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How I Came To Disbelieve The Bible

Copyright © 2015 and 2017 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published 2015.02.10, Updated 2017.08.06


Greater men than I — with more education and experience — have written at length about the Bible, its historical and scientific inaccuracies, unprovable claims, disturbing morality, and of course its contradictions. I will not attempt to duplicate or supercede those works, because this page isn’t about disproving the Bible; it’s about my own experience with the Bible and how I came to disbelieve it.



Introduction


It’s important to know how I once considered this book. Like many Christians, especially fundamentalist preachers, theologians, and biblical scholars, I was taught early to believe the Holy Bible — in its original languages — was the inspired Word of God, true and dependable to every last word — inerrant. As one church’s statement of faith says:
“We believe that the Holy Spirit supervised the writers of the Scriptures in what they wrote so that, using their own peculiar personalities, the very words recorded in the original manuscripts are the inerrant revelation of God. We believe the Bible not only contains the Word of God but actually is God’s Word and, therefore, is the complete and final authority for belief and behavior.”
Where the Bible discussed history, we considered its account more dependable than those of historians or archeologists. When it mentioned the universe or physical reality, it was believed over any physicist’s discovery or proof.

If the Bible had said two plus two equals five, some of us would have believed that over our math teachers. Take this quotation from Pastor Peter LaRuffa:
“If somewhere within the Bible, I were to find a passage that said two plus two equals five, I wouldn’t question what I’m reading in the Bible. I would believe it, accept it as true, and then do my best to work it out and understand it.”
(Perhaps if the Bible did include such a passage, I would have never taken its entirety as literal truth; I had already learned basic math before earnestly studying the Bible. It’s difficult to say.)

Now, this mindset seems illogical; absurd even. And of course such a way of thinking has long seemed illogical to scientists and skeptics, but it makes sense to someone steeped in it from birth, and when every trusted adult continues to reinforce this paradigm.


Appeal To Authority


While many Christians don’t pay much attention to the actual texts of the Bible — few of them, even evangelicals, have read it — I was one of those who did. To me, it seemed reasonable to thoroughly study the book I’d been told was the most important book in history.

“How do you know who is right?”
Along with my church, it was my mother who helped me establish the Bible as the foundation for my faith. I recall asking her questions after a visiting preacher at our church said some things that didn’t sit right with me, and didn’t seem to line up with what our own pastor had said previously. “How do you know who is right?” I asked her.

I recall her answer very clearly, though I was only eight or nine years old. She told me to research the answers for myself, within the Bible, to support or disprove what a particular preacher had said. She explained that if we only had the words of men to depend on, anyone could lead us astray, but that we had the Word of God to guide us. Any one man could easily be mistaken or have ulterior motives, but the Book was from God himself.

Evidence of my trust in this principle are poems such as Follow The Blind (1990) and My Word (1991).
“Trust us not in the faith we took;
trust only words found in the Book.
Therein is your guidance and joy;
therein is the Truth we employ.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but this is called appeal to authority. In this case, the Bible was the authority on doctrine, morality, and theology, not to mention history, science, medicine, and anything else it mentioned. If two parties in an argument agree that the Bible is inerrant, then the only legitimate disagreements can be over the interpretation or it or the meanings of the words in it.

This stood me in good stead for many years — I came to know the book intimately, better than almost anyone I knew. I went on to Bible college to learn even more about it. I could support or counter any argument, find encouraging or scolding scriptures within seconds to apply to any situation. The Bible was the authority to which I could appeal, if there was disagreement elsewhere.

In many cases, I found that the Bible itself contained the seeds of my eventual disbelief.
Eventually, though, I intuitively discovered the possible fallacies of appeal to authority when it came to this book — that it might not be definitive, that it could be mistaken, that there were other authorities that disagreed. My own conscience (moral compass), as well as logic and reason had to be depended upon. And there was an ever-increasing body of scholarly work that contradicted the Bible as well. In many cases, I found that the Bible itself contained the seeds of my eventual disbelief.

To be clear, this didn’t happen all at once. Much like my overall journey from faith to agnosticism, it happened in fits and starts. Real life got in the way — school, jobs, budgets, relationships — and I didn’t always have a bunch of free time to sit around thinking about it. Some of my realizations came during discussions with friends; others came in still moments while I wondered about the universe and its nature. Some of my realizations happened during my time at Bible college, when I came to know the book more deeply than ever before.

Some of the questions that began to arise in my mind, with answers of slowly deteriorating credibility, were these:

  • Why are there so many built-in contradictions?
  • Why is biblical morality so much worse than current morality?
  • Why is the Bible filled with useless parts, like measurements for the tabernacle?
  • Who decided which books were “canon” and which were not? And how?
  • How is a genocidal monster considered our moral guide?
  • Explain the Song of Solomon.
  • Why are so many prophecies incredibly non-specific and vague?
  • How do we explain the apparent historical inaccuracies in the Bible?
  • How do we explain the apparent scientific inaccuracies in the Bible?

(Use More menu to navigate.)



Contradictions Inherent Within The Bible


The Bible is full of contradictions, some of them of massive importance to doctrine. Reading the book as a youth — as well as hearing Sunday School lessons and sermons — it was fairly easy to notice some of them. Several turned out to be only apparent contradictions; further reading and study resolved apparent conflicts between one passage and another. Others really were contradictions. But my teachers and preachers used explanations that had been prepared generations earlier. These were easy enough for me to accept — for a while.

Because I wanted to list quite a few of these contradictions, this section grew too long. I’ve since created another web page just for discussing them.


Immorality Encouraged


At the time, I believed that moral standards were absolute and objective. I was too young to have fully considered that morality changes over time and always has. I mistakenly thought that my current standards of moral behavior were aligned with moral attitudes around the world and throughout all of time, and that all of them had originated with the ultimate Law Giver: God.

So it came as a shock to me the first few times I read the Bible through to find morally acceptable (and God-approved) behavior in Old Testament times included genocide (I Sam. 15:2-3), polygyny, slavery (Exodus 21:2-11, I Peter 2:31-21, Ephesians 6:5-9), strapping your son to a rock with the very real promise that you’re going to execute him (Gen. 22:1-12), killing millions of children for their parents’ sin (Gen. 6-8), rape (Deut. 22:28-29), and so on.

The story of Lot and his daughters (Gen. 19) is an excellent example. There is zero condemnation in the scripture for Lot offering up his (engaged, virgin) daughters to a crowd of lustful men outside his door, and the New Testament calls Lot “righteous” (II Peter 2:7-8), specifying that he was “tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard”.

If you assume that morality is absolute and unchanging, then either rape was all right in Bible times and is fine now, or it’s not fine now and wasn’t okay then.
None of these behaviors were considered moral or even acceptable by the time I was thinking about it, certainly not among the fundamentalist evangelicals I called peers.

The only explanation ever offered to explain the dichotomy was “it was a different time”, which flies in the face of The Moral Argument. If you assume that morality is absolute and unchanging, then either rape was all right in Bible times and is fine now, or it’s not fine now and wasn’t okay then. Either it’s okay to kill entire populations to take their land, or it’s not, regardless of time period. If it’s not okay today, then it wasn’t okay when YHWH ordered it in Bible times.

The alternative — which I was too ill-informed to realize in my adolescence — is that morality is subjective and does change over time. Having not heard of such a concept, I instead remained troubled about these passages for many years.

And keep in mind, the handful of examples I presented above are merely scratching the surface. There are hundreds of examples in the Bible, but this isn’t meant to be a teaching page or resource for reference. These are just some of the more outstanding stories and laws that I noticed as I grew up.


What About All The Useless Parts?


I’d been told all my life — even in public school — that the Bible was a great piece of literature. Even famous atheists have said it. Once I actually began to read literature, some of it great, I began to have my doubts about the Bible’s “greatness” as literature, but also even as a religious book.

There are endless descriptions of measurements, census counts, land plots, and more, which no more fit in a book of religious instruction than do poems on an architectural blueprint.
For one thing, there are quite a few passages that don’t advance the message in any way. Genealogies are one good example. Yes, there are hidden gems in the genealogies — I’ve preached on a couple of them — but they shouldn’t have been hidden; they should have just been there. And there are plenty of passages — some of them well-known — that have confounded great minds for centuries. This is not the mark of good writing — if your entire point in writing is get a message across.

There are endless descriptions of measurements, census counts, land plots, and more, which no more fit in a book of religious instruction than do poems on an architectural blueprint.

During my time in Bible College, I began to question that every word of the current Bible was literally inspired and guided by God.


The Problem Of Clear Instructions

(This section added 2017.07.19)


I didn’t know it then, but a multitude of skeptics have addressed this issue. I don’t think there is a formal name for this argument, but I learned in 2017 that at least one person has called it “the problem of instructions”. The argument goes like this: (1) If God exists, and (2) if God is omnipotent, and (3) if God penned (or directly inspired and guided the writing of) a single holy book meant to instruct and guide his followers, then that book would be better than the Bible.

Physicist Sean Carroll suggests the following thought experiment: imagine two scenarios. In the first, there is an extremely powerful, extremely benevolent divine entity. In the second, there isn’t any god; just physics. In both scenarios, imagine a book. In the first scenario, this book is from God; it’s his instruction manual for humanity, meant to describe himself and tell us how to live. In the second scenario, men wrote the book. It began with oral retellings of ancient myths and was eventually put in written form, recopied by hand thousands of times, translated multiple times, and all original documents were eventually lost. Which of these books would more resemble the Bible we have today?

If God exists, if God is omnipotent, and if God penned a single book meant to instruct and guide his followers, then that book would be better than the Bible.
Think of the smartest people you’ve ever heard of. You might come up with Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Stephen Hawking, Benjamin Franklin, Confucius, Alan Turing, Voltaire, or any number of other names. Now think of the greatest writers in the history of mankind: Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolkien, Hemingway, Orwell, Austen, Steinbeck, Twain, Poe, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, King, Stevenson, Adams, etc. And contrast those minds — both the thinkers and the writers — to your concept of an all-knowing, all-powerful God (or even a very knowing and very powerful god). This God is orders of magnitude smarter, wiser, and more knowledgeable than all the thinkers listed combined. This God knows more words than all those writers put together — in all languages across all of time. If this God wrote a book, with the goal of instructing humankind about how to live, what do you think the book would be like?

I have read some startingly well-written books. George Orwell’s 1984, for example, was flawless in my opinion (I’m referring to the writing; not the opinions or politics). Stephen E. Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage was gripping and powerful from beginning to end, despite being non-fiction. The Key To Rebecca (by Ken Follett) is written crisply and cleanly, always using the word most likely to convey the exact intended meaning. These resemble the Bible not at all. And I have read books by less-skilled writers (Edward VIII by Frances Donaldson, for example), which are still more clear in their meaning, and more useful for knowledge, than much of the Bible.

The conclusion of this thought experiment, for me anyway, is that a book written by such an intelligent, knowledgeable, powerful being would not be filled with throwaway stories, confusing and vague prophecies, questionable facts, rules and regulations that only applied to a specific tiny nation at a specific long-ago time, immoral rules, etc. It certainly would not need apologists to explain away contradictions. It wouldn’t need theologians to dig into “the original meaning” of ancient Greek or Hebrew words — a perfect God would have either (1) made sure everything could be translated clearly, or (2) not allow the languages to change over time (in the Bible, it was God who caused the languages to split and change.) Such a book would not require multiple readings and deep study to figure out rules for morality. It would not create so much confusion and disagreement that Christianity has split into thousands of disagreeing denominations.


Disagreement On The Canon


It wasn’t until I was in high school (late 1980s) that I first heard that there were other books of the Bible that weren’t included in my Protestant version of the book. I’d finally met Catholics.

Suddenly I learned that my Bible of 66 books (39 OT and 27 NT) had been shortened — and as recently as the 1800s. Despite knowing that the Catholic Church was much older than my own denomination, I assumed that they must have added the extra books at some point, to support their strange (to me) theology. But the truth is much more telling.

The truth I eventually learned is that Christians originally disagreed on which new writings should be considered scripture (almost all of them agreed that the Hebrew Bible was scripture). Without a universally accepted Church leadership and no means of mass-communication, the various splinters of Christianity during its first few centuries accepted different parts of what we now know as “The Bible”.

If those Christians who lived during and just after the time of Christ couldn’t agree on which books were scripture, then how am I supposed to be sure?
I learned that many early Christians didn’t agree on whether Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation should be in the canon. Even the Gospels (now Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were in dispute in the earliest days of Christianity. Several enclaves used only one Gospel — Luke and Matthew were the most common — while others used all four of these plus others.

I learned about The Lost Books Of The Bible and borrowed a copy from a local library, reading most of it while still in high school.

The Catholic/Orthodox Old Testament has seven books that aren't in the Protestant OT (which is basically the same as the Hebrew Bible). There are also extra stories in Daniel and Esther. The original King James Version of the Bible included these extra books. They were removed later by Protestants.

Still a Christian apologist in those days, I learned just enough about these extra-biblical books to argue against doubters who mentioned them, but the very fact that I was aware of them and their history sat in the back of my mind as a seed of doubt. If, I thought, those Christians who lived during and just after the time of Christ couldn’t agree on which books were scripture, then how am I supposed to be sure?

Christian scholars don’t deny any of this history of the Bible, as I quickly learned upon arriving at Bible college (1991). My own denomination’s leaders believed it was simply part of God’s process of “divinely inspiring” the Bible. Back then, I didn’t think to ask this question: What about all the believers who lived during those first five centuries? Today, Christians are told the entire Bible is the word of God, and that you can’t properly interpret one part of it without studying the other parts. But those folks, in say 300 CE, didn’t have access to today’s agreed-upon canon — only the books their particular sect used.

Some of the same explanations provided to me in the ‘90s are still in use today, and they’re disturbingly illogical. One ministry explains why those other books aren't included: “They contain unbiblical concepts”. What? If they had been included, then those concepts would be biblical. That cannot possibly be a reason to not include them. It would be like an architect studying several old blueprints before drawing up a new house, and then, when someone asks him why he didn’t include a feature from a particular old blueprint, answering: “It didn’t appear in my final drawing”.

They also say these books aren’t included because of “rejection by the Jewish Community”. Well, we can’t use that argument, can we? The Jews also reject the entirety of the New Testament as scripture.

Other reasons: “The Apocrypha contains a number of false teachings”. This doesn’t stand the test of logic either, especially if you read the examples provided. It’s not that they contain false teachings (they do); it’s that they contain teachings contrary to modern Protestantism. It’s also pointed out that these books have “historical errors”. Oh, okay. But then I learned (see below) that the canon books have those too.


So Much Genocide


As I continued to read the Bible, I kept coming across passages that didn’t sit well with my modern Western morality. Hosea 13:16 is an excellent example:
“The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.”
So... Little kids should be smashed like broken toys because their parents didn’t follow a particular creed? While it doesn’t say God will be doing the dashing, it sure sounds like He approves of it and won’t be lifting a finger to stop it. In another instance, God (through the prophet Samuel) specifically orders King Saul:
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 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.’ So Saul summoned the men...”

I Samuel 15: 2-4

Later in the chapter, after Saul's army wins the victory, they decided to spare the life of the enemy king, as well as the best of the sheep, cattle, and lambs — “everything that was good” — so God was angry with Saul for not completely following the genocide orders to the letter.

These are not isolated examples... these stories keep coming at you.
These are not isolated examples. Any of the 30 percent of Christians who have actually read the entire Bible can tell you that these stories keep coming at you.

I’m ashamed to admit these stories only bothered me mildly, for years. I contented myself with this justification: God is the almighty creator of the entire universe; He alone defines what is good and right.

Using that explanation, however, has this implication: If God speaks to you today and tells you to wipe out entire populations by violence, then it is okay. Even more difficult to accept: if God spoke to someone else and told them to wipe out your entire population by violence, it is okay.

A further thought on this is that those humans would have died anyway. God created us to die, and in fact determined what our mortality rate should be: 100%. Is it worse that he shortened the lives of many millions or that he sentenced billions (everyone) to eventual death? Isn’t this the ultimate genocide?


The Song Of Solomon


Also called (literally translated) “Song of Songs”, the Song of Solomon is the 22nd book of the Bible, coming in just after Ecclesiastes. The first time I read it was during a family read-through of the Bible, when we sat around the living room, taking turns reading a few chapters aloud every night. It was a little embarrassing to read this one aloud in front of my parents.

It’s a story about love, physical love. The author describes physical attributes of beauty, specifically mentioning the eyes, neck, lips, and breasts. It’s erotic. The book doesn’t mention God or the Law, death or salvation.

I was told it was an allegory for God’s love for Israel (and — symbolically — for the Church). This breaks down under scrutiny. In Song of Solomon, the lovers are equal, consenting. In the rest of scripture, the Church (and everyone else) must accept God’s “love” or be thrown into the fiery pit of Hell.

Much like the temple measurements, the Song of Solomon doesn’t have a place in a religious text. Going back to the Problem Of Clear Instructions mentioned above, this book is not what one would expect in a compilation of God’s most important instructions to mankind. It’s a distraction, and contains nothing useful for preachers or teachers.


Generic, Non-specific Prophecies


The Bible is big on prophecies, not just in including them but in emphasizing how they were fulfilled, especially in the New Testament. The earliest prophecies in the Bible were usually fulfilled not long after being foretold. For example, in Genesis, God told Abraham he would give the land of Canaan to his descendants; this was accomplished a few books later.

Other prophecies in the OT supposedly tell of the Messiah and times in the more distant future, though they’re often unnecessarily vague for an all-knowing God. For example, Daniel 9:25-27:
“Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
Perhaps oddly, the “fulfilled prophecies” are often cited by apologists as proof that the Bible is the word of God. They forget that it is the same book that tells them the prophecies were fulfilled. Any writer, me included, can write a story in which a character prophecies something that later in the book comes true. In fact, I can write a story in which the prophecies are much more specific than the ones in the Bible, and in which every person in my story easily recognizes the fulfillment — unlike in the Bible, where people didn’t recognize that an occurrence was a fulfillment of a prophecy.

For a fairly skeptical examination of the OT prophecies supposedly fulfilled in the New Testament, read Thomas Paine’s 1807 treatise Examination Of The Prophecies, which goes through them one by one.


Historical Inaccuracies


For me, there’s a difference between “history can’t/doesn’t confirm something in the Bible” and “history directly contradicts something in the Bible”. So it has never bothered me that Roman records later uncovered don’t mention the crucifixion of Jesus or that other histories from the time fail to mention the darkness of the day or the earthquake at the time of the crucifixion — it’s easy enough for me to shrug off these supposed “contradictions”. It was a long time ago. Perhaps some records were lost. Maybe we haven’t uncovered them yet.

But there are enough direct inaccuracies that it’s bothersome to continue believing the book is inerrant and directly written (through human proxies) by an infallible deity. Some of these have enough information and arguments to occupy entire books, but I will mention several in passing that I began to notice during my adulthood.

This is indicative to me of a writer who lived elsewhere, and later, rather than of a writer who was there and witnessed events in person.
Some are simple geographical errors, like the Gospel of Mark mentioning a town next to the Sea of Galilee, where pigs ran down a slope into the sea — when the actual town was/is more than 30 miles from the lake. This is indicative to me of a writer who lived elsewhere, and later, rather than of a writer who was there and witnessed events in person.

Others are errors of timing, such as the Gospels naming the rulers at the time of Jesus’ birth. Herod died in 4 BCE, while Quirinius conducted the only census of the time in 6-7 CE, a good ten years later. Yet Luke has them living at the same time. And the census is poorly related as well; the Bible says persons were required to visit the towns of their ancestors for the census, which is something so impractical it almost cannot be true (and was not recorded outside the Bible).

I also learned that the story of “thieves” on the crosses next to Jesus was probably false, since robbery was not one of the crimes punishable by crucifixion in Roman times.

While I hold that the Bible doesn’t actually provide the age of the universe or the age of the Earth (contrary to common fundamentalist doctrine), there is no question that the Bible clearly describes the formation of land and sky, oceans, and all the life upon Earth, including humanity — in just six days, and about 6,000 years ago. The more I read about actual physical evidence for the development of the planet and life thereon, the more difficult I found it to continue believing the Genesis account.

Nothing has been discovered to support more than half Egypt’s population leaving at one time.
Another example is the exodus from Egypt. The Bible says there were over 600,000 men over the age of 20, making the total (including women and children) somewhere around 2 million. Historical evidence shows that Egypt’s total population at the time was about 3.5 million, and nothing has been discovered to support more than half the population leaving at one time, or that the Sinai desert could support these Hebrew millions. History doesn’t know of any population of millions that left no evidence — graves, pottery shards, etc.

Additionally, the mentions of certain towns and the domestication of the camel in the exodus story point to a time of writing several hundred years later than the Bible claims. And if the Bible’s dates are to be believed, the exodus occurred when Canaan was part of the Egyptian empire, so the Israelites escaped from one part of Egypt to another.

Further, archeology in the 20th Century began to uncover more and more evidence that the story of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan could not have happened as described in the book of Joshua. For example, the walls of Jericho were found to have fallen in the 1500s BCE, too early for the biblical narrative. Then the city was basically unoccupied until long after the Israelites supposedly attacked and destroyed it.

One more example: In II Chronicles (chapter 9), Solomon is described as “greater in riches... than all the other kings of the earth.” Yet Solomon is barely mentioned in other nations’ historical documents of that time period, and surprisingly little archeological evidence has been found to support that the kingdom of Israel was as powerful and far-reaching as described in the Old Testament. While it’s true that the area was raided and plundered several times in the intervening years, which can have devastating effects on what’s left behind, and it’s also true that archeological evidence is often random, one would expect the richest kingdom on the planet to have left more traces.

None of the explanations held much water for me.
There are dozens of other examples, for all of which I’ve heard explanations, from the pulpit, in classrooms, in Bible college — but none of the explanations held much water for me, especially once I learned that many Christians (outside the fundamentalist denominations with which I was most familiar) and most theologians had already accepted history’s findings and agreed that much of the Bible was not, in fact, literally true.

This was a turning point for me, because there was little case for an infallible, supreme god without the inerrant book to describe him. It had always been The Book on which everything else rested. I was (and am) aware of large numbers of Christians who didn’t hold the Bible to be completely accurate yet still believed in God, but I knew I could never be one of them.

I came to the point of asking myself: “If parts of the Bible are assuredly untrue — or are allegorical — then who is to say which other parts are dependable, and which parts are to be taken literally?”


Scientific Inaccuracies


Some who attack Christianity on scientific positions do so because of Christianity’s history of geocentrism and the perception that the Bible teaches of a flat Earth. However, having read the Bible entirely multiple times, I’ve found no passage that illustrates either worldview, other than phrases we still use today, such as “the sun rises” or sets. Others suggest that finding life on other planets would prove the Bible wrong; I can assure you the Bible never says Earth’s is the only life.

But there are still problems with it, if it’s written by an infallible God.
These are problems with religious people or organizations, not with the Bible itself.

But there are still problems with it, if it’s written by an infallible God directly through His servants. For example, the Bible has birds created before land-based animals, while the scientific consensus today is that birds evolved from land-based animals, specifically one group of dinosaurs (Source).

Another set of problems arise from the story of Noah’s Ark. These issues are many, and I list them more fully on another page. But the important one for me was the capacity of the ark. We’d been told, based on a couple of studies (by fervent creationists), that the ark was easily large enough to contain all the necessary animals, food, drinking water, and seeds to replenish life on Earth. It was actually in Bible college when this was challenged for the first time — by a professor whom I respected. He said it just wasn’t possible and encouraged me to look into it. So I learned that these creationist “scientists”, who began from the belief that the Bible was literally true and thus forced the facts to fit the narrative, had stretched reality pretty thin in order to explain how it could have really happened.

And what about the supposed longevity of the early biblical figures? Methuselah, for example, is said to have lived 969 years. Several others lived over 900 years, and many lived to a few hundred. Some literary critics suggest that the word for “month” was mistakenly translated as “year”, which gives Methuselah a more realistic age of about 80. But then what about Isaac, who lived to be 180? If that was months, then he died at the age of 15, and much of his life’s story makes no sense. Also, it means Noah only had a hundred months to build the ark, instead of a hundred years. A hundred months is only eight years. Also, the Flood story specifically mentions months and years in the same sentences.

I eventually had to accept that it was just “the style at the time” to write legends this way.
Today, the oldest-known living persons are less than 120 years old, and the oldest verifiable person was 122 or so. And there’s no evidence that our ancestors lived for hundreds of years — though almost all ancient myths have their special heroes and kings living incredibly long lives. Though I liked the idea of living hundreds of years, I eventually had to accept that it was just “the style at the time” to write legends this way.

Some apologists attempt to explain the age difference with the following (I’m serious): (1) humans were on a vegan diet then, (2) there was more water vapor in the atmosphere, protecting humankind from the Sun’s harmful rays, and of course (3) sin. They say Adam and Eve were designed to live forever, but God shortened the lifespan after sin entered the world (and it’s worth noting that God is the one who introduced sin into the world). Three can’t be argued, since it appeals to authority (the Bible). One and two can be argued, however, because there are today people on vegan diets who live about the same lifespans as the rest of us (relative to Methuselah), and because any alleged water vapor content could be simulated in a lab.

More than once (I Chronicles 27:23 is an example), the Lord “promised to make Israel as numerous as the stars in the sky.” And Nehemiah 9:23 says it in the past tense: “You made their children as numerous as the stars in the sky.” This is, I think, impossible, since there are an estimated 400 billion stars in just our own Galaxy, and as many as 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe. A human writer at the time would have thought the number to be “very large”, but God would have known the exact number, and realized that Israel would never be that numerous.

For each of these problems, there are on the one hand scientists who say it’s not possible, based on thorough studies and overwhelming information, and there are people who say it must be true because it’s in the Bible, so they’ll jump through any hoop necessary to make it seem true. I eventually chose to believe the former.


Possible Explanations


As I’ve noted above, these questions began to creep in as early as my high school years, and intensified through my time in Bible College, but I always found ways to justify continued belief in the Bible. Why? Because my fear was — and this is the fear of any Bible-believing Christian — that if part of it isn’t true, then which parts are true? Maybe none of it is.

Remember, the major assumption is that the Bible is true. Once you accept that, everything else is easy.
For each problem or question identified, there are possible explanations, some addressed above. For the historical and scientific inaccuracies, the two most-often proffered explanations are (1) science and history are just plain wrong, and (2) miracles. I leaned on both in my early years. Remember, the major assumption is that the Bible is true. Once you accept that, everything else is easy.

I was not alone in believing there was a giant, coordinated effort on the part of atheists, secularists, humanists, and others — all inherently evil (or seriously misguided) people of course — to distort the truth of ancient history in order to draw us away from the one true God. Radiocarbon dating and other techniques must be conspiracies. Evolution was “just a theory” with enough holes to be laughable. It was all part of (and I’m completely serious) the Devil’s plan to draw souls to Hell.

He did not doubt the literal truth of the Bible; he only began to change his mind after gathering evidence and performing experiments.
This of course falls flat when actually considering what happened. First, most of the early modern scientists were religious people, and most — if not all — of them were educated in religious institutions. Isaac Newton self-identified as a Christian. Charles Darwin was baptized as an Anglican and in his early years did not doubt the literal truth of the Bible; he only began to change his mind after gathering evidence and performing experiments. Other early scientists were, as a group, religious people: Copernicus, Bacon, Kepler, Galileo, Faraday, Mendel, and others. (Einstein is often said to have believed in God, though he later explained that this was untrue.)

Most of these men — and the women whom history often neglected to mention — were believers. It was not a group of atheists that invented scientific and historical misinformation to mislead Christians. Instead a variety of thinking people gathered information and performed experiments over the course of generations, altering their beliefs only when evidence forced them to do so. New generations built on this work, but again none of them set out to disprove religion or the supernatural. It was the facts themselves that turned out to contradict the Bible and previously held beliefs.

As for miracles, well, if you believe in an omnipotent God, this is a perfectly natural explanation. It was God’s almighty power that gathered hundreds of thousands of animals from their natural habitats, found a way for them to survive the incredible journey to the ark, made it possible for them to survive a year in their floating wooden prison despite many of them being naturally unable to survive in such an environment, taught Noah and family how to find and store seeds of a hundred thousand plants (and later distribute them to the ends of the Earth), kept the ark safe in an explosive and destructive environment, and later made sure none of the animals ate each other and safely redistributed them around the planet.

Such an almighty God had no need to do any of those improbable things to accomplish his stated purpose of killing everything and everyone while saving a specific few.
Makes sense, right? Because God could easily have done so. Then the question becomes why. Such an almighty God had no need to do any of those improbable things to accomplish his stated purpose of killing everything and everyone while saving a specific few. It would have been a minor matter for such a god to simply zap the rest out of existence, leaving exactly what and whom he pleased. Or, if he wanted to leave a mess behind as a lesson, that also could have been easily accomplished by his miracles. If Noah and his family were the only righteous ones, but they somehow needed the decaying flesh of millions to remind them to stay righteous, God could have just dropped dead everyone else. Or, if the entire experience of the ark’s dangerous voyage was necessary somehow to teach the humans a lesson or two, it could have been done with a localized flood and storms, which would have appeared global.

For every explanation provided by apologists (and remember, I was one for years), there is a follow-up question that cannot be answered without resorting to the mysteries of God, unnecessary miracles, or some “higher purpose” which we were never meant to understand.


The Original Languages


By the time I was a teenager, I had noticed that many preachers — including pastors at my own church — often referred to the “original” Hebrew or Greek words to further explain various passages in the Bible. When I attended Bible college, this became more frequent. Like many preachers, I owned a guide to biblical Hebrew and Greek words. I took notice that my church’s creed didn’t say that any English version of the Bible was the “inspired, infallible word of God”, just that the way it was originally written was the inspired, infallible word of God. Today, because I don’t attend church, I mostly notice this on apologists’ websites.

Eventually, this caused several questions. The first was asked by someone in a class I was teaching. When I mentioned the meaning of an original language word, someone asked why the Bible wasn’t translated correctly, so poorly in fact that we needed teachers and preachers to explain the original meanings to us. I answered (fairly, I think) that languages don’t always correspond correctly, word for word, especially when translating ancient writings to modern English, where even concepts are different. The followup question was more difficult: if this is the word of God, which he desperately wants all of us to know, why didn’t God make absolutely certain that it was translated correctly? I don’t remember my response to this, but I remember being smart enough to say “I don’t know” to questions that I didn’t know the answer to.

But I had to ask that of myself at some point. Why, God? Why are some passages difficult to understand unless we look up the various meanings of ancient Greek and Hebrew words? Why do some passages only make sense if we educate ourselves about ancient customs?

My church said the Bible in its original languages was the infallible word of God. The Bible said it was God himself who confused the languages so that we wouldn’t understand each other.
According to historical linguists, languages evolved and changed over many thousands of years, due to many factors. This makes sense, because we can observe it occurring in our own time. But the Bible tells us (Gen. 11) that God himself created the various languages, there having only been one language before this. According to this passage, YHWH worried that humans speaking only one language would allow them to accomplish anything — though the Bible doesn’t explain why this worried him. Then YHWH said (to no one in particular): “Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” Yes, he said his actual reason was so that humans couldn’t understand each other.

After reading this passage for perhaps the 15th time, it really began to bother me that (1) it was God himself who created the different languages, and yet (2) only the original language versions of the Bible were infallible (according to many Christian denominations, including mine). So, should I study the ancient languages in order to truly understand the Bible, even though it was God’s idea to “confuse” the languages in the first place? If he wanted me to understand those languages, why had he mixed them up in the first place?

Obviously, the easiest answer is that neither the English nor the Hebrew/Greek versions of the Bible are infallible, nor inspired by God. And, if so, this means that the Tower of Babel story doesn’t have to be true, which helps everything make sense.


Years Of Struggle And Thought


So, for years I explained away the built-in contradictions. I ignored the fact that the Old Testament wasted hundreds pages with repetition, listing genealogies, stating required measurements for the Temple and other holy artifacts. I assumed that God Himself had led the church leaders through the centuries in determining which books should be included in the canon of the Bible. I ignored the genocide, the mysogyny of the law (“it was a different time”), the slavery, the implicit approval of concubines and multiple wives, and how many times God punished children for the sins of their ancestors. Though I was never able to reconcile the Song of Solomon’s appearance in the Bible, I left off questioning it for many years.

If a single moral precept taught in the Bible can be dismissed today, then the Bible is not true.
In the end, it came down to these two intertwined ideas: (1) morality is a universal absolute, and (2) the Bible is inerrant and still relevant today. If both of these are true, that means we are still supposed to stone to death children who disobey their parents, and the penalty for rape should be giving a small amount of money to the victim’s father and marrying the victim. If one of them is not true, then the other is likely untrue as well. In other words, if a single moral precept taught in the Bible can be dismissed today, then the Bible is not true.

Sometime in the late 1990s, I had an enlightening conversation with a pair of young men who knocked on my door, peddling ridiculous notions under the guise of religion. Their book was the Word of God, they told me. They wanted to give me a copy of it. How did they know it was the Word of God, I asked. The book said it was the Word of God, they responded with straight faces. They went on to tell me the book said to pray with (and I think this is an accurate quotation) “a sincere heart, real intent, and faith in Christ”, and God would “manifest the truth of it unto you”. I talked with them a while longer, politely refusing their silly notions, and bid them good day.

About five minutes later, it hit me. Their claims were exactly like mine had always been. I had a book that I knew was the Word of God. I knew it because the book told me so. And because I believed it was so — sincerely, with real intent, and based on faith (prior belief).

If that was my standard for knowing the truth of my book, then theirs must be true as well, for the same standards were used. Also, any other book that claimed to be the true word of God, which could be “confirmed” by praying with prior belief, would also be true by that standard. I found that the scriptures of Islam made the same claim and asked for the same standard* of proof. So it must also be true.

Or perhaps there is a better standard of judging whether a book is true.

(* Later, I learned that the Koran/Quran technically asked for a slightly higher standard of proof.)


Eventual Conclusion


Though it required many years for me to come to this point, I was eventually ready to accept that the book I’d believed for most of my life was simply a collection of ancient legends, moral teachings, and half-baked prophecies, cobbled together over centuries by earnest men who had little interest in scientific or historical accuracy. Much like the written legends of any other culture from a similar time.

As it was, rejecting the inerrancy of the Bible did not suddenly cause me to disbelieve in God. It was simply part of the process that required nearly twenty-five years. For several years, I continued believing in God (though my ideas about it changed from time to time) while acknowledging that the Bible was not — and could not be — completely true.

This was freeing. It meant that the bad parts of God didn’t have to be believed. If the Bible was only a poor human representation of God’s reality, then perhaps God was better than a petulant bully who threatened eternal damnation (including burning flesh and being eaten by worms for eternity) every time you told a lie or disobeyed your parents. Maybe Hell was an exaggeration. It was certainly the best explanation I had ever found for the contradictions, archaic moral precepts, and pointless parts of the Bible.

Entering my early 30s, for the first time in my life I began to work free of the enormous fear of eternal punishment for lustful thoughts or that time I said something mean to someone nice.


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