Bible dealbreakers: Inconsistent teachings

I’m doing a series on what I’d like to call “Bible dealbreakers,” reasons why I reject the Bible’s authority and therefore reject Christianity. This is part five of six.

Some of the contradictory statements in the Bible, rather than being about basic facts of the sort I discussed in Thursday’s post, are actually about the supernatural beliefs and divine instructions that define Christianity itself. There’s still the problem of at least half of them having to be wrong by definition, with no reliable way to choose which ones (if any) are right. But there’s another issue: even if I wanted to follow Christianity, I wouldn’t know how to do it! I wouldn’t know which ritual practices are important or which supernatural beliefs are required.

This is, of course, why there are thousands and thousands of Christian denominations. The problem becomes even worse when you consider the many different translations of the Bible, and the variations on which books are included in what order, leading some to criticize the very idea of “the Bible” as a single entity. If I am to believe the Bible, which one? If I am to be a Christian, which kind?

Should a Christian believe that Jesus and God are two manifestations of one and the same entity…

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. Colossians 2:8-10

“I and the Father are one. … If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” John 10:30,37-38

… or that Jesus and God are completely distinct beings?

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:17-18

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6

Should a Christian believe in a hell where unrepentant sinners are tormented…

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Matthew 13:40-43

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:28-29

… or that simple death is the alternative to heaven…

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:20-23

… or that everyone goes to heaven and there is no alternative?

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:21-22

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10

Speaking of the afterlife — let’s assume for the moment that the universalist verses are not the “right” answer. Does a “saved” person get to heaven because of their works, their actions…

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:27

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. Revelation 20:11-12

(See also John 5:28-29, linked above.)

… or because of their faith in Jesus alone?

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. …” Mark 16:15-16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

And either way, it seems relevant to ask, do I even have any choice in the matter of whether I am saved or condemned? So many of these verses contain instructions to people regarding what they should do and what they should believe in order to be saved. But what difference does any of that make if we are to believe the verses which say that our destinies are already decided, totally beyond our control?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. Acts 13:44-48

And that’s just a very small sampling. It’s pretty hard to convince me to convert to your religion — to believe that your god is the one true god, or that your holy book has a monopoly on spiritual truth, etc. — when your religion is so poorly defined. If the sacred text, revealed or inspired by God himself, is so unclear as to be directly contradictory on spiritual matters, I am forced to conclude that nobody has any idea what it means to be a True Christian™ … if there even is such a thing.

And then the Bible appears to teach that I am an atheist because of God’s divine will that I should not believe! I just don’t even know how to continue the conversation, at that point. The logic is so twisted, it gives me a migraine.

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5 Comments

  1. Questioning

     /  February 28, 2011 at 8:27 am

    This was the catalyst for me–the very first thing that really put a crack in the faith I had held so dearly my whole life. My husband and I grew up in different denominations, and when we got married, we both set out to set aside our preconceived notions, and just look to the Bible together to decide what we believed as a couple. We church-hopped a couple of times, because at first, each church seemed to fit perfectly what we saw in the Bible. But the longer we were there, we would see things and say, “But wait–doesn’t the Bible say this instead?” And we would start all over, turning to a different brand of Christianity, thinking, “Okay, NOW we’ve got it figured out.” The last time we left a church, it really hit me that all of these different denominations believe that they’re right, and that their views are based on the Bible. I began to have an intense fear of getting it wrong and going to hell, and finally realized that there was no way to figure out which one was the most right (if not the “one true church”). It was then that I realized I could no longer ignore the fact that the reason there are so many denominations is not simply because of different interpretations (and I will admit that there are a few verses that could be interpreted in more than one way, so I get that). The reason there were so many denominations was that the Bible taught so many different things. And each of these denominations chose which of those teachings to cling to, and which teachings to basically ignore. I just couldn’t ignore it anymore, and that was the moment that things started falling apart.

  2. Ubi Dubium

     /  February 28, 2011 at 9:20 am

    I think this is your best entry in the series so far. When you confront a believer with a contradiction, or a historical or scientific inaccuracy, they’ll often weasel out of it, saying something like “It’s the message that’s really important, you’re just getting bogged down in minor details.” But with this post you are getting to the heart of many of my objections. This book is really unclear on what the basic teachings actually are. If an all-knowing all-powerful god wanted to communicate his message to us in a way that would be impossible for us to misunderstand, and chose to do so by leaving us this book, then he did a really lousy job. I expect better performance from a ‘supreme being”.

  3. I’ve been reading the series and clearly you are doing some fantastic homework.
    The one point I notice is the same point you can see through out the blog-o’sphere being that everything is stated as fact, the facts contradict each other and there is NOTHING showing that any of it has a foundation in truth or reality.
    Good articles and looking forward to more.

  4. Sometimes the unclear ideas are simply not the emphasized ideas. The Bible has different authors obviously writing for different reasons and to different audiences. Some of the material supporting their original purpose will be well sculpted, while other peripheral ideas will be, at best, ambiguous.

    If someone holds to the inerrancy of scripture, then they would determine to hold the ambiguous portions to the light of the more direct portions, and specifically to passages where the topic in question is the main thrust of the material.

    There often arises a problem when you or I begin to build our theology on a sub-ordinate clause dealing with an issue that the author is not directly addressing. Naturally, we do it; pastors do it; and as other commenters point out we can become troubled when we don’t see how one phrase could align with another.

    I’ll also agree that this is the best in the series, mostly because it is the more integral than facts/science/dates to faith.

    In the case where at least one of the above verses still troubles one of your (silent or posting) readers, I’ll attempt an explanation of each passage and how the message is consistent.

    Are God and Jesus two or one?

    The Colossians and John verses describe Jesus and God as being “one” and abiding in each other. This is a description of them being “of one accord” or “in agreement.” This is further illustrated by saying that one lives in the other. And we too can have Jesus (or God, or whatever the common factor is: likely his spirit or character) living in us.

    In the Mark verse, although Jesus is responding to a claim that he is good, the phrase “No one is good except God alone” is used in contrast to the young ruler, who believed himself that he was good. Jesus is not dealing with the issue of his own deity.

    In the first Timothy verse, Paul is describing the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as the means by which any sinful man communicates with God. The use of the word “one” is not to count them as separate but to limit their number to only one.

    Questions about Hell

    The Romans verse about sin leading to death, simply does not expound on what the nature of that death is (tormet or what?). In fact, it is dealing with people who are still alive. You and I are condemned to death by our actions, but God has the gift of eternal life, which frees us from that condemnation.

    “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Obviously, “all” cannot be both dead and alive. Thus the focus is not on the inclusivity of these actions but the exclusivity to other means for the actions. None can die in Mohammed or be made alive in Buddha, as random examples.

    “God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” How can you especially save someone? God is your savior and my savior, regardless of whether we are saved, because He is the only savior available to us. He is also the savior particularly of those who believe because they are afforded the life that comes from salvation.

    Saved by works?

    The Matthew verse is speaking more of the rewards that come from Christian living. We are no longer to chase after earthly rewards, but are to take up our cross and walk. Verse 27 is a short description of our heavenly reward for this.

    The verses from the book of Revelation speak of books opened and people judged by them according to what they are done. THEN another book, the book of life, is opened and anyone with their name written in it our saved from the lake of fire. This is consistent with the teachings of Jesus and Paul that the sins of men have them deserving of death and condemnation.

    Do we have a choice?

    The Ephesians and even more so the Acts verses quoted do not present a challenge in my own mind about predestination. The Ephesians verse is already talking about believers and that God has prepared good works for them to do (no mention of whether they will or must do these works).

    The Acts verse is talking about the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and that Paul and Barnabas have been commissioned to minister to the Gentiles. There is no causal relation between the rejection and the commission.

    Thanks.

    For indulging the long post. I don’t know if the views expressed above align to any one denomination, but they hopefully do demonstrate that difficult verses CAN be understood, especially in harmony with more clear passages. I’m sure the list of such ambiguities is very long, especailly for the person more keenly troubled by them. But, with a focus on authorial intent, a number can be resolved and understood quickly by the mind.

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