians to hold fellow Christians in slavery. This was something that the Law of Moses did not allow Jews to do to other Jews (Leviticus 25:39-46).
Fortunately, some New Testament verses suggest that bond and free are equal in the eyes of God (1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:26-29, Ephesians 6:9, Philemon 15-16). While these texts are not anti-slavery – Ephesians and Philemon both support slavery – these statements of human equality have been built on while the pro-slavery texts are quietly passed over and forgotten.
Thou shall not suffer a witch to live. (Exodus 22:18).
This, the most concise – and deadly – of all the anti-witchcraft texts in the Bible (see also Leviticus 20:27, Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Galatians 5:19-20), is arguably the Bible’s bloodiest verse.
Mark Twain commented:
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after doing its duty in but a lazy and indolent way for 800 years, gathered up its halters, thumbscrews, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
On the last of the American slaughters:
At Salem, the parson clung pathetically to his witch text after the laity had abandoned it in remorse and tears for the cruelties it had persuaded them to do. (Mark Twain, quoted in The Great Quotations, compiled by George Seldes).
According to Joachim Kahl, in The Misery of Christianity, the last witches were burnt in Switzerland in 1782 and drowned at the witches’ ordeal near Danzig (now Poland) in 1836.
7. The Place of Women
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 1 Timothy 2:11-14.
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 1 Corinthians 14:34-36.
For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. 1 Corinthians 11:7-10.
…the head of the woman is the man… 1 Corinthians 11:3.
Little wonder that the Bible, and especially those parts written by the apostle Paul, are held in low regard by so many feminists. Understandably, theologians now take pains to stress those pages which state or imply an equality between men and women, and try to explain away the anti-feminist ones. Perhaps, surprisingly, the apostle Paul is of great help in doing this:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28.
So anti-feminist texts will be just as easy to disregard as the pro-slavery ones.
8. The End of the World
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. Ecclesiastes 1:4.
Who laid the foundations of the earth,
That it should not be removed for ever. Psalm 104:5.
As these texts show, the idea of the end of the world is denied by some texts, but the New Testament is quite different. Not only does it promise the end of the world (2 Peter 3:10, Hebrews 1:10-12) but three of the four gospels quote Jesus as predicting when it would happen.
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?… Matthew 24:3.
Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. Matthew 24:34-35.
(See Matthew 24:3-35, Mark 13:3-31, Luke 21:7-33).
The notion of an imminent judgment day, so prominent in the New Testament (see also Matthew 16:27-28, Mark 8:38; 9:1, Luke 9:26-27, John 5:25-29, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, Hebrews 10:37, Revelation 1:1-3, 4:1, 22:6-7), rests uneasily with nearly twenty centuries of subsequent history.
Even in New Testament times, the belief that Christ would return within a generation was causing trouble (for example, 1 Corinthians 15:13-19, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), but the most interesting of these texts is at the end of the fourth gospel. Peter asked what was to become of his disciple John:
Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” The saying spread among the brethren that his disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” John 21:22-23, Revised Standard Version.
This comes close to a direct repudiation of every New Testament text which predicts the return of Christ within a generation.
tories of Jesus casting out devils (Matthew 8:28-34, 9:32-34, 12:22-28, 17:14-20, Mark 1:23-28, 32-34, 9:14-29, Luke 4:31-36, 40-41, 8:26-39, 9:37-42, 11:14-15, 24-26) hampered the development of humane ways of dealing with mental illness and epilepsy.
Fortunately, respectable clergy avoid talking about demon possession, even though there’s a lot in the Bible about the followers of Jesus having the power to cast out devils. (Matthew 10:5-7, Mark 6:7, and 13, 16:17, Luke 10:17, Acts 5:12-16).
In A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, A.D. White gave an account of the gradual progress of scientific ideas about mental illness against this dangerous superstition.
Ancient Greece and Rome took homosexuality in their stride, so today’s anti-homosexual bigotry comes from the Judaeo-Christian heritage (see Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10.
Interestingly, the struggle against this bigotry has resulted in a re-examination of these texts, and the story of Sodom (Genesis 19). Commentators now see it as the story of an attempted pack rape, an outrage which was made worse because the rapists were under an obligation to offer hospitality to strangers.
Most Bible references to Sodom (for example, Matthew 10:14-15), use it as a symbol of overall wickedness. Only one, Jude 7, deals exclusively with the sexual aspect, and even it mentions “fornication” before it mentions “going after strange flesh”. Ezekiel, by contrast, gives quite a different emphasis, stressing the sins of “pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness” and “neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy”. “Abominations”, which refers to serving other gods as well as illicit sex, comes last (Ezekiel 16:49-50).
Then there is the love story of David and Jonathan. Raphael Patai says:
The love between the two young men is described in exactly the same terms and phrases which are used in connection with the love of man and woman: “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…” (1 Samuel 18:1). “Jonathan Saul’s son delighted much in David.” (1 Samuel 19:2). As to David’s feelings towards Jonathan, these are described in his beautiful lament over his friend after Jonathan’s death: “I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant hast thou been unto me. Wonderful was thy love to me, passing the love of women!” (2 Samuel 1:26). The reference here could be homosexual love. The high praise accorded in this Davidic lament to love between the two men as against heterosexual love, reminds us … of the spirit that pervades Plato’s Symposium. Patai, R., Family, Love and the Bible, London, MacGibbon & Kee, 1960, pages 153-154.
11. Jesus’ Paternity
Two passages claim that Jesus was a descendant of David “according to the flesh”. (Acts 2:30, Romans 1:3), and there are references to Jesus as the son of David (for example, Matthew 1:1, Matthew 21:9). Two genealogies trace the lineage of Joseph back to David (Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38) and Mary refers to Joseph as Jesus’ father. (Luke 2:48).
However, the two genealogies are not only hopelessly at variance with each other, but there are inconsistencies between both of them and genealogies given in the Old Testament (Luke 3:35-36 versus Genesis 11:12, Matthew 1:7-9, and 17 versus 1 Chronicles 3:10-13).
The virgin shall conceive idea (Matthew 1:23) comes from the Septuagint, the Ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Hebrew original is now translated as “young woman” (Isaiah 7:14, Revised Standard Version, New English Bible, Good News Bible). Isaiah 7:10 – 8:4, the passage it comes from, is about Isaiah conceiving a child by the young woman, apparently in front of witnesses.
Little wonder that there is scepticism about the idea of the virgin birth of Jesus.
12. Resurrection Stories
Stories of the resurrection of Jesus differ. They differ on whether it was one (John 20:1-8), two (Matthew 28:1), three (Mark 16:1) or more (Luke 24:10) women who went to Jesus’ tomb. One gospel says that Mary Magdalene found the tomb open (John 20:1) and two other gospels say that the tomb was open when the women arrived there (Luke 24:2, Mark 16:1-4), but Matthew 28:1-6 has the women witnessing the tomb being opened by an angel. This contradicts both Luke and John, for in their accounts the woman or women were perplexed at the open and empty tomb. (Luke 24:4, John 20:2).
The gospels differ on whether the women (or woman) saw a man (Mark 16:5), the angel of the Lord (Matthew 28:2), two men (Luke 24:4-5), or two angels (John 20:12). Matthew says that the angel was outside the tomb (Matthew 28:2-6), but Mark, Luke and John say that they (he) were (was) first seen inside the tomb. (Mark 16:5-6, Luke 24:3-5, John 20:11-12).
In Matthew, Mark 16:9 and John, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:1-10, John 20:1-17), but while Mark 16:9-11 implies that Mary Magdalene was alone when Jesus saw her, and John has her without a companion (John 20:10-13), Matthew says that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” together. (Matthew 28:9). John says that Mary Magdalene told Peter of the empty tomb before she saw Jesus (John 20:1-2), but Matthew says that Jesus met the two Marys when they were going back to tell the disciples. (Matthew 28:5-10). There is no suggestion in Matthew’s account that the women had any trouble in recognising Jesus (Matthew 28:8-9), but in John’s version Mary Magdalene did not recognise him at first. (John 20:14-16).
But whatever the differences between Matthew and John (and Mark 16:9-11) on Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene, Luke is at variance with them all, for he excludes this appearance. Luke says that she and other women saw two young men at the tomb who told them that Jesus had risen, but neither they, nor some of Jesus’ followers, who went to the tomb, saw Jesus then. (Luke 24:4-24). The first part of Luke’s account is something like the account in Mark 16:1-8, but though both mention Galilee, Luke 24:6 says it’s the place where Jesus predicted his resurrection, while Mark 16:7 (and Matthew 28:10) say it’s the place where Jesus was to appear.
Mark 16:8 says that the women said nothing, but other accounts, including Mark 16:9-11, make much of the reports of the women. (Matthew 28:10, 16, Luke 24:8-12, 22-34, John 20:18).
In two accounts Jesus orders the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until they received power from on high (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4), but in Matthew and Mark, Jesus directs them to Galilee (Matthew 28:10, Mark 16:7), with Matthew 28:16 specifying that it was to a mountain there, John also records an appearance of Jesus in the Galilee area, but this was on the shore of Lake Tiberas, and it caught the disciples by surprise. (John 21:1-8). The most curious thing about this account, however, is that it shows several of the disciples back at their ordinary work after the supposed resurrection. (John 21:1-8, compare Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11).
One appearance seems to be common to several accounts, but again the details vary. Paul lists an appearance to “the twelve”. (1 Corinthians 15:5). Luke 24:33-43 and Mark 16:14 describe an appearance to the eleven remaining disciples (without Judas) on the evening following the resurrection, but in John’s account of that evening, another disciple, Thomas, was missing. (John 20:19-25). Matthew’s account would seem to exclude this appearance entirely. (Matthew 28:9-12, 16-17).
There is another basic difference between Matthew and several of the other accounts. Luke and Acts stress the conviction of the disciples about the resurrection (Luke 24:33-45, Acts 1:3-4, 14) and John’s story of doubting Thomas shows that even he was convinced. (John 20:24-29). But Matthew says that while the disciples saw Jesus, some of them doubted. (Matthew 28:17).
Finally, there is a major textual problem with part of Mark. Mark 16:9-19, which contains the actual resurrection appearance of Jesus, is not part of the original document and is missing from several of the most ancient of the surviving manuscripts. Without it, Mark, generally reckoned to be the most ancient of the gospels, ends with an empty tomb, but without any actual resurrection appearance of Jesus. It also loses Mark 16:17-18, used as a proof text by faith healers and snake handlers.
13. Various Sexual Matters
The Law of Moses accepts polygamy (Deuteronomy 21:15-17) and the Old Testament records plural marriages among the patriarchs (Genesis 25:1, and chapters 29 to 30), and notable Israelites. (1 Samuel 1:1-2, 25:42-43, 2 Samuel 12:7-8, 1 Kings 11:3, 20:5, 1 Chronicles 4:5, 8:8, 2 Chronicles 11:18-21, 24:1-3). One of them was Jehoiada, a priest and King’s counsellor who was held in high regard. (2 Kings 12:2, 2 Chronicles 24:4-16).
In the New Testament, Paul says that elders or bishops, and deacons in the church, should be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2, 12, Titus 1:5-7), a requirement which could mean “married only once” (See footnotes in the New English Bible and the Good News Bible), but there is no evidence that this rule also applies to lay people. Therefore it is not surprising that there have been conflicts over polygamy in Africa, and also with the Mormons.
The Bible says nothing directly on masturbation or birth control. It used to be thought that the case of Onan covered both, but Onan’s action was to avoid raising children to his dead brother by impregnating his dead brother’s wife. (Genesis 38:7-10). This is about the levirate rule, not masturbation or birth control.
And the levirate is quite a different can of worms. The Law of Moses forbids a man to have sex with his brother’s wife (Leviticus 18:16) or his son’s wife (Leviticus 18:15), and adds that if a man takes his brother’s wife, they shall be childless. (Leviticus 20:21). However, the levirate, also prescribed by the Law of Moses, imposed a duty on a man to raise up seed to a brother who died childless. (Deuteronomy 25:5-10, see also Ruth). The levirate rule is also the point of the story of Tamar. (Genesis 38:6-26). When Judah, her father-in-law was slow in giving her in marriage to her young brother-in-law, Tamar went and tricked Judah into impregnating her.
Three of the gospels allude to the levirate rule (Matthew 22:24, Mark 12:19, Luke 20:28) but the churches have shown no inclination to adopt this practice for Christians.
Of all forms of incest, the most common is the molestation of a woman or girl by her own father. It is therefore notable that while Leviticus specifically forbids a man to have sex with his mother, father’s wife, sister, half-sister, granddaughter, aunt, uncle’s wife, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law (Leviticus 18:6-16), there is no specific reference to a father and his own daughter. Leviticus 18:17 forbids a man to have sex with a woman and her daughter and/or granddaughter, but grandfather-granddaughter incest is covered in the specific prohibitions (Leviticus 18:10), and father-in-daughter incest is not.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the incest taboos appeared to be open to negotiation (see 2 Samuel 13, especially verse 13).
14. Various Contentious Issues
The epistle to the Hebrews says that Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15), but when Jesus was once addressed as “Good master”, he replied,
Why callest though me good? none is good, save one that is, God. Luke 18:19
(also Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18).
Several texts argue that salvation comes by faith, not works (Romans 3:20, Galatians 2:16, 3:11-12, Ephesians 2:8-9), but James argues that justification is not by faith alone, but by faith and works. (James 2:24). Protestant Christianity agrees with the former texts; Catholic Christianity with the latter.
Some texts say that God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9), while others say that God foredooms people to damnation. (John 12:39-40, Romans 11:7-10, 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12, Revelation 17:8, 20:15).
Some texts say that children are punished for the sins of their parents (Exodus 34:7, Isaiah 14:21); other texts say that children are not to be punished for their parents’ sins. (Deuteronomy 24:16, Ezekiel 18:20).
Matthew 25:46 and other verses claim that people are everlastingly rewarded or punished, but Ecclesiastes 9:5 says that the dead have no reward.
There are contradictory verses about whether one should swear an oath (Numbers 30:2 versus Matthew 5:33-37, James 5:12), or whether lending money for interest is permissible. (Psalm 15 versus Matthew 25:27, Luke 19:23).
15. Weapons for Persecutors
You cannot blame every text for some of the uses to which they were put, but some of them certainly did lend themselves to use by bigots and persecutors, especially when they were combined with such texts as, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” (Exodus 22:18)
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and avenger. Psalm 8:2.
On the strength of this text, the testimony of children was used to obtain convictions to charges of witchcraft.
Jesus must have had problems with people’s lack of response to his preaching. One parable pictures a man who put on a feast but found that people were reluctant to come. (Luke 14:16-24). The feast-giver says,
Go out into the highway and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house be filled. Luke 14:23.
This was used to justify forced conversions.
Other texts have been used to justify the splitting of families and other violence.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. Matthew 10:34-36. See also Luke 12:51-53.
All manner of evil has been done in the name of protecting children. If you want to whip up hysteria, few verses are better suited to your purposes than this one:
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Matthew 18:6. See also Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2.
Papal power rests on this text. The power to bind has often been taken very literally.
…I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:19.
It is easier to mistreat and persecute unbelievers if you think of them as ……filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice, Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithfulness, heartless, ruthless. Romans 1:29-30, Revised Standard Version.
The following verse has often thwarted people’s attempts to avoid the literal meaning of some of the Bible’s nastier texts: For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Matthew 5:18.
One measure of the ill-feeling that was felt by early Christians towards Judaism of that time is to list texts in the New Testament that accuse Jews or the Jewish religious leaders of violent intentions or physical violence against Jesus or his followers:
Matthew 12:9-14, 16:21, 20:17-19, 21:33-46, 26:1-5, 14-16, 47-50, 26:57, 66, 27:1-2, 19-26.
Mark 3:1-6, 8:31, 10:33-34, 12:1-12, 14:1-2, 10-11, 43-49, 64, 15:1, 8-15.
Luke 9:22, 20:9-26, 22:1-6, 52-53, 22:26, 23:5, 23:13-25.
John 5:15-18, 7:1, 10-13, 19-20, 28-34, 8:20, 37-40, 57-59, 10:30-39, 11:45-57, 12:9-11, 18:3-14, 19-24, 28-32, 19:6-7, 12-16. Acts 2:22-23, 3:13, 4:22, 5:17-42, 6:8-15, 7:50-60, 8:1-3, 9:1-2, 9:21, 13:28-29, 50, 14:1-6, 19, 17:5-9, 20:19, 21:11, 22:22-23, 23:2-3, 10, 12-15, 20-21, 27, 24:1-9.
2 Corinthians 11:24.
1 Thessalonians 2:15-15.
Jesus made scathing attacks on the Jewish religious leaders of his day and their teachings. (Matthew 15:12-14, 16:5-12, 21:12-13, and chapter 23, Mark 11:15-17, 12:38-40, Luke 12:1-3, 16:14-15). His condemnation of those who rejected his message was savage. (Matthew 10:11-15, 11:20-24, Luke 10:13-15). One of the earliest controversies in the church was whether circumcision and Old Testament food taboos applied to non-Jewish converts to Christianity. (Acts 15, 21:17-26, Galatians 2:3-6). One of Paul’s letters warns about “unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially those of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake”. (Titus 1:10-11).
The Acts of the Apostles shows how much the early Christian missionaries depended on the synagogues to preach and reach potential converts. (Acts 13:14-16, 14:1, 17:1-4, 18:1-4). Indeed in Rome, the Jewish leaders visited him when he came there as a prisoner (Acts 28:16-17, 21-25), and seemed to give him a very fair hearing.
In the Book of Revelations, however, feelings against the Jews were much nastier:
…I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Revelation 2:9.
Behold I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Revelation 3:9.
Add to this the description of Paul:
…the Jews; who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16.
Which echo the words of Jesus himself about the Jewish Scribes and pharisees:
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes … that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias … All these things shall come upon this generation. Matthew 23:34-36.
Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: that the blood of all the prophets, which shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation … verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation. Luke 11:47-50, 51.
Finally, top that off with the words attributed to the crowd just before Jesus’ crucifixion:
Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Matthew 27:25.
The horror and suffering that came upon innocent people because of these verses almost defies description. And no wonder. Jesus himself is quoted as saying that all the righteous blood that was ever shed shall come upon these Jews!
Thomas Paine said of the Bible:
…it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind…
Certainly that judgment applies to these verses, at least.
Of course there’s another side to it in the Bible. Paul warns Gentile believers not to be boastful because some of the original branches of the olive tree (the Jews) had been broken off to graft them in:
For it thou wert cut out of the olive tree which wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? Romans 11:24.
And Jesus himself said to the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22).
But the evidence goes further than this. Matthew’s gospel records an incident where a Gentile woman begged him to save her daughter from being possessed by a devil…
…But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table. Matthew 15:23-27.
Only when the woman likened herself to a dog snatching crumbs did Jesus relent. Matthew 15:28, (also Mark 7:24-30).
No-one else in the gospels had to struggle in this way to get Jesus to relieve human suffering, but with one exception, all the others appear to be Jewish. The exception was judged ‘worthy’ as he loved the Jews and had built a synagogue for them. (Luke 7:4-5). Despite comments of the like of Matthew 8:10-12, perhaps Jesus’ fundamental attitude towards the Gentiles was to be summed up in the Sermon on the Mount:
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. Matthew 7:6.
17. Other Horrors
Without the traditional “Bible” English, the horror of some parts of the scriptures is even more obvious. On the other hand, the literal meaning of some texts (for example, Matthew 19:11-12) has caused so much tragedy, that many modern translations fight shy of rendering it into plain English for fear of the consequences. In the case of Matthew 19:11-12, this fear is well based, as many men have castrated themselves because of that text.
“Now listen to what the Lord Almighty says. He is going to punish the people of Amalek because their ancestors opposed the Israelites when they were coming from Egypt. Go and attack the Amalekites and completely destroy everything they have. Don’t leave a thing; kill all the men, women, children and babies; the cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys.” 1 Samuel 15:1-3, Good News Bible.
“Suppose a man is caught raping a girl who is not engaged. He is to pay the girl’s father the bride price of fifty pieces of silver, and she is to become his wife, because he forced her to have intercourse with him. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.” Deuteronomy 22:28-29, Good News Bible.
“No one born out of wedlock or any descendant of such a person, even in the tenth generation, may be included among the Lord’s people.” Deuteronomy 23:2, Good News Bible.
He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord. Deuteronomy 23:1.
But he (Jesus) said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs … which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Matthew 19:11-12.
Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit … Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Jesus’ comments on false prophets. Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:16-17, 20.
The Bible might contain passages of great beauty and power, but we cannot afford to forget that it contains passages that have brought such savagery and destruction upon the human race.
An old bishop once warned people not to press the paps of scripture too hard, lest they yield blood and not milk. Therefore I would ask anyone who happens to believe that the Bible has any particular authority to be careful in their choice of texts and the interpretation they put on them.
Sources of Information:
Scriptural references are to the Authorised Version unless otherwise specified, but I also made use of the Revised Standard Version, the Good News Bible, and, to a lesser extent, the New English Bible. Different translations tend to bring out – or cover up – different things in the text, so a comparison between different versions can be instructive.
A.D. White: A HISTORY OF THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE WITH THEOLOGY IN CHRISTENDOM, Dover Books, 1960, New York.
John Bowden: THE BIBLE CONTRADICTS ITSELF, 1968, published by The Rationalist Association of New South Wales, Sydney.
G.W. Foote & W.P. Ball: THE BIBLE HANDBOOK FOR FREETHINKERS & ENQUIRING CHRISTIANS, 11th edition, 1900, Pioneer Press, London.
CRUDENS COMPLETE CONCORDANCE, Zondervan Publishing House, U.S.A.
Joachim Kahl: THE MISERY OF CHRISTIANITY, Penguin Books, 1971.
Raphael Patai: FAMILY, LOVE AND THE BIBLE, MacGibbon & Kee, London, 1960.
G. Seldes: THE GREAT QUOTATIONS, 1960, Pocket Books, New York.
“The Bible – Humbug and Horror”, by Michael Glass.
ISBN 0 908256 01 9
By Michael Glass