Top 5 Challenging Bible Facts

To some people, especially those who come from conservative churches, my beliefs seem to come out of left field. I must be crazy or want to start my own religion or something. Quite the contrary, actually, but there are a lot of things that I take for granted sometimes which many people just don’t know. Here are 5 things that I wish I had known earlier about the Bible. I’m going to give you a very broad overview of some somewhat small but very challenging facts and positions. I’ll leave you to research them further.

We don’t know who wrote any of the Bible

Most of the common thought on who wrote the Bible comes from tradition. This includes the thinking that Matthew wrote Matthew, Mark wrote Mark, Moses wrote most of the Old Testament when he was with God on Mt. Sinai, Paul wrote most of the epistles, etc.

On the contrary, there is no really solid evidence for any of that, and the church assigned names and authors to the books long after their authorship. Now, of course, many of the epistles bear Paul’s name, but many people wrote pseudonymously at that time, so it’s very possible that someone was writing in the spirit of Paul while not actually being Paul. Paul may have in fact written a few of the epistles, but in no case is a book’s authorship ever certain.

A lot of the Bible didn’t happen

There was no Adam. We know this from genetics. There was no flood. We know this from geology. There was no Exodus. We know this from archaeology. When each of these fields got started, everybody was scrambling for proof of the Biblical account, but it wasn’t there. Not only was there a lack of evidence, but there was actually strong evidence for contrary positions.

We don’t even know how much of the New Testament actually happened. There are contrary genealogies of Jesus in different gospels. Christians are unanimously in agreement with the idea of Jesus’ historical death and resurrection, but we really don’t know where to draw the lines elsewhere.

The previous point isn’t a problem for theology

Many Christians feel that it is absolutely necessary to confirm the historicity of the entire Bible, but honestly, it’s not. This is a very new idea within the Christian faith, and it runs contrary to much early Christian thought. Christians in Alexandria, for example, believed very strongly in an allegorical interpretation of the Bible. St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, Origen, and many others shared varying degrees of allegorical interpretation.

A better understanding of ancient genres of literature makes this even less of a problem when we realize that no one really wrote history books. There were a few historians mostly commissioned by the Roman government, but what we sometimes call “history” when we read the Bible is actually more like a mythic origin story to give the Jewish people a sense of identity.

The Bible wasn’t meant for you

Some of my readership probably includes pastors, philosophers, and/or clergy, so this isn’t entirely true, but the Bible was not meant for the common person to pick up and read. Most everyone was illiterate, and they depended on the priests to study the Bible and give spiritual direction. And there is so much heavy philosophy underpinning many of the books of the Bible that it honestly requires an academic person to read properly.

That may grate against our modern democratic ideals of equality, but equality of value does not mean equality of skill or role. We sometimes forget that, and it leads to the absurd conclusion that everyone should be a theologian. This is so entrenched that it might sound offensive, but consider this: does everyone need to be a rocket scientist? A computer engineer? A doctor? We do need theologians, but honestly, we need far more people to stop worrying that they’ve got all the beliefs straight and get out there, live their lives, and love people as Christ would love.

The Bible has some objectionable material

This one took me a long time to accept. In fact, I might have only really come to terms with it within the last few weeks. The fact is, though, for all our fancy methods of interpretation, our apologetic strategies, our impassioned sermons about the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, our carefully-crafted Statements of Belief, etc., there is really a lot of stuff in the Bible for which there is no excuse.

Taking women as sex slaves/unwilling wives is pretty abhorrent, and we can’t really wish that away by saying, “Oh, that was for the ritual purity of the Hebrew people.” No, it wasn’t. I can’t say exactly why it’s in there, but there is really no good possible reason. But it extends beyond just taking women as slaves to prejudices about women, slaves, homosexuals, foreigners, and a long list of other things.

__________

So one might think, “What now?” Well, if you were a Christian beforehand, you’re still a Christian now, but if you accept these things, you’re free to live your life without fear of having to cross every t and dot every i on the True Christian Theology Checklist invented by modern conservative Christians. You’re free to learn to love in a way that doesn’t involve making sure you did everything precisely according to specification. That doesn’t mean we cease striving for perfection and let our morality slide into oblivion; rather, it means that we actually have to work to discover what it means to love properly.

I hope you will take the time to research some of this. If you have any questions about any of these issues, feel free to ask in the comments below, and maybe I can point you in the direction of some good sources. Thanks for reading, and God bless.

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About Chris Attaway

Raised in the digital wilderness of the pre-Internet 2.0 era, Chris Attaway is a true gamer and Internet citizen. After a stint studying computer science, his life got flipped turned upside down, and he ended up studying philosophy to help him sort out his life. Now the black sheep in a family of engineers, he has set out to get his footing in the world of freelance journalism. With interests ranging from gaming and technology to LGBT rights, race and politics, Chris is a diverse and skilled writer who always tries to give a fair shake to his subjects.
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9 Responses to Top 5 Challenging Bible Facts

  1. Chase Braud says:

    We don’t know who wrote any of the Bible?- Chris, even those most radically opposed to scriptural authority wouldn’t say we don’t know who wrote ANY of the Bible. For example, Bart Ehrman in his book on the subject allows for 30% of the New Testament to belong to their supposed authors (and I don’t think his arguments for all of the 70% are convincing). Besides, most biographers of the time didn’t include their name, such as Plutarch, and historians have not had much of a problem turning to the earliest traditions for their answers, especially in a more oral culture.

    • Well Bart Ehrman is certainly a celebrity of sorts for being an atheist teaching Bible history, but I have never been very impressed with any of his work.

      There is good evidence for Paul’s authorship in some cases, as there is also for the authorship of John, I believe, but there is still a not-insignificant amount of doubt in pretty much all cases.

      But whether it’s 30% or 70% or even 90%, many people simply aren’t aware of the fact that there is debate over this at all. I’m just trying to get people thinking about these issues.

  2. Ken Nichols says:

    I’m going to give my opinions about the subjects you brought up. Probably more for my own benefit of seeing it nicely laid out than for anyone else. So, bear with me while I “pontificate”.

    1. While I agree that we don’t KNOW who wrote all of the Bible, I believe that the odds are firmly in our favor for scholars having nailed down the authorship of most of it. But I believe your point is that while it’s nice to know who wrote it, what was written is much more important, and I can agree with that.

    2. Well, here’s where we disagree the most. I believe there was an Adam, or at least a first man. And that God had a personal hand in his creation. The point of the creation story is that all life comes from God, and especially HUMAN life. I believe the rest of the tale of Adam and Eve (whatever their actual NAMES were — why would they even NEED names?) is accurate enough in the spirit of it to convey how man was deceived into following after the pursuit of knowledge rather than the pursuit of God and that God planned from the beginning to deal with that situation. The specifics aren’t important.

    I couldn’t disagree more with your other two statements. I believe there WAS a flood, and there is plenty of evidence that their was if you care to look. I don’t think we will ever find unshakable evidence of it, but the biblical account is too full of details to just discount it as allegory. For instance, why mention about letting the bird out to find land? It’s not important to the story at all — they were going to land when and where they did regardless (it’s not like they could STEER the ark). You don’t add extraneous details like that if your just writing an allegorical tale about the care and provision of God. It’s written AS an historical account, so I believe it is. And quite frankly, archaeology be damned.

    The same for the Exodus. And I’ve never heard ANYONE, even non-Christians, deny this one. So this was quite a shock for me. Do I believe that God plagued Egypt specifically with miraculous supernatural plagues? No. I believe a natural event occurred (volcanic eruption?) which God USED to show His power to His people. The only piece I haven’t nailed down in the account is the parting of the Red Sea. I’m sure it had something to do with wind, but I don’t know how that created a “wall” of water on BOTH sides. I’ll be interested to find out how God pulled that one off when I talk to Moses, but I believe it occurred pretty much as described. I’m curious why you can’t swallow the possibility that it really happened?

    3. The point of the historicity of the Old Testament isn’t about the actual EVENTS, it’s about how those events pointed ancient people’s to look FORWARD to Christ’s sacrifice for them. The story of the fall clearly shows this element. The flood is a picture of rescue from the power and presence of sin – something that currently is happening all around us, as His true church “conveys” his saved people through the world of sin to a future home where no sin is found. And the Exodus has so many of the these “foreshadowings” that it would take too long to list here. The biblical accounts show that God had this plan in place from the beginning, and told people that again and again, so that they are “without excuse” at judgement. That’s pretty important if you ask me. Maybe not as much for US, but it is/was for them.

    4. While I agree with your basic statement, your argument is completely wasted on me. The Bible wasn’t written for us, true, because it was written for the people of the times it was written in or those immediately after those times. The biblical authors were not thinking of US when they penned the words, so in that sense, you are correct. However, God KNEW that we would be compiling these words (it’s just what we do – collect knowledge), so He DID have us in mind.

    The notion that you need to be a scholar to understand scripture is completely the opposite of the truth, I’m afraid. The scriptures don’t require more KNOWLEDGE to be understood clearly, they require more SPIRIT. They are “spiritually appraised”. Without the Spirit as your guide, you simply will be reading words. You won’t “get it”. It’s our thirst to UNDERSTAND academically the scriptures that has caused many of the problems in modern Christianity. Our head knowledge has got in the way of our heart knowledge. This is a recurrent theme throughout scripture. Starting with Adam (or whatever his name was), man prefers to “KNOW” rather than to have faith and trust in God. That theme still continues to this day. More academia studying the scripture is NOT what we need.

    5. The Bible describes the culture that existed when it was written. WE find these thing objectionable because we consider ourselves more “enlightened”. We think we have a higher moral code, so how can God (which most think of as chiefly a moral compass) have allowed those things back then? But morality is NOT the point of the Bible. It’s not our good morals that God requires, but our faith and trust and LOVE of Him and love of all His creations – chiefly our fellow man. That love can only come FROM God, empowering us via His Spirit within us. When the love is in place, good morals naturally flow OUT of that, but they are the ends not the means of correct spirituality.

    So don’t read the Bible looking for perfect history or morals – because that’s not the point of it. In fact, it’s more accurately about showing how holding to a good moral code DOESN’T WORK in achieving correct spirituality, because historically THEY couldn’t do it and today WE can’t do it. The heinous results of our “enlightened” moral code are evidenced across western “civilization”. We have failed because we are looking at God and the Bible as a moral rule book (as knowledge to be absorbed and regurgitated). But that’s not what it’s for. It’s to show us that we NEED God (in the person of Christ) – both for our very existence, but also in order to live in love and harmony with ourselves, God and our fellow man, both now and into eternity.

    • As Chase, the other commenter, mentioned, some scholars estimate we have 30% of the New Testament nailed down. Compared to what I’ve heard, that’s a large number.

      As for the history issue, which is your greatest concern, I would advise you to look at the work of Christian scholars like Dr. Peter Enns, such as his work The Evolution of Adam. We’re 99.99999999% certain there wasn’t an Adam.

      Same goes with the flood: there might have been a regional flood, but a global flood to the heights listed requires ubiquitous rainfall of horrendous proportions. My guess is that there was a huge tsunami at some point, because lots of other civilizations in the region have flood stories.

      The Exodus is controversial for Christians, but almost no secular scholars and increasingly few Christian scholars believe it to be historically true. It’s technically still possible, certainly the most possible of the things I’ve listed, but there’s no record of the Hebrew people living in Egypt at all. No pottery, no records, no nothing.

      While on the one hand you say that there are details in the accounts that would only make sense as a history, you also preclude the notion that there might be theological reasons for the details by stating that it doesn’t take serious academic study to understand the Bible.

      There are a number of other things I could argue based on what you said, but the point of all this is not to throw everything in your face and say, “YOU’RE WRONG!” It’s to free you to live you life without having to worry about defending every last little bit of theology. Discipleship should be about encouraging people to show Christ’s love rather than giving in-depth theological lessons. It should be about understanding what it is to live as a Christian.

      • Ken Nichols says:

        THAT I can agree with. Again, I said what I said more for me than you. I don’t think you are lost or “in jeopardy” (as I have been told I am) because of your views. Theology isn’t the end all be-all of being a Christian, thank God. And I did recognize the duality in my own arguments, which shows you that I am on a journey in regards to these things, and I surely have not reached any final destination. Thanks for talking about these things. In the current climate, it’s refreshing to actually be able to talk about things like this with another Christian without being looked down on as a poor, lost or misguided soul.

      • Any time. If you have any issues you’d like covered in more detail, I might even take requests on a more formal post on the subject. This post was meant to get people thinking and searching on Google.

    • Not in any way Arthur says:

      This is the general argument against the Exodus being historical. I am not certain if there is a solid argument given the other way by archaeologists, but I’ve never run across it.

      The book of Exodus gives a number for the number of people that were in ‘the Exodus’ if it happened. The number is something like 2 million (I think it says 600 000 men (with implied women children and livestock)). The population of Egypt was 3-5 million during this time frame. There is no evidence that Egypt lost half its population and that it wound up in Israel in a geological eyeblink. Also, there are no Israeli artifacts in Egypt, and there has been evidence uncovered to suggest that the Israelites were a group of Canaanites originally that didn’t sweep in and invade from the outside.

      Also, Israel hired archaeologists to give evidence for the Exodus, and they turned up nothing. This is an outcome that contradicted their incentives, so that’s a pretty good indication right there.

      The only fact I’ve heard mentioned is that there is an inscription where it says some pharaoh destroyed (something that is translated as) Israel, but it does say “destroy” rather than enslaved (when it says enslaved for other groups).

      • Ken Nichols says:

        Thank you for the information. At this time I still believe that Exodus actually happened. Maybe we are looking in the wrong places or perhaps God would rather us have faith than require factual knowledge of those events. 😛 But if it was good enough for the Jews for over two thousand year, it’s good enough for me. 🙂 Thankfully we can believe or not believe these events and still have a relationship with the God of the universe because of the Son, and that’s what’s important.

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