I was recently having a discussion with an atheist who had grown up in a Christian family and had gone to church for the first twenty years of her life. But she became an atheist in her 20s.
When I asked her why she became an atheist, she said, “I started reading the Bible.”
We Christians often tell people that if they would only read the Bible, they would come to see that God is real and that He loves them. We hear testimony after testimony about how drug addicts and hookers were considering suicide but somehow got a Bible and started reading it and ended up giving their life to Christ.
I am not in any way denying such accounts or stories.
But I think it is also time to admit that while many people decided to follow Jesus as a result of reading the Bible, there are many others who turned away from God after reading the Bible.
Part of this, I am convinced, is because we Christians have said that the entire Bible is the Word of God, but then we sort of ignore, gloss over, conveniently forget, or are simply dishonest about some of the more troubling portions of Scripture.
And there are many troubling portions of Scripture! (If you don’t believe me, read this book: Drunk with Blood).
I call these troubling texts “Atheist Maker Verses.” They are verses that do not point people to God, but lead people away from Him instead. Here are a few of the more blatant Atheist Maker Verses:
“See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.”
As a father of three daughters myself, I cannot imagine offering my daughters to get raped so that I could protect the strangers under my roof.
And yes, I have heard the Christian explanation of this text that this was how the ancient Middle Eastern people valued hospitality. But how does that make it okay? It doesn’t.
Rather than trying to explain away Lot’s behavior according to “hospitality laws” we must condemn his behavior as horribly barbaric.
“And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property.
This was a favorite verse of slave-owners during the period of slavery in our country. In fact, all of Exodus 21 talks about the rules for treating slaves.
And apparently, you can beat your slave all you want, even within an inch of their life, because the slave is your property.
Of course, even if you kill your slave, you won’t be put to death yourself, but only punished.
This sort of verse about slaves has caused many people to turn away from God and Christianity.
And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have– from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property.
This is another verse about slaves, but this one includes the children. According to God, it is okay to buy and sell children. So apparently, everybody today who is trying to raise awareness about the human trafficking of children just needs to shut up. Apparently, God’s in favor of it.
Note as well that it is not just the Old Testament which says these sorts of things. Here is a quote from 1 Peter:
1 Peter 2:18
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.
So if you are a slave, and your master beats you harshly, the slave should just accept it. After all, fear of your master is a good thing.
As a little side note, what I find most interesting about the numerous verses all over the Bible about slavery is that modern Christians almost unanimously condemn the practice of slavery, even though the Bible condones and accepts in in numerous places.
And yet when the Bible condemns homosexuality in three verses, Christians are divided over whether or not we should follow these verses. “God’s Word said it; that settles it!” we are told. My response is, “Really? So can I meet your slaves?”
But the Bible is not just wrong about slaves. Certain texts about women are also quite appalling.
But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you.
So if a woman has pre-marital sex, she should be stoned. Other texts lay guilt on the man as well, but the guilty male gets less attention than the guilty female.
“He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the LORD.
So if your penis is cut off or your balls are crushed, God does not accept your worship. God only accepts worship from people whose genitals are in good condition (minus the foreskin of course … that sort of mutilation is required by God).
The thing that gets me about such verses is how people knew who could go in to worship God and who couldn’t.
Did they have a little “inspection station” at the front door? And we complain about the TSA groping us when we get on a plane…
If two men fight together, and the wife of one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of the one attacking him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall not pity her.
So two men are fighting and a woman steps in to defend her man, and ends up grabbing the genitals of her husband’s opponent. Rather than discipline the men for fighting in the first place, the proper response in this case is to cut off the woman’s hand.
That sounds fair.
I also wonder how this law came about… Was it a common thing for women to grab the balls of their husband’s enemy when they were fighting?
Maybe this verse had something to do with the previous one about not getting to worship God if your balls are mangled. Maybe a man could no longer pray to God because some woman crushed his balls, and so they had to make a rule against that sort of thing.
Of course, now that the woman has no hand, she can’t worship God either, because God doesn’t allow deformed people into his presence either. On other hand, He doesn’t care too much for women either…
Of course, it’s not just women God hates. He is also not fond of dwarves and hunchbacks, people with eczema, and those who have a limb that is too long…
For any man who has a defect shall not approach: a man blind or lame, who has a marred face or any limb too long, a man who has a broken foot or broken hand, or is a hunchback or a dwarf, or a man who has a defect in his eye, or eczema or scab, or is a eunuch.
To approach God, you apparently had to be a perfect male specimen, with a working penis. Everybody else could not approach Him.
But it is not just the dwarves and the blind that God was against. He also was not a big fan of children.
For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him.
How is this even remotely justified? I don’t care if a kid cursed his parents with the worst curses ever uttered, does he deserve to get stoned to death for it?
Frankly, if a kid has parents who would be willing to stone him to death for cursing them, they probably deserved getting cursed.
But no, God, apparently, sides with the parents.
And it is no wonder that the #1 sin Christians are terrified of committing today is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. I get dozens of emails about this sin every single week, and without fail, the people who think they have committed this sin feel that because they said something mean about God, God is going to burn them forever and ever in hell.
And where does such an idea come from? It comes (partly) from a verse like Leviticus 20:9 where God tells parents it is okay to kill their children if he curses them.
But God doesn’t always have children killed by stoning them. Sometimes He kills them with bears!
2 Kings 2:23-24
Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.
Apparently, even though God doesn’t want people to worship him who are blind in one eye, or have a limb too long, or have eczema, He is a big fan of bald men!
These youths learned that lesson the hard way. Bald men shall not be mocked! Especially when that bald man is a prophet.
And when God cannot get children stoned or mauled by bears, He just pronounces blessings on those who bash babies’ heads against rocks.
Happy the one who takes and dashes Your little ones against the rock!
Happy? The word here could also be translated as “blessed.”
But try to picture the scene. Was this like baby piñata day?
Imagine a soldier coming home from a day of baby-smashing. His wife greets him at the door with a kiss. “So how was your day, honey?” she says.
“Great! God was really at work in me today! I got to smash babies against a rock wall! We all praised God as we did it. The Spirit was really moving! I must have killed ten or twelve, but that Joash, he got over twenty! He’s a beast! The best part is that now we are going to be blessed because of all the babies we killed. I’m standing on the promises of God!”
How to Handle Atheist Maker Verses
I could go on and on with these sorts of verses.
But here’s the point: What are we to do with these sorts of “Atheist Maker Verses?”
There are three basic Christian responses.
1. We can stick our head in the sand.
Many Christians look at these difficult and troubling texts and say, “God is good all the time, and He gave us His Word to show us that He is good, and so while I don’t understand how these texts can reveal a good God, we know they must, and so I believe they do.”
It is this sort of response that does not help people at all.
In fact, I would say that, more than the verses themselves, it is this response that causes people to become atheists. Such a response is so irrational and ignorant, that most of the world simply cannot accept it.
Nor should they.
God cannot be both good, kind, and loving, while at the same time commanding genocide, praising the smashing of babies’ heads against walls, and sending bears to maul children because they made fun of a prophet’s baldness.
If Christians want people to see God as He truly as, as the God revealed in Jesus Christ, rather than sticking our heads in the sand, we must find some way to side with the world in condemning such texts of terror. This leads to the next two ways of responding to these texts.
2. Call them Errors in the Bible and be Done with It
Probably the simplest way to handle these troubling texts in the Bible is to handle them the same way we handle violent texts like this in Greek Mythology, in the Qu’ran, or in ancient historical documents.
How is that? We say that the people were flat-out wrong in what they did and the reasons they gave for doing it.
And while this approach is increasingly common with many Christians today, it makes many others quite uncomfortable, because then we are admitting that there are errors in Scripture, and that maybe God didn’t inspire it after all.
So while this helps explain the violence in Scripture, it does so at the expense of Scripture itself. We are left with something that, in my opinion, is less than Scripture.
This is why I prefer the third approach:
3. Realize that the purpose of the text IS condemnation
There is a way to both affirm inspiration and inerrancy while at the same time denying that God had anything to do with it.
I am working on writing a more thorough explanation for a future book on this subject, but the short explanation is that we can view the Bible as a divinely-inspired text which inerrantly reveals human error. In this way, we get a glimpse into our own hearts by reading Scripture.
We see ourselves on the pages. We see our tendency to demonize our enemies. We see our desire to take what is not ours. We see our addiction to blaming God for our own evil actions. We see our habit of scapegoating the outsider. We see how easy it is to excuse our own sin and turn a blind eye to our moral failures.
When we approach Scripture this way, we can agree with the Atheists about the moral repugnance of these violent texts, but then turn around and say that the reason God inspired these texts to be written in Scripture is not to justify such behavior and actions, but to challenge us to not do such things ourselves.
Study the Bible with Atheists
At least, this is the way I have been learning to read Scripture, but it is still something I am working on
How about you? How do you read these violent and gruesome texts? How do you understand them? What would you say to someone who has rejected God because of verses like these? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.