Hard Questions About the Bible

Does the Bible teach Christians to hate others, especially those who are not Christians?

In the Old Testament, it does seem that God instructed the Israelites to hate their enemies.  Deuteronomy 12: 29-31 (edited) says:

The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods.  You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

In the Old Testament, God’s purpose was to keep the Israelites from the influence of pagan gods, so he had them destroy their enemies.  In the New Testament, the situation was different.

When Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, he took care of all the sins of the people who accepted his sacrifice.  The Israelites/Jews had to continually offer sacrifices in the temple to atone for their sins.  But now, once a person accepted Jesus, all sins were forgiven.  This meant that people no longer had to destroy the pagans and offer sacrifices, they just had to follow Jesus.

Once people accepted Jesus, the focus of the teaching turned to having relationship with God, loving others (even enemies), and spreading the word of salvation.

Salvation is meant to be a message of God’s love, so in spreading the message, Christians should communicate it with love, not hate.

Next: Why Are Christians So Judgmental?

Jesus taught many ideas that were considered radical by the Jewish establishment of his day, teaching that he was the Son of God, and he taught many new and radical ideas concerning the Jewish Law.

There is one idea that is just as radical today as in Jesus’ day, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.  Think about it for a moment.

In Matthew 22:34-39, a Pharisee and expert in the law tested Jesus, asking “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.”

In Luke 10:25-37, the Pharisee asked “Who is my neighbor?”  Jesus went on to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a Jew is attacked by robbers and left for dead, and a priest and a Levite (the Jewish priestly class) both fail to stop and help.  Finally, a Samaritan (enemy of the Jews) was the one to stop and help.  Jesus was making the point that even enemies are our ‘neighbors’.

You might love your friends, but could you really say that you love them as much as you love yourself?

Loving an acquaintance as much as you love yourself?  You would probably say “that’s hard”.

Loving your enemies as much as you love yourself?   Are you kidding?

Jesus’ teaching of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ is a completely radical, counter-culture and revolutionary concept in today’s world, especially if your ‘neighbor’ means enemies, and even if it meant friends or acquaintances.

Why is it so counter-culture?  Because it is so counter to the messages that the culture, especially American culture, gives out.  Why is it so radical?  Because it is so far from ‘normal’ human ways of thinking.  Why is it so revolutionary?  Just imagine how it would effect social change if even a fraction of the people really and truly practiced it.

Why would God make ‘Love God’ and ‘Love your neighbor’ the two most important commandments?  Besides wanting relationship with his children, he wants his children to get along.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Next:  Are Christians ‘Haters’?

Jesus the Radical

Some people don’t want to believe in Christianity because it is ‘organized religion’, ‘conservative’, ‘mainstream’, ‘establishment’.

Actually, Jesus Christ himself was anything but conservative, mainstream or establishment, in fact he was considered a radical by the religious establishment of his day, the teachers of the Jewish Law, called the Pharisees.

He claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, which was against everything the Pharisees knew and believed.  They could not conceive of God coming down to earth, and the Jews believed that the Messiah would be a conquerer, like King David.

Jesus exposed and called out the Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, wicked and greedy. (Matthew 23)

He did many things that the Pharisees considered sin or blasphemy (the crime of claiming to be like God), like forgiving sins (Luke 5: 17-26), healing on the Sabbath (Luke 6: 6-9), associating with sinners, tax collectors (Matthew 9:11) and prostitutes (Luke 7: 36-39).

Jesus drove out demons, but the Pharisees claimed it was because he was the ‘prince of demons’. (Matthew 9:34)

The Pharisees considered Jesus a blasphemer and a radical who was gaining a following among Jews, so they plotted to get rid of him.  This led to his arrest, trial and sentence of death on the cross.

Next: The Most Radical Teaching of Jesus

Christians Are Hypocrites

Some people don’t want to believe in the Bible because they think Christians are just hypocrites.  They see some Christians who go to church and act so perfect and ‘holy’, who judge and look down on others, and don’t really follow Bible teachings, and they hide their own sins.

You may be surprised to learn that Jesus was against the phony religious people, in his day they were the Jewish leaders called Pharisees.

The following verses are edited from Matthew 23:

Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

“Everything they do is done for people to see, they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.  They love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces.”

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices, but you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.”

“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

The truth of the Bible should be judged by what it actually says, not by the actions of hypocritical Christians who claim to follow the Bible but really don’t.  The strength of the Christian message depends heavily on the integrity of Christians themselves.

Next: Jesus the Radical

The history of the Crusades begs a larger question, does God condone killing if it’s done for his name?

In the Old Testament, the Israelites often went to war with the consent of God, sometimes massacring people, including women and children, after they were conquered.  This was the case when Joshua conquered Jericho and other cities in the Promised Land.  For more info, read the Book of Joshua.

The Crusaders were probably inspired by such stories, for they committed similar atrocities, massacring both Jews and Muslims in their quest.

Even though the killings in the Old Testament are hard for some Christians to reconcile, the Bible says that God’s purpose was to keep the Israelites separate from the influence of the pagan nations and their gods.  The irony is that the Israelites turned to the pagan gods anyway, and they were also punished by God many times.  God didn’t destroy Israel completely, but he came close to it, they certainly didn’t receive preferential treatment when it came to punishment.

The whole of the Old Testament was preparing the way for Jesus to come.  Jesus was the ‘game-changer’, no longer was there any teaching about killing enemies, in fact, the central core of Jesus’ teaching, besides relationship with God, is to love others, even enemies, and to spread the word of salvation.  The message of salvation (the way to be right with God through Jesus) should actually be an expression of love, not judgement or hatred of others.

In Matthew 5: 43-45, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’.  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Christians during the Crusades may have felt justified in killing in the name of God, but Jesus changed all that.  The most important thing that Jesus taught was to love God, love others and accept God’s gift of salvation.

Next:  Christians Are Hypocrites

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns by Christians in the 11th to 13th centuries, to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslims.  Today many people think of the Crusades as an dark period of church history, due to atrocities committed by the Crusaders, and the animosity it has caused with Muslims.

During the time of Jesus, the Holy Land was under the control of the Roman Empire.  After Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, the church grew into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, also called Byzantine.

In 636 AD, Muslim Arabs defeated the Roman/Byzantines at the Battle of Yarmouk.  The Muslims still allowed Christians to make pilgrimages, but there were times of persecution.  When the Seljuk Turks took control, the Christians began to feel threatened in the Holy Land and in the Byzantine empire.

Pope Urban II launched the first crusade to reclaim the Holy Land, gaining support and rallying fighters by promising immediate entry into heaven for those who died in the cause, and also suggested material rewards, power and prestige. (These promises were not Biblical)

The Crusaders gained control of Jerusalem in 1099, and set up four Crusader states from the land they conquered.  Over the next two centuries however, most of the land was regained by the Muslims.  There were a total of nine crusades, most of the later ones ended by treaties between the Christians and occupying Muslims.

Next: Does the Bible Condone Killing in the Name of God?

The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition is commonly associated with horrendous atrocities committed by the Roman Catholic Church, conjuring up thoughts of persecution and torture to extract confesions from unjustly charged prisoners.  My sources are Wikipedia, http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/secrets-of-the-spanish-inquisition-revealed and http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-inquisition.

There were actually several different inquisitions, but the most infamous one was the Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1478.  Its purpose was to identify Jews and Muslims who pretended to convert to Christianity.

Spain in the late 1300s was unique in Western Europe for the racial diversity of its population, having large Jewish and Muslim communities.  In 1391, angry anti-Jewish riots erupted, which resulted in mass conversions of Jews to Christianity, many by force.

The Jewish converts eventually became prosperous, (one convert was Gabriel Sanchez, who financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus), and the Christians became jealous of their success.  Because of this jealousy, a belief developed that the converts were actually secretly practicing their Jewish faith.  This perceived ‘heresy’ is what eventually led to the Spanish Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition was authorized by the Roman Catholic Church, but it was under the control and authority of the Spanish monarchy.  It seemed to be for ‘holy’ purposes, but the truth was that the driving forces were jealousy, greed and prejudice of Spanish Christians, not direct action or authority of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church itself did not directly commit the atrocities, but they were committed by those acting in the church’s name.  Christians are not immune to acting with personal selfish reasons, and sometimes they use the Bible as justification for their actions, however, this does not negate the truth of the Bible.

Next:  The Crusades

Some people today believe that the Bible is in error because of the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to Galileo.

While the church had previously made minor concessions, it was not until 1992 til Pope John Paul II issued a declaration acknowledging the errors committed by the tribunal that judged the scientific positions of Galileo.  Let’s look at some of the dynamics of the case.

During the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church’s authority had been called into question, causing it to lose much of its power and influence.  This was part of the reason the church chose to take a strong stand against Galileo.

Politics and personalities also played a major role in how the church handled Galileo’s case.  At one point, Galileo wrote his theory using an argument that, perhaps inadvertently, made a public mockery of the Pope.  Galileo also chose to force the issue, one Catholic defender at the time wrote that Galileo was intent on ‘ramming Copernicus down the throat of Christendom’.

The ‘Earth as center of the universe’ beliefs that Galileo opposed actually came from Aristotle, not the church or the Bible, but since the church had adopted those ideas, it was forced to defend them.

Does the case of Galileo prove that the Bible is incorrect?  The Catholic Church made mistakes in the case, probably most importantly when it chose to take a literal interpretation of the verses in question and when it held too strongly to ideas from a secular source (Aristotle).  But the Bible was not at fault.

The moral of the story of Galileo:  People, even Bible experts, are fallible.  The best way to learn the truth of the Bible is to learn from those who know the Bible AND read it for yourself.

Next: The Spanish Inquisition

More About Galileo

The prevailing belief at the time of Galileo was that the Earth was the center of the universe, with the sun and planets going around it, called geocentrism, put forward by Aristotle.

Copernicus first proposed that the Earth and planets revolved around the sun, called heliocentrism.  Galileo tried to prove this after making observations on his telescope.

Even scientists of the day had a hard time accepting Galileo’s findings.  Aristotle himself had argued that if heliocentrism were true, then there would be observable parallax shifts in the stars’ positions as the earth moved around the sun, but due to the technology of the time, no such shifts could be observed.

Galileo’s theories seemed to contradict the Bible, but the church chose to take a literal interpretation of the Bible, citing verses like 1 Chronicles 16:30:  “The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved”, Psalm 93:1 “The world is established, firm and secure”, and Ecclesiastes 1:5 “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises”.

It’s easy to see now that these verses are not meant to be taken literally, and actually this is what Galileo argued.

In the end, the church could not accept Galileo’s theories, because at the time they could not be conclusively proven.

Next:  Lessons About the Church and Galileo

The Church vs. Galileo

In the 4th century BC, the Greek philosopher Plato first proposed the geocentric model, which said that the Earth was a stationery sphere at the center of the universe, and the stars and planets moved in circular paths around the earth.  His student, Aristotle, elaborated on the theory.

In the 1600s, the telescope was invented, and Galileo started using it to make observations about moons in orbit around Jupiter and phases of Venus.  These findings suggested that the Earth and planets moved around the sun, contrary to scientific and Biblical views of the time.

Eventually, the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church tried Galileo of heresy and committed him to house arrest for the rest of his life.  This makes the church sound rigid, closed-minded and opposed to science, but I found there was more to the story.

Galileo was actually a devout Roman Catholic.  He worked with Jesuit astronomers, and was friends with the two Popes who presided over his case (One died and the other succeeded him).  Also, Galileo’s findings were not readily accepted even by fellow scientists.

Galileo, like many scientists of his day, was actually arrogant, and many of his arguments and writings were blunt and sarcastic, and this contributed to his alienation from the Jesuits, and his estrangement from the Pope.  Political issues in the church were also a factor.  Basically, the church could not accept Galileo’s findings, because they were not conclusively proven, and they were forced to take a stand against them.

The story of Galieo is very interesting,  if you want to read more, see:

http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-galileo-controversy

http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/galileo.html

http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-c007.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_affair

Next: More About Galileo