The Bible is very ambiguous. Every verse is a product of people in particular times and places; always to assert authority, maybe to restate tradition, upstage a rival story, assimilate a popular myth, or create a new one. As a consequence, different authors had quite varied ideas about God and his relationship with humankind.
In the Old Testament, god was an anti-gentile racist. He was judgmental, sexist, homophobic and punitive. He told the Jews they alone were really special and that he had a never-ending covenant with them.
Paul came along and claimed a new covenant overrode the old. He wrote that god’s favorites, the Jews, were now the enemies of the entire human race.
The New Testament god wasn’t so violent, didn’t talk as often, and was less likely to interfere in human affairs. His demands differed with each author. Paul put down that we would win God’s favor through faith alone, but James jotted that faith was futile without good works. Paul posted that the Torah was no longer important, but Jesus taught that the Torah must be obeyed.
Is God a pro-Jewish dictator who will reward you because of good works, or an anti-Jewish oddball who wants you to have faith? It all depends on which church you go to, your preacher’s prejudices, and which part of the Bible you read.
The authors couldn’t come to a consensus about Jesus. In Matthew, he was the messiah of the Jews and didn’t want to preach to gentiles, yet in John he was the savior of all humankind, 99.8 percent of whom weren’t Jewish, and he scorned the Jews. Jesus told people to forgive seventy times seven times, but condemned his own enemies to hell. He said “blessed are the peacemakers,” but then claimed he didn’t come to bring peace to the world but a sword. He put Peter in charge and gave him the keys to the kingdom of heaven, yet later said no one was to be in charge. Jesus’ own brother didn’t know he rose from the dead, and nor did Mark, one of his first biographers.
Paul’s teachings were confusing and inconsistent, and his Christ figure, supposedly the same Jesus of the Gospels, obviously wasn’t, and wouldn’t share his wisdom with the world.
Both characters, God and Jesus, had mismatched personalities, yet were sometimes said to be one, had odd allegiances, as they loved or loathed the Jews, and had irreconcilable rules, as they followed or forsook the Law. No wonder Christians are confused when browsing the bible!
The Bible is a theological, philosophical quagmire! It had too many contributors to be consistent. Anyone can quote some bit of it to back up almost any belief. The philosopher Daniel Dennet points out that if we try to comprehend Christianity we are confronted with a thicket in a swamp in a fog.
Strangely enough, if “God’s” rules were more reliable, the Bible probably wouldn’t be so popular. The confusion has deliberately not been cleared up because it conceals the fact that the creeds contain lame brained, antiquated ideas. Too many people blame themselves for not understanding the Bible, but the real reason for their poor perception is its crazy contradictions.
Christians shouldn’t waste time trying to rationalize Biblical teachings. Half-baked arbitrary interpretations of inconsistent ancient texts have no credibility. It is more rewarding to trust our own reasoning.
The Bible Can Only Look Backwards
“But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
(Reg, leader of the People’s Front of Judea, from the film “Life of Brian”)
Jewish priests badgered their fellows into a fanatical reverence for scripture. Most Jews looked backward by trying to rigidly conform to the last jot and tittle of the Torah, instead of being open-minded and flexible. They were obsessed with ingratiating themselves with their imaginary God, which inevitably excluded them from having cordial relations with gentiles.
Most people from conquered nations came to realize that while they may have had no great love of Rome, it was in their interests to be part of the Empire because it usually bought them peace, law, order, and trade. The Palestinian Jews were different. They refused to assimilate with foreigners because their God had already told them how to live. They failed to adapt to what was then a more modern world, and suffered recurrent military defeats at the hands of gentiles as a result.
Their obsessive reliance on scripture meant they were subject to primitive law and ethics. They were forever fighting and arguing, because God’s rules were so open to interpretation. Their religious leaders, not democratically elected, who claimed to know how to interpret scripture, could claim an elevated status and tax the people’s incomes.
At the beginning of the Christian era, an eclectic mix of Jews and gentiles wrote more stories about God with the explicit aim of asserting authority over others using scripture. Some of these writings eventually became the New Testament. Christianity inculcated similar convictions onto its converts, such as an injunction to obey priests, a reluctance to embrace new ideas, and an intolerance of all others.
Islamists were to do something similar about 600 years later. The Jews knew how to impose control. Christian and Islamist leaders realized this, so both took a leaf out of the Jewish book.
Ever since the dawn of Christianity, Christians have been squabbling with each other and outsiders, just as the ancient Jews always did, and the Bible must take a large part of the blame.
The existence of so many versions of the Bible, which contain many different interpretations and interpolations, makes a mockery of the alleged “truths” they try to tell. Some translators are delibertely dishonest, for example.
“If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered…” (Deut. 22:28, New International Version). Compare this to
“Suppose a woman isn’t engaged to be married, and a man talks her into sleeping with him. If they are caught…” (Deut. 22:28, Contemporary English Version). There is a world of difference between rape and consensual sex.
Cherry Picking the Bible
There are truths to be discovered in most books. I’m sure that there are parts of this book, for example, that readers will agree are insightful and accurate. They might disagree with other parts, yet have still learnt something useful.
The New Testament is a different proposition, because Christians confidently claim it is not a book of opinions but the unerring word of God. They therefore cannot justify ignoring parts of it, (which is what they all do.) If you cherry pick an infallible set of rules, the whole rule book is redundant.
The Bible Doesn’t Have All the Answers
“But if external evidence (in support of the Bible) be wanting, and internal evidence be fatal to the truthfulness of the writings, then it will become our duty to remove them from the temple of history, and to place them in the fairy gardens of fancy and of myth, where they may amuse and instruct the student, without misleading him as to questions of fact.”
(Annie Basant, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie_Besant)
We won’t find all the answers in any book. Even our modern secular laws have deficiencies. We need to rely on our common sense and the impartial opinions of others to decide what is right or best. Some books may help by pointing us in the right direction, and some books are better at that than others. The Bible, a book riddled with inconsistencies, falsehoods and immoral ethics, is the last place we should look for moral guidance.