11 Things Atheists Criticize About the Bible, But We Know Better
It’s been a long time since I have posted here. I have been focusing on Spanish materials and many other aspects of my work. But recently a blog post entitled “11 Things the Bible Bans, But You Do Anyway” caught my attention. I wrote, in a matter of minutes, a detailed point by point response, to the post at this site. Now I realize that the original post comes from this site. At any rate, I thought I would rewrite my answers here. Hopefully no one will get sucked in by the weak reasoning of the people who posted this in the first place.
The point of the original author was that the Bible contains many stupid prohibitions, and Christians are stupid to believe it. And the author provides 11 ideas to prove it. Here they are:
1. Round haircuts (Leviticus 19:27)
2. Playing football (Leviticus 11:8)
3. Fortune-telling (Leviticus 19:31, 20:6)
4. Pulling out during sex (Genesis 38:9-10)
5. Tattoos (Leviticus 19:28)
6. Wearing polyester and other mixed fabrics (Leviticus 19:19)
7. Divorce and remarriage (Mark 10:8-12)
8. Letting people without testicles into church (and tenth generation children of illegitimate children, Deuteronomy 23:1-2)
9. Wearing gold (1 Timothy 2:9)
10. Eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:10)
11. Wives defending their husbands by grabbing their husband’s opponent by the testicles (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
The author goes on to criticize the ban on homosexuality as well, and trudges out the oft-repeated platitude that if we accept what the Law of Moses says about homosexuality, we must be consistent and prohibit all of the above as well.
How ought we respond to this?
1. First of all, it’s not as if Christians haven’t thought long and hard about these and other passages, or that such sentiments come as a surprise. The writer of the original post ignores centuries of thoughtful reflection on these topics, and acts as if he’s the first to notice. But we Christians have very careful rules established to determine how to relate the Old and New Testaments and determine what is applicable today and in what way. In practice we may be inconsistent in our application of the Bible to life, but our interpretation of the Bible makes perfect sense if one takes the time to investigate.
2. One rule we use to mediate the relationship between the OT and the NT is that if a prohibition in the OT is repealed in the NT, it is no longer valid. The whole idea in the OT about unclean animals and foods was done away with in the NT (see Peter’s vision on Acts 10:9-16). So it is not inconsistent to obey other laws in Leviticus but not obey food laws. We can effectively scratch #2 and #10 off our list of 11. They are no longer an issue. But, you might object, weren’t those laws random and ridiculous when they were in force? No, not really.
The point of such laws is that Israel as a nation needed to be distinct from the nations around it in order to form and maintain its identity as a people. Food laws were one of the ways to maintain that distinction. And there was a rationale behind which animals were forbidden. From Genesis 1 on, God was all about separating things into separate categories and not mixing them. The word for that idea is holiness. Israel needed to be holy – separate from the nations around it. So the animals that mixed elements from other animals were forbidden. Animals that chewed the cud AND had split hooves, creatures that lived in the sea AND walked on legs instead of swimming, etc, were forbidden. Israel was to be a nation that didn’t blur its boundaries, and refused to eat animals whose composition and behavior blurred such boundaries.
So, no, there was no moral reason not to eat such animals, but the prohibition was not a random one. God wanted to form a distinct nation that would in time bring salvation to the other nations. And to do so, he gave them a separate diet and hygiene, among other things. Once Jesus came bringing that salvation, the apostles were charged with taking that salvation to the nations. So now the idea was not to be separate from the nations but to go out into them. Acts 10, mentioned above, makes that very connection: Peter’s vision was not so much about food but about contact with ‘unclean’ Gentiles (non-Jews). The Gentiles and their culture were no longer unclean, including the food they eat. And so we see apostles living like Gentiles and adopting their culture in order to share the good news with them, rather than insisting that they adopt Jewish culture.
In short, in the preceding I show that the original rule wasn’t stupid, that the changeover wasn’t haphazard, and that Christians have a rationale for ignoring these two prohibitions found in their Bibles. Enjoy your bacon and shrimp, everyone!
3. The prohibition against round haircuts and blended fabrics (#1 and #6 on our list above), while not specifically repealed in the NT, clearly fall under the same umbrella. Blended fabrics was all about mixing things that should not be mixed, in order to avoid mixing and intermingling with the pagan nations around Israel. Now such rules are a non-issue, because we are a new Israel that incorporates Gentiles on the basis of faith in Jesus, not on the basis of adopting Jewish culture. I’m not really that crazy about tattoos, myself (#5 on our list), but I would still place it in the same category.
4. Another item in which a former prohibition has been repealed is #8. Israel’s worship emphasized that access to God was limited. Certain people were only allowed so far. The temple had several areas, and depending whom you were, you would not be allowed to pass a certain point. The point was not that God didn’t love everyone the same, but that God limited access to himself because of sinful humanity, and the layers of exclusivity were a visual reminder of that. Even among healthy Jewish male priests the same rules applied: in the center of the temple complex, only the high priest could enter, and only once a year.
But in the New Testament Jesus dies for humankind, and according to the book of Hebrews he gives us – all of us who believe in him – direct access to God. So whether you are Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free, whether you have perfect health or you have, like those mentioned in #8, ‘damaged goods’, God invites you to draw near to him through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
5. That leaves us with #3, 4, 7, 9, and 11, all of which have less to do with the difference between the Old and New Testaments and more to do with the author failing to read the passages in their historical and literary contexts.
6. The sin of Onan in pulling out during sex (#4) was not that he pulled out, but that he did so in order to avoid a sacred obligation to his deceased brother’s family. In those days it was important to produce offspring and continue the family name. But sometimes men died young, and if they had brothers, it was the brother’s duty to provide offspring for the deceased brother. Then it was their duty to financially provide for such offspring. Onan was more concerned about saving money than he was about his brother’s family line, so he pulled out in order to avoid spending the big bucks on raising a kid for this brother. But note that he didn’t do so by refusing to sleep with his brother’s wife. He shacked up with the widow and did the equivalent of spitting on his brother’s grave. If you do something similar, you are guilty of this very justifiable prohibition. Otherwise ignore it.
7. While we are on the subject of being fruitful and multiplying, let’s tackle #11. I admit that this is the strangest of the prohibitions on the list. My gut reaction is that this only got in Deuteronomy’s rulebook because someone had recently done something like that. But it might be that in those days when two men got into a fistfight, women made it a habit of attempting to grab their opponents by the family jewels. Who knows? Even here, I think, there is a logical rationale: as mentioned before, producing offspring was all-important in Israel, an obligation stemming from Genesis 1 itself. So the idea is that if two men are fighting, they are bound to get a few scrapes and bruises, but it would be far worse to eliminate an opponent’s ability to have kids than it would be to let the guys just duke it out. A foreign idea, maybe, to our ears, but it has its own internal logic.
8. The prohibition of wearing gold (among other things) in 1 Timothy (#9 above) should be read in connection with the similar recommendation in 1 Peter 3:3-5. People should invest their time and money in cultivating their inner, spiritual beauty, not in enhancing their physical beauty. In that culture women needed to attract men, and the apostles say they should do so by displaying the qualities that really matter, not by enhancing their physical appearance. And people shouldn’t go to church meetings dressed in a way to draw attention to themselves. They should be modest. Rather than being a foolish, random prohibition, I think it is quite relevant for Christians today. I see too many people doing in church just what Paul and Peter urge us not to do in these passages.
9. Divorce and remarriage (#7 above): Jesus prohibited divorce and remarriage because men were using divorce as a ‘legal’ way to dump their wives and hook up with another woman without getting stoned for adultery. Jesus took away that loophole in order to protect women – who in that society could not realistically survive financially without being under the wing of either a father or a husband – from being dumped for something simple as burning their husband’s toast and then being forced out of necessity to remarry. Jesus was saying that men should not be able to get away with that kind of thing without being held responsible.
Jesus and, incidentally, Paul, both recognize that there are valid exceptions when divorce is allowable. Jesus mentions that if your spouse commits adultery, you might find it necessary to divorce. Paul mentions the possibility involving cases of abandonment by an unbeliever. I would use the precedent afforded by these exceptions to add another: when wife and/or children are threatened by severe harm from their husbands. What is sad is not the prohibition given by Jesus but the misuse of it by Christians who force wives into staying in abusive, hostile marriages for fear of sinning by divorcing. Jesus’ point was to protect women from cruel husbands. He is to be applauded, not ridiculed. But Christian misuse of this prohibition goes directly against the spirit of the command, and is to be condemned.
10. Down to one: fortune-telling. Sorcery of any form is a pagan ritual, not a harmless pastime. It involves going outside the religious establishment and paying an unauthorized, self-proclaimed religious person to consult what turn out to be demonic forces about important choices pertaining to your future rather than using the brains and wisdom God gave you and resorting to prayer when that is not enough. It is condemned by both testaments, and rightly so.
So there you have it. I sat down an hour or so ago, and pumped out this article without so much as getting up or checking other resources, and I answered all 11 objections to the Bible without a sweat. I’m not saying it is always this easy. There are much more demanding objections to Christian faith. But the Bible is not stupid, as the original 11 point post claims. And we who believe it are not stupid for doing so. Blessings to all who have an ear to hear.