The Bible Could Use Some Updating

During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry…..There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.
“Bible Teaching and Religious Practice,” Europe and Elsewhere

I’ve used this quote often in debating and discussing religion with people. And I’d like to pose the question, why can’t we edit the Bible? Now of course I have a general problem with any book that is 2000 years old being a meaningful guide about how to live life now, but get to know any Christian and you’ll find that the amount of principles in the Bible they actually live by are a small portion of them. More importantly, the Bible is filled with so many contradictory verses that people can literally pick and choose the bible-based philosophy that suits them. Of course if we are going to edit the Bible who gets to decide what goes in and what goes out? Perhaps a committee should be formed. It doesn’t seem like that should be too hard to do considering that is how the Bible was originally formed about half millennia after Jesus Christ was supposed to have lived.

Now we all know that there are some really great Christian people out there. And these great Christian people would like you to know:

  • We support gay people
  • We support evolution
  • We support science
  • We support education
  • We would rather avoid war
  • We know the Bible isn’t meant to be taken literally
  • We think helping those that are less fortunate is important
  • We know it’s our belief and we don’t need proselytize
  • While we might not choose to have abortions ourselves we support a woman’s right to choose
  • We think birth control is an important part of health care
  • We think separation of church and state is important
  • We are comfortable with other people’s religious beliefs even if we don’t agree
  • We think taking care of the Earth is part of our responsibility as God’s children
  • We live our life as close to being like Jesus as possible

Let’s face it, such Christians are great.  They are enjoyable people to be around.  They don’t like those other extreme groups that call themselves Christians, but clearly aren’t.  All their fire and brimstone talk, their eye for an eye mentality, their inability to adapt to the times, their wanting to pass laws that are prejudicial and not pluralistic.  They would also like you to know that though there were dark times in Christianities past, those people were not the true Christians.  No matter how mainstream it was.  Good Christian congregations existed even in the darkest of times and those are the people that truly understood the Bible.  And by the way, the Bible has so many positive verses in it.  Things about loving your neighbors, not judging others, helping the poor, being compassionate, loving your family.  The list goes on.

So this is brilliant.  Such Christians truly help to make the world a better place and if there are right about it all, then we probably should have paid more attention to these models of morality.  I’m not being sarcastic in the least.  However….

We have to ask ourselves then, where did these less than savory Christians come from?  Who are these people who are divisive and judgmental?  Who are these people that would rather force their religious beliefs down our throats rather than allow us to exercise the free will that God so desperately wanted us to have so we could choose to love Him?  Why do they so pedantically want to take a book that is supposed to be word of God literally.  Why do they insist on taking some verses that are prejudicial and hateful instead of verses that are peaceful, tolerant and compassionate?  Why do they focus on instill fear instead of love?  Why aren’t they turning the other cheek? Why aren’t they interpreting the Bible correctly?Why aren’t all Christians the good people they are supposed to be?

Well maybe it’s because they had bad teachers of their faith.  Maybe it’s because they have low levels of education.  Maybe it’s because their parents were judgmental, strict people who never gave their children the freedom to ask questions and really explore their faith.  Maybe they grew up in an intolerant environment.  And all these things are possible, but wouldn’t anybody turn out to be a rather less than good person in such an environment?  And maybe the reason you are a good person is because you were raised in a good and loving environment and wouldn’t anybody turn out the same way regardless of their religion?  And why should the word of God Himself, the perfection of perfection, the only omniscient presence in the universe depend  so much on someone’s level of education, how they were raised?  Why is it so easy to get it wrong and misinterpret it?

But what if there is a much more insidious possibility?  What if those “bad” Christians actually think they are good Christians.  What if they think Christians like you are the problem?  What if they have as much biblical support for their way of thinking as you do for yours?  What if there are actually more lines in the bible that promote violence, oppression of women, and persecution of non-Christians than ones that actually are against these behaviors?  What if all those lines about there being witches and making slaves out of people are still in there even though we, as a society, no longer promote such ideas?  (By the way witch accusations may be making a comeback!) What if they are ignoring just as many verses that disagree with their worldview, as you are ignoring to support your worldview?

The Christian bible has been translated from language after language, and is already different from the original due to the difficulties in translating the Bible.  Many of the books of the Bible cannot be verified to have been written by the author that is claimed.  The Bible is certainly not in the same form always and the books of the Bible have been put together well after Jesus’ death.  So what would be so bad about editing the Bible.  Because if there are people out there who are actually using bad parts of the bible and as a result are not good Christians, wouldn’t it be worth removing those parts? Wouldn’t it be worth including some extra stuff that wasn’t in the Bible because it was not known then, but it is known now?  I mean if the word of God as described in the Bible is outdated and not even used by good Christians, why have it in there?  Why no just leave it on the shelf in libraries so people can see what the Bible used to be like?  Have it simply as a historical reference to what life was like 2000 years ago.  Because it seems to me that the word of God is confusing a lot of people.  So maybe it’s time to separate the wheat from chaff in the Bible so that God is a little more justified in separating the wheat from the chaff after we die.  And if you are worried about the morality of editing an original historical work, then also consider the morality of leaving a whole lot of archaic and horrible practices in the Bible and selling it as the word of God.  And if you are worried about where to start, George Carlin has risen from the dead to help you with a few suggestion on amending the 10 commandments.

Without an update, the Bible is really just a string of stories, laws, and lessons that range from violently psychopathic to ultra loving and compassionate in which we are all just picking and choosing the things we want to support the type of person we already are.

 

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21 thoughts on “The Bible Could Use Some Updating

  1. Great piece!

    As to this observation, the Bible is filled with so many contradictory verses that people can literally pick and choose the bible-based philosophy that suits them i have in the past used the bible to argue for Jesus being the god God and Jesus not being the god God… Both are possible, depends on which one suits your needs at the time, which seems like a rather large plot diversion 😉

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  2. I commented on what must have been an early release of this post. I thought, “This is the shortest blog Swarn has ever written…” Now I know why. You weren’t finished yet!

    I think the Bible is less open to interpretation than you make it out to be. It’s certainly open to misinterpretation, but I believe that anyone who takes it in its entirety and honestly desires to live according to what it says will have strikingly similar “interpretations”. I would say that the groups of Christians that make the greatest effort to follow it literally are groups like the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites, who effectively adopt a pacifist lifestyle. People burn witches because a) they don’t like witches and b) they like to burn stuff, not because it’s in the Bible, which it isn’t.

    Humanity needs updating, not the Bible.

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    1. I think there are lot more people who take the bible literally than just those groups. Creationist who believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that God create man from dust, and woman from Adam’s rib is a good portion of the people living in the Bible belt in the South. I follow a lot of blogs and read articles from people who have deconverted from fundamental religious backgrounds and actually reading the bible themselves is actually what drew them away from their faith or made them doubt it. The point is that if homosexuality is okay, why keep any verses in the bible that might suggest it’s not. If slavery is not okay anymore, than why have lines about slavery in the bible anymore. If it is no longer acceptable to stone adulterers anymore, then why have that in there?

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      1. I chose those groups because, in my opinion, they strive to adhere to the entirety of the Bible. If I believe that the Earth is 6000 years old and some change, but don’t love “my neighbour as myself” or “love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me” (two things Jesus said we should do) then my problem isn’t that I interpret the Bible literally it’s that I don’t care to do what it says in the first place. I’m more interested in wearing the label of Christian than one. Christians are getting a bad rap because people who don’t like witches and like to burn stuff go around burning witches and then say, “Well, it’s in the Bible, so it’s okay!”

        My point was that there aren’t two kinds of Christians, those that have it right and those that don’t, there are only people who live according to what Jesus taught (who are, by definition, Christians) and that generally speaking there isn’t a right and wrong interpretation of the Bible because the most important parts don’t require interpretation and if you’re arguing with someone who is dead set on the importance of literally interpreting some aspect of prehistory contained in the Bible but doesn’t adhere to the moral teachings of Jesus, then don’t waste your pearls of wisdom on that swine. (Which, as you know, is in the Bible)

        That being said, if you start pulling parts you don’t like from the Bible, it isn’t long before you pull out Jesus because he refers to many of the books that contain some of the parts you don’t like and himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” It’s a package deal.

        Homosexuality, or more precisely sexual homosexual acts, are not okay according to the Bible. That doesn’t mean it should be criminalized or that people should be ostracized, but the Bible is pretty clear that it’s bad. I understand that’s a show stopper for many, but removing it doesn’t make the rest more relevant somehow.

        I would argue that the rules regarding slaves were probably very progressive for the time, namely that you couldn’t keep a slave for more than a certain number of years, and these rules applied specifically to Israel, not as some perpetual licence for all people for all time. But, if you think that 3000 years ago, God should have said, “No slaves allowed.” Well, then I guess that’s an issue. I don’t see the value of removing it and pretending it was never there. (I’m guessing a bit as to what lines of slavery you are referring to.)

        When Israel was formed as a theocracy in the Bible, it stands as an example for individuals today. Purity or holiness was very important. Adulterers were stoned because they threatened to corrupt the rest of the nation in the same way acts or thoughts or habits can corrupt an individual. Christians are called to remove unholiness from their lives with the same uncompromising brutality and totality that Israel used within their nation. Those laws were given to the nation of Israel, and possibly limited to the time that they remained a theocracy. There is certainly no licence extended to the Christian to stone adulterers or burn witches. Nevertheless, many people, unsurprisingly, take issue with the violence inherent in some of those laws. Still it is what it is, and if you update it, then it’s something else.

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        1. Well you are actually proving my point. You talk about the Old Testament as if it was just a historical relic, but isn’t the entire bible still the word of God? If God is timeless and perfect then what he decreed in the Old Testament is just as valid as what Jesus, as God incarnate decreed in the New Testament. You say homosexuality is wrong, but this is only mentioned in the Old Testament (depending on which translation you adhere too). Jesus himself never mentioned homosexuality. He talks about sexual immorality but it’s not clear in anyway that he would be talking about consensual love between two people of the same sex. And why was adultery more disruptive then than it is today? If homosexuality shouldn’t be criminalized, why should adultery and any point in human history? And progressive slavery? Really? Again if slavery is in fact wrong it should quite simply always be wrong and yet we find God telling the Israelites to make slaves of enemies, not to mention rape, kill children, etc. So if God is perfect and timeless then why the change from what he thought was perfectly reasonable behavior in the Old Testament to the more peaceful person through Jesus in the New Testament. The problem is that there are so many contradictory messages in the Bible that it would be impossible to follow it all to the letter. How can you both live your life “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” as commanded by God in Exodus and then “turn the other cheek” and forgive as commanded by Jesus. Your interpretation of the Bible is predicated on the paradigm that we live in now which is far more moral than it was 2000 years ago, and so you have already discarded God’s laws that you and many others find brutal and archaic and prefer Jesus’ message. You hang on to parts of the old testament that support a common Christian view that homosexuality is sinful. You have to hang on to the part of the Old Testament that prophesizes the Messiah, or else how can Jesus be that Messiah. Even though of course the Jews who wrote the Old Testament contest that assumption. The point is your definition of what Christianity is, based on your own worldview and because you have always been a good person, raised by a wonderful mother, and awesome aunts, uncles, and grandparents (and a few cousins). To other people Christianity is something else as they try to follow the bible in accordance to how they were raised and educated. Of course the Bible does not really need to be updated because as you said it is what it is. A piece of historical fiction that reflection the morality of the times and the changing morality over the course of when it was written. We leave behind much of the Old Testament at this time because it has no value as morality has progressed. If God was perfect and timeless then what he decreed then must still be true today, but this is simply not the case.

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      2. I was rather hoping that I was proving my point, but I won’t let that get in the way. I don’t disagree that my world view affects how I read the Bible, but I think an honest reading would produce very similar interpretations regardless of world view.

        You bring up a number of issues, each of which could be (and have been) discussed at great length, so I would just like to address a couple, even though I disagree with most of your premises.

        I don’t believe that “if God is perfect and never changes that the rules that he gives should never change”. In a parent/child relationship, rules and expectations change drastically as the child matures. From the child’s point of view, the parent is a completely different person at different stages of life. Of course, parents do change, but not nearly as much as the child’s perception. I think the relationship between God and humanity is similar.

        So, we “leave behind” (your words) parts of the Old Testament not because it is convenient but because they were not intended for us. That’s not to say that there isn’t value in reading them, but we are not instructed to enforce laws that were given to Israel 3500 years ago.

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        1. So what does an honest reading mean? Are all people capable of that honest reading given the worldview in which they were raised? I mean the fact that for a large part of history when the Bible was around most people couldn’t even interpret the bible themselves. Seems like a bit of design flaw there for the word of God. Why is your interpretation of the bible more correct than the Southern Baptists? I mean your argument is a bit of “No True Scotsman” argument. No true Christian would discriminate against black people, but there have been plenty of people both now and in the past who claimed their Christianity as much as you do and have used it to justify their racism. You are a good person, that’s all I see. It’s not your adherence to the Bible that makes you so.

          Now who decides which part of the old testament are not for us and which ones are? Clearly homosexuality and the prophesizing of the messiah are, but everything else is not? That’s not picking and choosing? And why the next Christian down the line wrong for choosing to adhere to more of the Old Testament? Are there any specific instructions in the New Testament about which books of the Old Testament are the ones to pay attention to, and which ones aren’t?

          So is God omniscient and omnipotent? Because to me it sounds like in your arguments that this is not the case. If god is omniscient he clearly knows of better ways for people to live, so why not instruct his people on diplomatic negotiations, compassion, and mercy. I mean aren’t all the people, not just Israelites all God’s children? Civilizations like the Harappan civilization which pre-dates the bible have been found through archaeological evidence to have been quite peaceful. There were likely other examples of people who resolved differences through peaceful means. Hunter-gatherers have also been shown to be much more egalitarian than even we are today. So it’s not like morality we see clearly today was unknown to the Earth before, and thus it should be known to God. I mean God promises that “their little ones will be dashed to the ground, and their pregnant women ripped open.” in Hosea 13:16. Are you trying to tell me that this time of violence upon innocent children was necessary then, but seen as immoral now? And that God had different rules for us back then because we were undisciplined children? The human brain hasn’t changed that much. Not to mention the fact that clearly when it comes to raising children, a peaceful environment will raise peaceful children. I mean my expectations will surely change as Dhyan grows, but at no time do I condone him using violence to solve his problems when there are other methods. And God should have been aware of these methods if he is omniscient. Now if God is fallible, if God needs to learn, if God is limited in some way, I would love to hear Christians admit that.

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      3. By an honest reading, I mean reading the text for what it says and not looking to validate what I already think. Perhaps worldview is a stronger bias than I would give it credit for, but if you do the exact opposite of what the Bible says, then you’re not even trying, never mind what your “interpretation” is. Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Apparently, he wasn’t the only person to notice this. If someone who claims to follow and emulate Jesus is so unlike Him that it is blatantly obvious to everyone else, I think it’s fair to question whether they truly are a Christian without requiring someone to be an authority on who is a Christian.

        The laws in the Old Testament were for Israel. Israel can decide if they want to follow them or not. That’s not to say that they aren’t important to Christians. Jesus quoted from many Old Testament books. My point is that there’s no justification for Christians to burn witches, etc. based on the Bible.

        I understand that if God is who He says He is, then you think He could have done things better. My view is more or less how you’ve presented it, that a lot of bad stuff was necessary.

        Of course, you know that no Christian will believe that God is fallible.

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  3. Ahhhh Swarn, you have dipped into a subject that I am very intense about and stimulated by, but cautious in my approach! Mmmmmm. Not necessarily because of “them”, but more so myself: picking and chosing my battles carefully.

    …why can’t we edit the Bible?

    My instant answer to that great question is “Because it has already been overly edited! Believers do not need MORE confusion and contradiction or we (the pious/papal) will lose all of them for sure!” 😀

    This response usually illicits frowns of exhaustion from Moderate Christians who ultimately don’t care for historical, linguistic, archaelogical discussions, so they don’t bother with me and we pleasantly carry on to more pertinent important subjects; like philanthropy and altruism. Ooooo…this is NOT the case with Fundamental Christians. LOL 😛

    At this point, with Fundy Xians, the conversation can go in MANY delicious directions. And I am SO prepared to go down those roads! But I reserve, I hide my inner excitement like a kid going to a toy store. 😀

    Sparing you Swarn of all my religious mumbo-jumbo chit-chats about Early-Christianity’s roots versus Followers today, I’ll share a brief starting point I sometimes dive into with the Fundies based upon my 3 1/2 years as a seminary post-graduate student at RTS (Reformed Theological Seminary) in Jackson, Mississippi…

    “So Ma’am/Mister, your God interacts or has interacted with mankind/human-kind in a combination of three ways:
    #1 — General revelation: through empirical evidence in Nature of Grand Design for all humans to see.
    #2 — Special revelation: through the Holy Scriptures (i.e. the Canonical Scriptures). And…
    #2.5 or 3 — Miracles: or what I refer to as SUBJECTIVE paranormal/metaphysical activity.”

    Note: #2 and 2.5 or 3 are sometimes/often “strickly” for born-again Believers due to the Holy Spirit’s intervention to SEE and UNDERSTAND clearly — i.e. elite special privilege. Following questions…

    “Of those 3 methods, which ones or one is or can be most proven to 7.4+ billion on Earth, or even highly plausibe?

    Also, why after 2,000+ years is Christianity NOT the most followed faith, but has in contrast fragmented over and over, and membership declined dramatically?”

    Eventually, the conversation gets so unbelievably convoluted that they start to ‘throw up their arms’ and write me off as horribly brainwashed by Satan. Ugh, which gets into a whole nother can of worms! LOL 😛

    There. Stopping here Swarn because I could go on and on with my personal experiences, both married to a Fundy, in a Fundy seminary and churches, and now an opponent of all religions.

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  4. The Bible should be taken completely. When you read the Old Testament, you see what Israelites did to those who served other gods and had wicked practices; but later you find out that Israelites too deviated from God and were also punished by the same God. What we learn from this? That none of us is free of sin, whether we know God’s law or don’t. That’s why God revealed his grace on the New Testament by Jesus sacrifice. Also, his teachings are the clue to understand how a Christian should live and those teachings remain and don’t need any update. 🙂

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I would still say that you are focusing on a big picture in the Old Testament, a big picture which could be expressed in a much different way without all these individual verses that people use to justify their beliefs. And the new testament isn’t all filled with positive morals and ethics that are in practice today. Jesus himself seemed to have a lot of good things to say, but Paul not so much. But here is just an example of strange things in the new testament. http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/cruelty/nt_list.html

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    2. Hi aizpruart,

      Though I greatly admire your courage here, your comment, and respect your personal individual experience… I would of course contend with most of what you stated. Your boldness is to be applauded — a quality I like in anyone no matter their ideology.

      However, if a true non-“luke warm” Believer tries (under grace?) to mimic Christ’s behaviour, then according to that same canonical Scripture they must also be socially polarizing out in the world/”desert” — very consequential to all of Judaism and all its Diasporic off-shoots throughout the Bronze-age, Antiquity, and pre-modern and post-modern Zionism. This aside from one singular definition of what “sin” is or what designates its composition. And when attempting to define sin, one can’t HELP but realize that sin, virtue, good, evil, deeds or “faith” are NOT by any means exclusive to any one ideology or priveleged “faith.” It is fortunately Universal. 🙂

      Warm regards.

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      1. If a “true believer tries to mimic Christ’s behavior”, he/she will (based on a relation with God by praying and studying the scriptures) contend with those who call themselves son of God but don’t bear fruit of that, and will relate to those that are deemed sinner… among other things. Now, if that will socially polarize out in the world, it surely will; after all, society doesn’t ask too much for that: been from a different race, economic level, academic level, body shape, and other simple stuffs are enough to face some kind of social rejection on this world 😛

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        1. “Starting points.” It is clearly a matter of starting points or frame-of-reference, or the lens (lenses?) one perceives existence. Some have one lens to look through, others (in this case MANY others) have many various lenses or various sizes and magnifications.

          Personally, I dig diversity over antiquated monism or binary imprisonment! 🙂

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  5. As someone who studied the Bible, extensively, for 20 years, including the original languages, and was a devout believer, I left Christianity because I came to the conclusion that the Bible was simply representative of an culture over 2000 years ago, and its prosocial teachings were not unique to Judeo-Christianity. There are no original manuscripts and the thousands of copies that do exist contradict each other, as is clearly evident when one reads the Gospels horizontally. Btw, Thomas Jefferson updated the Bible — the Gospels. He kept the prosocial scriptures, removed the woo, eschewing anything that he perceived as “contrary to reason.”

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-thomas-jefferson-created-his-own-bible-5659505/?no-ist

    “In 1904, by act of Congress, his version of Scripture, regarded by many as a newly discovered national treasure, was printed. Until the 1950s, when the supply of 9,000 copies ran out, each newly elected senator received a facsimile Jefferson Bible on the day that legislator took the oath of office.”

    Personally, I don’t think the Bible needs to be updated. It needs to be labeled for what it is—historical fiction.

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    1. I agree that it is historical fiction, but my argument was really that the range of ideas expressed in the bible don’t show for a wide variety of behaviours, which become allowable depending on which verses you choose to follow. I’m all for eliminating bad choices. 🙂 If I’m stuck with people believing in historical fiction I’d prefer an updated version!

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      1. “If I’m stuck with people believing in historical fiction I’d prefer an updated version!”

        I hear ya. Problem is, I don’t think that will solve the issue. People will resort to what ever version – translation suites their beliefs/culture. I think the best way to go is to educate. Distinguished biblical and archaeological scholars have known for about 50 years that the Bible is a historical fiction. They even admit that they’ve been trying to “gently” break the news. We can also help give people the tools to cope with death anxiety, which is the mother of religion.

        From a personal perspective, it is unethical to teach children that they should build a personal, intimate relationship with the Christian god. It sets them up for unrealistic expectations and disappointment after investing years of their life to a falsehood. There are some of us out there who were actually trusting of this teaching, and made huge sacrifices. Deconversion was a painful experience, the ultimate betrayal of trust and a waste of a big chunk of my life.

        I see nothing wrong with keeping some traditions alive that enhance prosocial behavior, and community, like many of the atheist Jews do today.

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      2. If I’m stuck with people believing in historical fiction I’d prefer an updated version!

        Agreed Swarn…and agreed Victoria. Not sure if I’ve recommended this particular blogger/author I follow, but she’s huge on secular parenting and education. She’s written a fabulous book about Christianity’s Bible called, “Christian Mythology For Kids” Here’s the link: http://christianmythologybook.com/

        Chrystine also has a great blog, mainly for like-minded women called Liberated Mind. Here’s that link: http://liberatedmind.com/

        Thought I’d share some great resources and info on this controversial disempowering mythology naive audiences believe without verifying facts vs. fiction or opinion. 🙂

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