It’s often said that the fastest way to turn Christians into atheists is to have them read the Bible cover to cover. The atrocities committed by God and his chosen people, the bizarre rituals, the vague prophecies, the blatant contradictions, the primitive morals, and the religious hysteria all make it seem like the Bible was written by violent, racist, sexist, intolerant, superstitious fanatics. I, myself, had my faith shaken many times while reading the Bible.
That’s why I was surprised to encounter a former atheist who become a Christian after reading the Bible. On my Google+ page he said, “It was because I picked up a Bible that I became a Christian.” I find this very strange. I understand Christians who start with the assumption that the Bible is divinely inspired then rationalize it (I was one of them), but I do not understand how an atheist could read the Bible objectively and honestly conclude that it was written by God.
If God is all-knowing and all-powerful and infinitely intelligent, his book should be the most amazing piece of literature in history. It should be so brilliant and so glorious that no human author could write anything that compares. Instead, the Bible appears to be nothing more than a bunch of ancient myths, ritual instructions, mediocre poems, strange legends, religious letters, and deluded ramblings that were cobbled together by Jewish and Roman men a long time ago.
So what would we expect to find in a book that was written by God (or “divinely inspired”)? Here are seven suggestions.
1. It would be well-organized.
The Bible is in chronological order and the poetry, prophecies, gospels, and letters are mostly grouped together. Other than that, it isn’t very well organized. The Bible is supposed to be God’s message to humanity, a collection of teachings and stories we can apply to our daily lives. So why is it so difficult to learn from it?
Think about your high school textbooks. You had a different book for each subject with different chapters for each topic and different sections for each subtopic. Textbooks are organized this way because it’s easier to learn that way. So why isn’t the Bible organized in a similar fashion?
There could be a book about God’s creation, a book about love and relationships, a book about parenting, a book about prayer, a book about spirituality, a book about managing churches, a book about morality, and so forth. You know, a well thought out user’s guide to life. Instead, Christians are forced to flip back and forth through thousands of pages, piecing together little bits of information here and there with the help of concordances. And that brings me to my next point.
2. It would be more specific.
Imagine how convenient it would be if one of the books of the Bible was called “Morality” and it had a different chapter for each area of morality. What if there were a chapter on murder that clearly describes all the various scenarios where killing is permitted (war, execution, self-defense, etc.)? Maybe a verse that says “Thou shalt not slay an unborn child” so there would be no doubts about whether abortion is murder. Or better yet, there could be a verse somewhere that says “Thou shalt not own another human as property.” Then we wouldn’t need thousands of apologists to explain how to interpret passages like Exodus 21:20-21.
To be fair, the Bible is very specific about some things: genealogies, descriptions of temples, how to carry out weird rituals, the many types of people who should be executed, and so forth. But when it comes to good, practical advice that we can apply to our daily lives, the Bible falls short.
3. It would be easy to understand.
Why is the Bible so confusing that it requires thousands of preachers backed by an army of theologians to explain it to us? If God wants his message to be understood by everyone, then even simple-minded people should be able to understand his book. As it is, experts in theology have been debating the exact meaning of many passages for centuries.
I can already hear some of you saying, “But if you read the Bible with an open heart, the Holy Spirit will make it clear to you.” Well that sounds great, but I have known many men of God who all claim to do that and who all have different interpretations. When I was a Christian I prayed for spiritual guidance before reading the Bible, yet I was still left frustrated and confused by many passages, especially those written by Old Testament prophets.
Revelation is another good example. I used to think I was too uneducated and spiritually immature to understand Revelation, then I realized no one understands it. Why would God include a book that is so bizarre his own followers can’t even make sense of it? All they can do is cherry pick the verses they like and shrug their shoulders at the rest.
4. It would be perfectly consistent.
What does an all-powerful writer need? An all-powerful editor, apparently. When God spoke through his ghost writers, one of his angels should have spoken up and said, “Hey, you might want to fix some of those contradictions.” I mean, come on, there are hundreds of them. Am I really supposed to believe this book was written by the same being that created all the billions of galaxies throughout the universe?
Take the gospels, for example. (By the way, why are there four of them? What sort of author tells the same story multiple times? Why isn’t there just one detailed story that includes every element from the four gospels?) Let’s focus on the resurrection story. This is considered by many to be one of the most important stories in the Bible, so how come the authors seem to disagree about how it happened?
- Matthew says Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb (28:1), an angel rolled away the stone and sat on it (28:2), and that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (28:9).
- Mark says Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb (16:1), a young man was sitting inside (16:5), and that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (16:9).
- Luke says Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and other women went to the tomb (24:10), two men in shining garments were standing inside (24:4), and that Jesus first appeared to two of the disciples (24:15).
- John says Mary Magdalene went to the tomb (20:1), no one was there although later there were two angels in white siting inside (20:12), and that Jesus first appeared to Mary (20:14).
These are just a few of the problems with the resurrection story. It doesn’t sound like a true story told by God. It sounds like a made-up story told by men who couldn’t get their story straight.
5. It would have specific, verifiable prophecies.
If the Bible were divinely inspired, you would expect the prophecies to be specific and not subject to interpretation. “Wars and rumors of wars” is not a good prophecy.
How about something like, “In the third millennium, on the day after the celebration of our Lord’s birth, a great wave will rise from the ocean of India and swallow 230,000 lives.” Here I’m referring to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. In one simple sentence I mention the exact day, the nature of the disaster, and the number of people who die. A prophecy like this could not be fulfilled by people trying to make the prophecy come true, and it is too specific to be a lucky guess.
Granted, there are many specific prophecies in the Bible, but anything in the New Testament that fulfills a prophecy in the Old Testament doesn’t count. Why? Because the New Testament authors would have been able to read the Old Testament and either make their stories fit or manipulate events to make the prophecy come true, such as when Jesus laughably rode an ass and a colt at the same time (Matthew 21:2-7) because someone misunderstood the meaning of Zechariah 9:9 (it wasn’t literally referring two animals).
When you take those away, all you’re left with is a bunch of failed prophecies and multiple claims that Israel would be reestablished someday. Yes, in 1948, Israel was reestablished. So what? If I said, “the South will rise again,” and hundreds of years from now the Confederate States of America reformed, would that make me a prophet?
You know what would impress me? If one of God’s prophets had predicted the exact year that Israel would be reestablished. Why couldn’t God include the words “in 1948” somewhere? It would have been so easy.
6. It would contain knowledge that humans couldn’t have had.
Imagine if there were a Bible verse that said, “For the pieces that make up our Lord’s creation behave as both particles and waves, existing everywhere and nowhere.” It wouldn’t have made sense to people at the time, but millions of people today would recognize it as a description of quantum mechanics. Imagine how many fence-sitters would convert to Christianity after hearing about this amazing piece of scientific knowledge in an ancient religious book.
Here’s another: “For the sun is but a star among countless others, and the stars form a plate of light, and the plate spins through the vast emptiness with countless more.” This description of our galaxy and the billions of others would have seemed strange to people back then, but it would make perfect sense to us. Instead, the authors of the Bible don’t seem to have realized that the sun is just a star. In fact, they seemed to think the stars are nothing more than little lights in the sky that would fall to the earth in the last days (Revelation 6:13).
Here’s a really good one: “Thou shalt boil thy water lest the invisible creatures therein bring sickness upon your body.” Invisible creatures living in the water and making people sick? This would have sounded very odd to people in ancient times. But you know what? Not only would it impress modern day readers, it would have saved millions of lives. Why oh why didn’t Jesus warn people about germs?
7. It would have beautiful, heart-rending poetry and stories.
Think about it: If God is infinitely creative and intelligent, he should be capable of writing absolutely brilliant poems that remain unmatched to this day. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great stuff in there. I particularly like Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, but these books pale in comparison to the works of T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman and hundreds of other great poets.
The stories in the Bible aren’t very good, either. Granted, they’re supposed to be true stories so God wouldn’t have had much artistic license. But couldn’t he have been more selective about which stories he shared? For example, why do we need to know the story of the concubine who was gang raped and murdered?
In Judges 19:22-30, an old man takes in a travelling Levite. Later, a group of men who want to rape the traveler come to the old man’s house and beat on his door. The old man offers them his daughter and concubine instead, so the men take the concubine and rape her all night. The next morning the old man finds the concubine (who is still alive), chops her into twelve pieces, and sends them to the twelve tribes of Israel. The story ends with the words, “consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.”
What are we supposed to make of this horrible story? What’s the point? This is just one of the many strange and disgusting stories in the Bible. And people think the Bible was written by an omniscient, omnibenevolent god? Not likely.
If you’re a Christian, I don’t expect this post to change your mind. When a belief gets drilled into your head everyday for years, it can take years to get it out again. But can you at least have a little sympathy for us atheists? Can you see how the Bible seems like nothing more than a collection of writings by religious fanatics? You have no trouble dismissing the Koran or the Vedas or the Book of Shadows, and rightly so. But it is for the same reasons that we dismiss the Bible.
1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “God is not the author of confusion,” and yet the Bible is one of the most confusing books in all of literature. It is so confusing that there have been over 40,000 denominations of Christianity. If the Bible was written by God, then God is a terrible writer.