Introduction: Problems with literal interpretation of the Bible

Disclaimer: Many of the articles found on this site – Search for Truth – were written in such a way as to be insulting to fundamentalists of all kinds, especially Christian fundamentalists. The holier-than-thou tone inherent in much of the content here goes directly against the spiritual principles that we claim to espouse. There’s an effort underway to revise this content. It’s going to take a while.

open BibleWe’re well aware of the myriad apologetic defenses and fundamentalist objections to the kinds of examples listed below. Having read more than our fair share of Josh McDowell‘s material and other fundamentalist Christian apologetic works, it remains a mystery why such fallacy-ridden, hindsight-enabled excuses for Biblical errancy, literal interpretion of ancient poetry & literary devices, etc. continue to be assumed as truth by well-meaning folks who are trying to do the right thing.

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of adopting such fanciful beliefs — many of which border on (or perhaps represent or even define) the superstitious — is that such wholesale acceptance of supernatural deity stories almost always occurs virtually without question… without a naturally wise level of skepticism and without any responsible application of honest, serious, objective critical thought to those beliefs. Such quickness to believe supernatural tales lacks the type of rational analysis rarely if ever seen on biased sites such as Conservapedia.

We hope our readers, if they haven’t already, will resolve to apply honest critical thought prior to taking on any potentially influential, portentous religious beliefs or political opinions; we can assure you it is well worth the time to remain informed, maintain a modicum of rationality and intelligence, and keep ignorance at bay.

With that, here are:

A few more serious problems with literal Bible interpretation

IMPORTANT: This may make you uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable at first. I was raised in a way that discouraged asking the hard questions that must eventually be asked by any intelligent believer who wants his or her views to align as closely with actual reality as possible. Some older people even told me that deeply studying various worldviews concerning those difficult questions was sacrilege or blasphemy. This type of "doubt talk&quot was borne of Satan, they said! (It probably isn’t.)

Be comforted by the truth: A person cannot really grow unless s/he leaves the comfort zone — in this case the bubble of fundamentalist doctrine and dogma — and walks through the discomfort and fear rather than continuing to avoid it. Do yourself a huge favor and address the serious doubts you may have about conservative religious beliefs. It is the only way to become truly free and move closer towards spiritual awakening.religious art: Creation painting Thankfully, the indoctrinated, fear-based, closed-minded phase of my religious thinking began to wane after I earnestly, honestly, and seriously began to apply critical thought to all aspects of the fragile belief system. I urge all readers who are still believers in Biblical literalism (aka ‘biblicism’) to undertake such a study. You will be rewarded… but you may be end up being far less popular… especially if you live in the Bible belt and are truly honest about your ‘radical’ new perspective on religion. 🙂

The only perspective from which the system of literally interpreted Christianity makes any sense at all is from the biased & indoctrinated inside: religious art: Adam and Eve in the garden of edenthat place of blind, unquestioning devotion & strong desire to believe a certain thing. Incidentally, any other known religion or superstitious tradition, no matter how intellectually deficient, also "makes sense" from such a rationally deficient perspective.

One might start from the fact that Christian fundamentalism (that is, Christian Biblical literalism as opposed to rational Jeffersonian Christianity) is a religious system rooted in the act of eating the wrong fruit due to a suggestion from a snake. Seriously?

  • All things originiated from and are ruled by a supposedly loving entity who/which also happens to be perfectly willing to play Nazi death camp with the souls of sun above cloudsall those who fail to feed its (the deity’s) ego in a precisely prescribed manner. According to literal interpretations (and what we at Lipscomb were taught in the 70s and 80s), the Bible even indicates that more souls will be punished than saved. What kind of love is this, again?

    Even the multitude of Christian denominations and branches of Christianity themselves cannot agree upon the "required" details of faith, belief, religious practice, et al; according to the World Christian Encyclopedia in 2000 [ apologetic explanation ], Christianity worldwide had at least documented 33,820 denominations, 3,445,000 separate congregations or churches, totaling almost two billion affiliated Christians. (How much more confident could one possibly be even after the Christian apologists whittle the number of Christian sects down to ‘only’ several thousand, or even a few hundred? Not much.)

  • Literal/near-literal interpretations "reveal" a universe created only six or eight thousand years ago by an omnipotent (all-powerful) entity. This deity lost control of its creation so quickly and so terribly so to have effectively created another virtually omniscient power (known to Christian fundamentalists as Satan) after only a little while in the Garden of Eden. What kind of omniscience/omnipotence is this, exactly?

    Southern ringneck snake at Percy Warner in NashvilleThe aforementioned presupposes that one has accepted talking-snake-as-Satan religious dogma; Genesis doesn’t actually say what the serpent represented. One must ask: If the real culprit were Satan — that is, if the serpent really were "The Devil" disguised as a snake — then why would a supposedly loving and just Bible God decide to forever punish all snakes for this misdeed (by forcing them to crawl on their bellies)?

  • sketch of Hot Stuff, drawn by Frasier on March 9, 2012 for post about Rick Santorum

  • The evil entity known as the Devil is supposed to be responsible for the temptation of all of makind (humanity in its entirety), so it/he must therefore possess the ability to be everywhere at once (i.e., omnipresence) — a superpower many believers assume possessed only by that literally interpreted (read: imaginary) Bible God.

    The story of Satan’s fall indicates that other individual angels and their cohorts can also change their views and leave (or be cast out of) the fold . The “fact” that Satan (along with his dedicated crew of demons?) fell away from Bible God and quickly became such a powerful, feared, godlike being should concern those who, for whatever reasons, choose to interpret supernatural Bible passages as literal historical truth or fact — fantastical material far more likely to have been written as poetry, fictional literature, or ancient teaching stories for primitive cultures.

    Simpsons: Flanders as the devilBriefly considered, the story of Satan’s fall from grace indicates that countless other angels could likewise have “fallen” or split off to form their own groups, now holding various religious views or attitudes toward the “Bible God”. Since so many centuries have passed since the books of the Bible were written, there’s really no telling how many powerful, godlike entities have since split away and are floating around out there now, trying to influence humanity — just as Satan might (if it/he and his crew of demons actually existed, that is)…

  • some Christian fundamentalists believe Satan dominates U.S. schools

  • If this evil “god” known as Satan were really so crafty and clever, then wouldn’t it/he eventually wise up and opt to repent? (Let me guess: This scenario is not possible because Satan committed the one “unforgivable sin”…) After all, the Evil One is surely familiar with the modern Christian version(s) of the Bible, and therefore must already know that it/he is ultimately “prophesied” to lose the ultimate conflict between “good” and “evil”.

    The repentance of Satan sure would save a lot of pain and suffering. Satan’s repentance would apparently fix the entire, unintelligible mess instantlyNo hell would even be necessary, as there would be no one to administer Hades, the underworld, or whatever they’re calling that fictional “place” of eternal torture these days.

  • religious art: Creation painting

  • The “loving” Bible God — who/which, by the way, is apparently “pleased by the smell of burning flesh” — was also a genocidal, despotic, repeat-offending baby-killer, having commanded Old Testament troops on multiple occasions to kill all women and children and take their possessions as spoils of war.

    (With friends like a literally interpreted Bible God, who needs enemies? And speaking of enemies, how does the divine command to Love your enemies fit in, exactly — and why should we make the effort to love our enemies if the Bible God (an amalgam which also includes Jesus and the Holy Spirit) doesn’t even do so himself/themselves?)

  • The story of Saul and the Amalekites is a case in point. It’s not a pretty story, and it is often used by people who don’t intend to do pretty things. In the book of 1 Samuel (15:3), God said to Saul:

    “Now go, attack the Amalekites, and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
    (Source: How Christian fundamentalists plan to teach genocide to schoolchildren – Guardian)

  • Wasn’t one of the ten commandments Thou shalt not kill? How does this jibe with a warring Bible God, exactly? Is Bible God — which includes in its inexplicable Trinitarian mashup the entity known as Jesus — supposed to be any sort of role model at all?

    (The root causes of all the warmongering, weapon-toting, discriminatory attitudes and actions of the Far Right/Hard Right/Tea Party/Religious Right are beginning to come to light, after all… They are apparently using a literally interpreted Bible God as a genuine role model. Talk about frightening and portentous…)

  • Why would an all-powerful entity be guilty of such chronic absenteeism, perpetual invisibility, & ultimate unknowability? Why would an omnicient, omnipresent, loving deity so utterly lack the ability to demonstrate itself powerfully enough to build any consensus whatsoever… even among all the disparate “Christian” sects, many of which insist that they alone follow the “uniquely correct version” (i.e., interpretation) of Christianity?
  • Believers in Jesus will perform miracles “even greater” than his own. When and where does this occur? (…And ditto the related promises: (1) To grant “whatever is asked” in his name, implicitly without exception; (2) For the kingdom of God/heaven to arrive before another generation comes to pass…
  • Mark 16:17-18 describes "and these signs will follow those who believe in my name they will cast out demons they will speak in other tongues and… will heal the sick." ( Note: these particular verses are not found in the majority of the manuscripts. Lets grant that it probably is.)

    (Source: Purpose of signs and wonders – Let Us Reason)

    8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13 “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

    (Source: Bible, New Testament, John 14:8-14)

  • With the proper type of faith, the Bible says we can “move mountains.” Apparently no one has ever possessed such faith; after all, no faithful Christian fundamentalist can move so much as a mole or freckle on one’s arm.

    The only mountain-moving this blogger has seen consists of massive construction projects, and worse, the horrific mountaintop removal mining (aka mountaintop mining, MTR, MTM) — all accomplished with explosives and massive machinery & equipment built by modern man.

  • The Bible (per literal/near-literal interpretations, as we continue to stress here) expresses rampant discrimination as implicitly and explicitly acceptable in forms that include slavery, the subservience of women & their total domination by men, and so on.

    (Where’s the love? How is the Golden Rule applicable in such discriminatory acts, exactly? "I own you and I totally dominate you… therefore, I must want you to do the same to me, since I am treating you, woman/slave, just as I want to be treated…" Right!)

  • Why would an all-powerful deity possess — and thus be so crippled by — a frail, self-serving human-like ego? Undoubtedly, the “fact” that a literally interpreted Bible God craves worship so badly, fears mankind, expresses hatred and jealously, often behaves like a spoiled child, doesn’t practice what it/he preaches, etc. clearly demonstrate that the deity is, like humans, ruled by its fundamentally egotistical nature… demonstrating once again that the collection of disparate books known collectively as the Bible were all written by man and were neither written or inspired by any worthwhile deity — at least, no more or less than any other written work in history.
  • On that note, why would an all-powerful deity be saddled with ANY anthropomorphic (i.e., human-like) qualities whatsoever? (It wouldn’t.) The Bible God — literally interpreted, that is, which we are stressing is the wrong way to read and interpret religious texts — is really nothing more than a humanoid with superpowers.
  • Even if ancient religious poetry were meant to be interpreted literally (it certainly wasn’t), we humans have clearly demonstrated time and time again a complete inability to apply religious teachings in a positive, uniform manner — that is, without perverting the basic teachings as modern Christian fundamentalists have done so completely. Of course the misinterpretation is not intentional; by and large, many Christians I know are wonderful, well-meaning people who are stuck in an early stage of spiritual development based on what they believe is truth.

    Christians slaughtered & mistreated New World natives in the name of God and then proceeded to steal all their assets… firstly, when Columbus & his Christian Spainiards landed in the Caribbean — and secondly, subsequent to the Mayflower‘s dockage on the East coast. Later came witch burning, slavery, racism, and many other forms of discrimination, usually based on excuses rooted in religious fundamentalism and the ludicrous idea that white might makes right. Even today, all manner of religious fundamentalists (e.g., Christians, Muslims, Jews) continue to commit atrocity after atrocity — usually against those practicing “incompatible religions” in the name of their so-called God(s).

  • In the beginning, Bible God is supposed to have created “two great lights”; obviously, this is pure, poetic fantasy. Today we know for certain that the sun is a more or less average star — only one of countless hundreds of billions of massive lights lumped into galaxies across our universe. The second “great light” — the moon — isn’t even a light at all but merely a reflector of light.

    Assuming divine inspiration were real and trustworthy, shouldn’t the Biblical inspirees/writer(s) have known such basic facts?

  • This small list of serious problems resulting from the literal (or near-literal) interpretation of the Bible could go on ad infinitum. As a quick Googling will reveal, there are already plenty of comprehensive lists on the web that delineate such Biblical inconsistencies & errors and speak to the unfortunate consequences and outright silliness of literal Bible interpretation.

    Why would any intelligent person want to hide from or avoid difficult questions about their system of beliefs, faith, etc.?

    We’d venture to guess that the main blockage they have comes from one of these three categories:

    1. Refusing to believe that they (or their teachers, parents, preachers, community, etc.) could possibly be wrong. (This is fear-based and directly related to closed-mindedness.)
    2. Resisting critical thought: The person has not honestly applied a significant number of hours of critical thought** to what they are being taught, perhaps believing that it is a sin to doubt or ask questions (it isn’t). (This is also fear-based and directly related to closed-mindedness.)
    3. Being sheltered or otherwise lacking the knowledge that both history and the present day are packed with folks who have had spiritual awakenings and commune with God as a daily part of their lives, who are not fundamentalist Christians. (This could be a result of ignorance or a lack of education.)

    Is the single most important thing in your life – spiritually awakening into a life of freedom, inner peace, and dedication to service – worth a few hours, days, weeks, or even months of genuine critical thought? We believe the intellectually honest answer for everyone is a resounding YES! Well, maybe not everyone. If you still believe the lie that you can receive any lasting inner peace from external things, then you are not going to place much importance on spiritual living.

    1. Viewed objectively from outside church walls, the entire Biblical system simply makes little, if any, sense when it is mistakenly interpreted literally, or near literally, as a cohesive set of divine revelations. Anyone who has ever read the Bible objectively can plainly see the Bible does not even resemble a cohesive set of divine revelations — certainly not from any omnicient, omnipresent, compassionate, all-loving (or even wise) deity.

      A brief reminder: Mission of Search for Truth

      As per the mission of the Search for Truth blog, we do not wish to ridicule or offend any particular believers; we hold no grudges and we support complete religious freedom. However, we do wish to clearly demonstrate the massive failure and utter errancy of religious fundamentalism and political hyper-partisanship as rigidly held, ignorantly practiced, ultimately divisive, destructive, alienating, outmoded worldviews.

      Would any Christian or other religious fundamentalists care or dare to contrast the modern behavior of their given fundamentalist group(s) with basic universal spiritual principles of the sort taught repeatedly throughout history by Jesus, Lao-Tsu, the Buddha, and so on?

      Probably not; however, we do hope eyes will be opened to the great chasm between modern Christian fundamentalist superstition and pragmatic, real-world universal spiritual principles, spiritually principled behavior, actual application of the “Golden Rule” — even to “enemies” (i.e., groups with whom a given group fundamentally disagrees), et al.

      Religious fundamentalism cannot possibly cure what ails mankind; only the adoption and practice of basic universal spiritual principles — practiced in a secular, non-religious, non-culture-specific manner — can even begin to heal man and start to restore the precious planet on which we all reside and to which all of mankind is inextricably connected… a planet that is now RAPIDLY losing the ability to sustain life as we know it due to man’s continued irresponsible actions in the name of comfort, progress, religion, et al.

      For ALL our sakes, humanity must soon awaken or suffer dire consequences.

      On taking money from the ignorant

      Imagine yourself healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, or casting out demons! Jesus Christ said that you can do these things and more. Based on what? — on faith, on believing in Him. If you can believe, you too can do the mighty works that Jesus did. He Himself has promised you this!

      (Source: You Too Can Do Jesus’ Mighty Works, by Jim Feeney)

      On an incoherent wish of the Tea Party: We need a Christian President!

      …it just so happens that every single President of the United States has been Christian – even the presidents that the Tea Party protesters don’t approve of. Clearly, the Tea Party protesters are unhappy with the condition of the nation, a condition that has been brought about by uniformly Christian presidents. If the Tea Party protesters were capable of clear, logical thought, they would understand that electing a Christian president will not in itself get them what they want.

      (Source: Christian Fundamentalists Steeped In Tea Party Movement: Bitter Religious Intolerance At The Heart Of The Tea Party Protests – Irregular Times)

      On the United States as a decidedly “Christian nation”

      Of course, the United States is not a Christian nation. It’s a nation that happens to have many Christians in it. The nation itself, however is a non-Christian entity, as its representative government is forbidden from acting to establish any religion. Christianity is never mentioned in the Constitution. Neither is any specifically Christian belief. Besides that, the culture of the United States of America has always been diverse, with people of many religious backgrounds, including non-Christian religions and traditions of rejection of religion as a whole as well.

      The language of the Constitution is profoundly against many biblical principles, despite what Tea Party enthusiasts claim. The rights to free speech and free [expression], for example, contradict the command against making graven images. Freedom of religion contradicts the command that people worship no-one but the Jewish-Christian deity God.

      (Source: Christian Fundamentalists Steeped In Tea Party Movement: Bitter Religious Intolerance At The Heart Of The Tea Party Protests – Irregular Times)

      Please keep checking in on us; there’s much more on all these things to come here at Search for Truth. (As always, thanks for reading!)

      (Updated Aug 2017)

      Resources: Serious problems with literal Bible interpretation

      Resources: Contradictions, errors and inconsistencies in the Bible

      Resources: Christian apologist answers to errors in the Bible

      Removed content
      Oh yeah… the Old Testament god(s) and New Testament god(s) actually represent separate fictional deities/entities. (History of God)

      — supposedly floating around worshipping God 24/7 —
      , precisely as Satan was supposed to have done according to Christianity

      They are more free than a fundamentalist of ANY religion could ever be because they know, based on their own experiences and many other factors, that there is no such thing as a one true religion or a single valid pathway to salvation and inner peace. There are many, many paths up the mountain, and the views from all those paths are about the same.

      Please see the list below for a few more unfortunate examples which serve to reveal the complete inadequacy of literal (or near-literal) Bible interpretation.