I started before I became a Christian, at the tender age of nine, mainly because I had an unhealthy obsession with the end of the world. I ate up the book of Revelation, and even as an “unchurched” youth I clearly recall reading it to my friends at sleepovers.
When I became a Christian at twelve, my church family immediately put me on a “Bible in One Year” schedule which I stuck to diligently throughout the majority of my youth and young adulthood.
For the five years I spent in seminary, this was boosted up to four times over the course of one year, after a college professor my freshman year heard how I had also made it a habit to read through The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and the Chronicles of Narnia every year and challenged me to read the Word of God as often as I read my “worldly entertainment.”
After all those readings (which, after a simple bit of math you may deduce was about 26 times), I can’t to this day recall ever reading about some of the atrocities listed in the Bible. I clearly did read them, as I read and meditated on every word of Scripture, but somehow I missed them.I remember reading about how Onan (Genesis 38:8-10) was punished with death for not impregnating his sister-in-law, but I didn’t see it as the act of a God who despises women and orders men to treat them like cattle. I didn’t see it an an act of incest. I didn’t consider Onan’s death as a pointless murder at the hands of a God who can’t stand to be defied, and didn’t view Onan as a hero for having a conscience and rebelling against a God who told him to do something he knew to be wrong. No, I saw it as a justified punishment for a man who defied a good, Holy, and just God whose beautiful purpose was to strengthen the family line of Onan’s brother.
So here are a few of the things I failed to see in the Bible as a Christian which, if I had only chosen to think clearly and critically, I may have used to my benefit to escape religion much sooner than I did.
10: Being a good Christian means treating your slaves well.
Most people, when confronted with the idea that the Bible contains some terrible things, like to point out that that’s just “Old Testament stuff,” and that the bad things in the Bible were written for people living in a rougher and less civilized time. Gentle Jesus and his followers weren’t responsible for any of the atrocities often attributed to the Patriarchs.
Slavery is a terrible thing that has occurred all throughout history. There’s no doubting that the Old Testament does clearly allow for slavery, but surely, not the New Testament!
Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. (I Timothy 6:1-2, KJV)
This brings us to the best part about Biblical slavery. Did you know…
9: Beating Your Slaves is Perfectly Acceptable
Yes, there is a verse in the Bible that tells us it’s okay to beat your slave, as long as he’s only bedridden for two days. From the context, it can be inferred that, if the slave does eventually die after a few days, that’s okay too, because, well, he is property after all.
And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” (Exodus 21:20 KJV)
8: Boys Will Be Boys, and God Will Kill Them For It
I remember many times in my youth making fun of my pastor (often to his face) about his receding hair line. Of course, my pastor was a good sport about it and often made fun of himself. I’m glad that I live in a world where God doesn’t exist, because if he did I may have received worse punishment than the fair recession of my own hair.
The natural response of a child, upon seeing a bald man, is to make fun of him. The natural response of a loving and just God upon hearing children making fun of one of his servants for being bald is to have them eviscerated.
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. (II Kings 2:23-24 KJV)
I once looked on this with respect for the man of God. Now, I realize that whether the kids were saying “Ha ha, you’re bald,” or “Leave town because we don’t want to hear your message” or “Have a great time in town, baldy, because we plan to stab you and take all your money,” there is no moral way to explain sending bears to disembowel them.
This is actually one of the best-known stories in the Bible of God’s atrocities. I still have a hard time understanding how I didn’t see this as being awful back when I first read it, and the 25 or so times after that, and all the times I heard it preached as though it were something wonderful.
Next up is another story I never really picked up on, and which most people don’t.
7: “One More Night With Them Stinkin’ Frogs.”Everyone knows how Moses went to Pharaoh and said “Let my people go.” When I was younger, I heard an evangelist sing a song about a very interesting part of the story: When Moses asked Pharaoh when he wanted Moses to take away the plague of frogs upon Egypt, even though Moses could have done it at any time, Pharaoh answered “Tomorrow.” (Exodus 8:10)
The really interesting part of the story isn’t Pharaoh’s insistence that he spend “one more night in sin,” as the preachers will tell you the passage means. It’s that it was God, not Pharaoh, who made Pharaoh say no when Moses asked him to let his people go.
And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said. (Exodus 7:13 KJV)
Because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, the people of Egypt continued to suffer the plagues, ending with the death of the firstborn child of every Egyptian household. (Jews celebrate this massacre with Passover.)
That’s a lot of innocent deaths for God’s punishment of one man . . . who did something God made him do. Sounds almost like . . .
6: 70,000 Innocent People Killed Because Someone Counted Them
And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword. But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king’s word was abominable to Joab. And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel. And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly . . .
So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. (I Chronicles 21:9-14 KJV)
God told David not to count the people. Most preachers I’ve ever heard will tell you it’s because he didn’t want the great numbers of Israel to go to David’s head. God wanted David to know that it was his help, not the numbers of the children of Israel, that was responsible for his victory in battle.
Whether or not you think this was a terrible sin, anyone of good conscience should be able to see that killing 70,000 innocent people because of the sin of one man (again, that sin was counting) is not the act of a loving, just, good God. Especially not when you consider that the method of execution was pestilence: It wasn’t just the 70,000 fighting men of Israel who died, but the old and infirm, women, and children. They just didn’t get counted.
Stay tuned for the next installment. So far these have been instances in Scripture any Sunday School student could drudge up and try to explain away. Don’t worry: it gets much worse.