Anyone who has ever engaged with Christians either in-person or on social media will know that there are certain catch-phrases that often get thrown around as a way of trying to win a debate. These statements are usually meant to be conversation stoppers – a way of “dropping the mic” and acknowledging that they are no longer interested in anything else the other person has to say. Having been taught that there is “power in the Word”, many Christians believe that these little one-liners have the power to actually change people’s hearts and minds. Like magical spells, many believers honestly think that simply quoting Bible references will have some supernatural impact on others around them.
I’ll set aside just how absurd this notion is for now. Today I want to focus on whether or not some of these saying are truly “Biblical”. Are these concepts that can be found in the Bible or are they merely a product of modern Evangelical culture? We’re going to examine a few of the more common statements that one hears in Christian culture and the validity of these statements as it pertains to the Bible.
“God helps those who help themselves”
While sounding like something one would find in Proverbs, this little gem can be found exactly zero times in the Bible. Some have tried to argue that 2 Thes 3:10 and James 4:8 support this saying, but those are both a bit of a stretch. In fact, this saying originated in ancient Greece, but is most commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin.
I see this verse most often used as an excuse not to help someone in need. It usually looks something like this: Tony is down on his luck and needs some assistance, so he asks Becky for help. Becky doesn’t think that Tony is doing everything he can to better his situation; therefore she isn’t obligated to help. Because if God isn’t going to help those who help themselves, why should she?
I also see this excuse used on a larger scale when dealing with social welfare issues. It’s simply a more “Christian” way of saying, “Just go get a job, you lazy bum!” Ironically, in the Bible God seems to show up and help those who can’t help themselves, but must turn to Him for help.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin”
This saying is a favorite among Christians and can be used in a multitude of situations, but is most often used in reference to homosexuality, or really any issue regarding sexuality or gender. The basic idea is that you can still love a person, but disprove of what they do. Sounds OK in theory, but in reality, it’s nothing more then an excuse to judge other people, which we’ll get to in a minute. First, let’s state what shouldn’t need stating: this “verse” appears nowhere in the Bible.
When the Bible doesn’t contain the verses necessary to back their worldview, apologists’ favorite trick is to simply cut-and-paste different verses together to come up with Frankenstein-esque “verses” like “love the sinner, hate the sin.” This sort of word-smithing allows Christians to claim that their favorite excuse to judge people is taught in principle in the Bible.
As I’ve already stated, LTSHTS is nothing more then a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for Christians wanting to look down their noses at others and judge them for any actions, behaviors or lifestyles they don’t agree with. They can try to disguise their contempt under the banner of “love” all they want, but you can’t fully love someone while simultaneously looking down on them. John Pavlovitz wrote a great article on this topic, calling this saying an “abomination”, stating that; “Rarely in history has there been a greater mischaracterization of the heart of Jesus or a more egregious bastardization of the Bible than these six words. The damage that LTSHTS has done in the lives of billions of people and to the public perception of Christians can never be fully calculated, but one thing is certainly true: it’s an embarrassment and a sin and a total abomination.”
“The Bible is the inerrant Word of God”
I was at a Christmas pageant recently where the kids were telling the Christmas story we’re all familiar with. I was a little surprised to see one kid playing the “skeptic”. Every so often, after another child relayed a part of the story, the “skeptic” would chime in and say, “But how do you know that’s true?” To which the other kids would reply, “The B-I-B-L-E!” I wanted to go up to the kid afterwards and ask him, “But how do you know the B-I-B-L-E is true?”
It’s inevitable that any discussion with a Christian about any subject is going to come down to them quoting Scripture, yet when asked how someone knows that what Bible says is true, or inerrant, the answer is almost always, “Because it says so in the Bible”.
First of all, this is a circular argument, and completely illogical. But, does the Bible, in fact, claim that the contents contained within it are completely factual and accurate in every way?
The answer is no – it doesn’t make this claim anywhere in the Bible. The verse I most often hear cited as evidence is 2 Tim 3:16,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
There are a few problems here. First, the word “Scripture” does not refer to the Bible, as we know it today, it is most likely referring to the Torah. The Bible would not become compiled and canonized for another three centuries. Second, saying that something is “breathed out by God” (some translations say “inspired”) is not the same thing as the literal Word of God. Lastly, in no way does “profitable” (or useful) mean the same thing as inerrant.
The idea of the Bible being inerrant is purely human fabrication, and it doesn’t take a Bible scholar to notice the thousands of errors, inconsistencies, contradictions, and scientific errors found in its pages. It’s unclear when this idea was first introduced, but it didn’t become popular until the late 19th century with the rise of Christian Fundamentalism. It still remains dominant in Fundamental and Evangelical circles, and has been used to propagate and justify all manner of deplorable behaviors by Christians.
“The Earth is only 6,000 years old”
Creationists love to claim that they derive their belief in a young-earth from the Bible. Next time someone tells you that the Earth is only 6,000 years old “because the Bible says”, ask him or her to cite the chapter and verse and see what he or she says.
The age of the earth is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible. Even if one where to take a literal view of the seven-day creation story, that tells us nothing about how long ago that happened. The young-earth view, in fact, comes not from the any specific Bible reference (and certainly not from science), but from an analysis by 17th century scholars of the Biblical genealogies found in Genesis, Exodus, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. Basically, they used the genealogy in the Bible to create a timeline of the Earth. There are several problems with this methodology. First, it assumes that the people recorded in the Bible were the only humans in existence, not accounting for any other civilizations, or civilizations that came before. Second, different translation of the Bible cite different ages and dates than others. And most importantly, humans have never lived for hundreds of years as the Bible claims. Life expectancy during Biblical times was shorter, not longer, then what it is today.
This isn’t time or space to get into all the reasons why young-earth Creationism is harmful, but there are many articles out there discussing the dangers of Creationism on children, education, society as a whole, and even its own religion. I’ve also written before about why science-denialism hurts everyone.
“Marriage is between one man, and one woman”
Everyone has heard this one. It’s the battle-cry for those who believe that it’s not only acceptable, but mandated by God, to deny LGBTs the same civil liberties that everyone else has. The Bible says many things about marriage, but it being solely between one man and one woman is not one of them.
If we were to base the institution of marriage on “Biblical values”, then it would be permissible to have multiple wives, to have wives and concubines (i.e. sex slaves and breeding stock), to have sex with your wife’s servant, to marry the women you rape, and to take virgin women as spoils of war. But, just make sure whatever women you marry is a virgin, or else she needs to be put to death.
Really, the only verse in the Bible that hints at a so-called “traditional marriage” is found in Titus 1:6, where the qualifications for elders, or overseers, of the church are laid out: “If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination…”
This may seem like an odd requirement to modern readers, but in the 1st century Middle East, it was quite common for both Jews and Gentiles to have multiple wives. Regardless, this verse only addresses “elders” and says nothing of lay people, and certainly nothing of society as a whole.
“Abortion is a sin/murder/against God’s will”
I thought about making this its own post, but will include it here and try to make it short. I have no doubt that this is going to spark the strongest reaction. Abortion is undoubtedly one of the hot-button topics in society today, and Christians have spent millions of dollars trying to make it illegal. Undoubtedly, those who find abortion morally wrong will cite their religious convictions and/or the Bible as the reason for opposing it. But, what does the Bible actually say about abortion?
It won’t take long for most to realize that the word “abortion” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Bible, nor does it give any specific commandment one way or another on the issue. The first objection (and usually only) argument most will give is that “abortion in murder, and murder is clearly wrong according to the Bible!” This argument is almost entirely based on the notion that an zygotes and embryos are the same as humans, therefore to terminate one is the same as terminating an actual human. This argument stems from a lack of understanding of biology and personal bias. But what of the claim of abortion being murder?
If one were to try and find a clear outline as to what defines “murder”, the Bible would be the last place to look. In the Bible, especially the OT, we see a complete disregard for life, with the
murder killing of countless people, including children. Abraham is asked by God to kill his only son to test him (Gen 22), the Israelite are commanded to commit genocide of whole races, including children (Deut 2:34, Deut 7:2, Deut 20:16-17, Deut 32:23-26, Numbers 31:17-18), God had 42 children killed by a bear for mocking Elisha (2 Kings 2:23-24), Israel was told to sacrifice their first-born, both animal and human to God, (Exodus 13:1-2), Jephthah sacrifices his only daughter to God after winning a battle (Judges 11:29-40), and God has thousand of his own people killed for such petty things as complaining about the food (Numbers 11:1-35, Numbers 21:4-9), wanting to go back to Egypt, not liking the boss (Numbers 16:27-32), those who followed those not liking the boss (Numbers 16:35), complaining about God killing those who didn’t like the boss and their followers(Numbers 16:49), and looking at the Arc of the Covenant (1 Sam 6:19). And let’s not forget how “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:9)
The above passages clearly demonstrate that our modern definition of murder is considerably different (and more civilized and humane) than in biblical times. A reading of the OT laws shows that killing another human was only considered “murder” if that other human was an Israelite (or “sojourner” living on their land). But what about children?
It’s important to note, that under Jewish law, life does not begin until birth. In Exodus 21:22, the law states that if a pregnant women is hurt in an altercation between two men and looses her baby, the man who struck her will be punished in whatever way is seen fit by the husband and the judge. The man, however, is not put to death, as would be the case if the woman was killed (Exodus 21:23). Just to reiterate – if the unborn child died it was not considered murder.
Children under a month old appear to not have any worth in ancient Israel. They were not included in censuses (Numbers 3:15) and were not given any monetary value (Lev 27:6). There is also the horrific fact of parents being commanded to kill their own children for things like being disobedient (Deut 21:18-21), cursing their parents (Lev 20:9) or suggesting worshiping a different god (Deut 13:6-11). In the book of Hosea, we read that God will cause women to miscarry (9:14) and kill any children that are born (9:16) if Israel does not repent. Samaria, too, will feel God’s wrath as “their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open.” (13:16)
The other popular argument against abortion are the verses in the Bible which describe a child being made in a womb (Job 31:15, Psalm 139:13, Jer. 1:5, etc.) The argument goes that because God “knit” humans together in the womb, this suggests that the life in that womb is sacred. All these verses demonstrate is that the authors had a very basis understanding of human development. Ancient cultures understood that if a seed was placed in ground, the ground would nurture it, and a plant would come forth. A similar understanding was assigned to humans – a man places his “seed” into a women, the women carries and nurtures the seed, and a child comes out. None of these verses say anything of the intrinsic value placed on the “seed” in the womb. The verses I shared above however, do give us an understanding of when it was thought life began, and it wasn’t in the womb. Reading the “womb verses” as evidence against abortion is an example of people extracting their own meaning and understand from the Bible and failing to place it in the context of the larger narrative.
If abortion being murder is a Biblical concept, then it was only very recently that anyone became aware of it. In fact, this “Biblical” view is younger than the Happy Meal. The truth is, Christians were largely indifferent about abortion until the 70’s, when right-wing politics got in bed with Evangelicals and made it an issue. Many denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, supported it. And far from being an issue of morality, abortion was used by right-wing politicians as a means to an end for what they considered a much bigger issue – protecting segregated schools.
One of the important aspects of critical thinking is the careful evaluation of truth-claims. It is important for people to realize where their knowledge comes from and what the roots are of long-held beliefs. Hopefully I have demonstrated how easily it can be for someone to claim something that has the illusion of bearing weight, when in reality it rings hollow. We all have our favorite bag of tricks that we like to employ in an argument, but we, both believers and non-believers, must always be mindful of the validity our own “tricks” or truth claims, and scrupulously evaluate them for accuracy. There’s a lot of bullshit out there – let’s make sure we’re not contributing to the stench. Thanks for reading.