For some, the Bible serves as a method to discern morality and immorality; a history lesson; and, in essence, a guide to “life” that is to be taken literally. To others, the bible is nothing more than a collection of stories, written by regular people, and loosely based on historical facts.
Two misconceptions about the bible – 1) that it is historically accurate, and, 2) that is the “word of God” – have fed religious persecution and religious wars. They have fueled racism, anti-female biases, anti-Semitism and homophobia. They have held back science and the explosion of knowledge. One only has to look at the history of Christianity and Judaism - amongst other religions – to see the negative implications of these simple misconceptions.
MISCONCEPTION 1: THE BIBLE ACCURATELY REFLECTS HISTORY
Contrary to biblical scholars, many people often assume the Bible accurately reflects history, even in the face of contradictory evidence:
- Abraham, the biblically acknowledged founding father of the Jewish people, whose story formed the earliest content in the Bible, died about 900 years before the first story of Abraham was written in the Old Testament.
- Moses died about 300 years before the first story of Moses entered the Bible. This means that everything we know about Moses in the Bible had to have passed orally through about 15 generations before achieving written form. Considering that a generation is generally approximately 25 years in length, that’s a total of 375 years. Do stories of heroic figures not grow, magnify, and become shrouded in mythology as the years go on? Is it not unlike an extended game of Broken Telephone?
- Jesus lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet, the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion. The gospels were also written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write. Are the gospels then capable of being effective guides to history?
- If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written – that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then Luke, and ending with John – we can see exactly how the story evolved between the years 70 and 100. For example, miracles aren’t attached to the story until the eighth decade. The virgin birth of Jesus is added in the 9th decade; the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative.
- In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side.
It’s seems clear, then, that the Bible interprets life from its own particular perspective and not from a factually correct, historical perspective.
MISCONCEPTION 2: THE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD
The second major misconception comes from the claim that the Bible is in any literal sense “the word of God.” The Bible, when read literally, calls for the execution of children who are willfully disobedient to their parents, for those who worship false gods, for those who commit adultery, for homosexual persons, and for any man who has sex with his mother-in-law – to name a few! The Bible also commands slaves to be obedient to their masters and wives to be obedient to their husbands.
Can these acts of immorality ever be called “the word of God”? Over the centuries, texts like these, taken from the Bible and interpreted literally, have been used as powerful and evil weapons to support killing prejudices and to justify the cruelest kind of inhumanity.
The list goes on. In fact, the short list consists of 238 references to violence and unnecessary cruelty.
From a historical and moral perspective, the bible is full of inconsistencies and is, at times, morally questionable.
And so, we can conclude that the Bible is not to be taken literally as the “word of God”, or as historical fact. Rather, it should be used to reflect on our culture as a species, written from the point of view of regular people throughout the ages.