Beyond contradictions within the Bible that I wrote about in another article, Christians have many contradictions between the Bible and their actual beliefs. I think the most important and interesting issues are these: God’s form, God’s emotions, nature and cosmology, the unforgivable sin, when Jesus was supposed to return, and the existence of Hell and way unbelievers are punished.
The overwhelmingly dominant view among Christians today is that their god, Yahweh, is a completely non-physical, invisible formless “consciousness” or magic “force”. They strongly reject any notion of God having a human-like appearance in any way. They will often say “God isn’t a bearded man in the sky.” But according to the Bible, he is.
As many secularists have pointed out before, this move away from a human-like god is the result of religious believers trying to pull their gods out of reach from science and prevent their beliefs from seeming ridiculous or too similar to the religions of other cultures we now consider ignorant and superstitious. This has been an effective strategy, but it isn’t the god the Bible describes.
The first example in the Bible is Genesis 3:8 which clearly references God as being human-like in form:
“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of Yahweh God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from Yahweh God among the trees of the garden.”
As you expect, upon mentioning this verse, Christians revert to their default defense mode and try to get around the verse by claiming it was written “metaphorically”. That is the inevitable claim they make when the verse seems to say something that sounds a little too primitive in the Bible. But I bring up this verse because it is very hard to pass off as metaphorical. The description can only match a being with a finite physical form since it mentions the sound he makes as he walks, and Adam and Eve attempt to physically hide from his sight. This all would make no sense if the authors were writing about a god that has no physical form and exists everywhere.
But that’s only my first example. There are quite a few I could choose but the most striking of them is probably Exodus 33:20. There is no room here to manufacture a totally metaphorical interpretation. This god has a body:
But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
That clinches it. But for anyone who wants to see some more examples that disprove the idea of Yahweh being an immaterial and omnipresent force, check out the following verses: Genesis 1:26, Genesis 18:20-21, Genesis 32:30, Exodus 33:11, Deuteronomy 34:10, Jeremiah 15:1, 1 Kings 22:19, Psalm 18:6-10.
Nearly all Christians seem to believe that God will forgive people of anything as long as they just ask for forgiveness. They often even attempt to convert atheists who they know “blaspheme” against their God. But within the New Testament there is an exception to God’s mercy (actually there are several; and the Old Testament provides tons more). In Mark chapter 3, Jesus says:
“I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” – Mark 3:28-29
That same message is also found in the Gospel of Luke, as well as in Matthew; the latter which is even more clear, saying,
“…anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” – Matthew 12:30-32
Modern Christians have found these verses to be a problem in promoting theoir propaganda of an all-merciful God, and one which can forgive outspoken atheists, so they have tried to gtet around it. They now argue that blasphemy against God doesn’t count as a sin against God if you don’t believe in him. But there is no scriptural basis for this; and even if there were, then it would have some implications that Christians would not be too pleased with: if their claim were true, then it would mean that people would need to believe God exists in order for their sinful actions to actually count as violating God’s commands. That would mean there is no worry in not believing in God, nor even in doing anything. God won’t hold it against you because it’s only a sin if you believe you are violating God’s rules. So the implications of that view are that even if God exists, then as long as you don’t believe in God, you can do whatever you want without repurcussions.
Nature and Cosmology
The Bible portrays a very different world and universe what we actually live in. It makes assertions which are directly refuted by modern discoveries. Over time, the majority of Christians have adapted to these discoveries by accepting most of the new information and simply pretending the Bible doesn’t say anything contrary. But let’s have a look at some things the Bible asserts, and you can be the judge about its compatibility with modern science.
Let’s begin with a simple one. Multiple passages describe the earth as being flat and resting upon water, rather than the sphere – with water on it – floating in space, which we now know it is. Isaiah 40:22 refers to the “circle of the earth” and Job 26:10 reads “He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters” which both use the Hebrew word for a “flat disc” rather than their word for a sphere or ball. The latter part of Isaiah 40:22 also mentions that God “stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in” which suggests a flat earth as well.
Christians try to get around these verses by claiming that God was just using poetic speech and metaphor. But this claim doesn’t hold up in the slightest, because if God really existed and were all-knowing then he could easily have used descriptions which could still be simple but not so severely misleading. indirect, convoluted “interpretations” that try to make the text work, simply have no basis to be believed. At their word, the passages simply convey wrong ideas. And with that evidence, the most direct explanation is that the authors were not inspired by any god and they just didn’t know much about the world.
The Bible also claims that the moon itself is a light source like the sun. Genesis 1:16 tells us that “God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.” This clearly refers to the moon itself as a light and even compares it as a counterpart to the sun. And Isaiah 13:10 describes a prophecy wherein “the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”
Ancient beliefs about the sky and space were not very knowledgeable or accurate. In Job 37:18, when a man tries to show Job his insignificance compared to God, the man says, “Can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?” The verse describes the sky as a solid firmament. It is the firmament described in Genesis 1 where God separates the primordial waters into an upper and lower portion then erects a vault in the sky to keep them divided.
The verses I’ve mentioned so far touch upon the Bible’s common, primitive, and uninspired view of cosmology. But the Bible makes mistakes regarding functions of nature as well. The Bible’s view of clouds and the water cycle are definitely noteworthy:
Job 26:8 reads, “He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them.” And referring to clouds, Proverbs 30:4 asks “Who hath bound the waters in a garment?” These clearly describe clouds as containers for water rather than being the water themselves. Again, this view was not uncommon in ancient cultures and we cannot fault them for their ignorance, but it is inexcusable to portray this book as scientifically accurate in the modern age.
Hell and the punishment of unbelievers
There is no realm called Hell where all unbelievers are tortured for eternity mentioned in the Bible. Some Christians are aware of this but the vast majority seemingly are not.
What the Christian Bible actually describes is that when people die, their spirits essentially rest in an unconscious “sleep” (Luke 8:52 and others*). Then on Judgment Day, God resurrects everyone back into their bodies (e.g. Acts 24:15) and decides their fate. Unbelievers are cast into a lake of fire where they are destroyed utterly and will never live again. They are not tortured forever.
This annihilation is called “the second death” (e.g. Rev 21:8). This occurs when the unbelievers are judged, as described in Revelation 20 which claims in a prophecy that, “The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
And rather than speaking about everlasting torture, the Bible explictly says that unbelievers will be destroyed. Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 10:28 that both body and soul will be destroyed: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”** And in 2 Peter 3:7, the author writes that the current earth and heavens will be burned up on Judgment Day for the “destruction of the ungodly.”
Also recall that in the Bible, the reward of believers is repeatedly said to be “eternal life”. But if even unbelievers were going to live forever despite being tortured, then it wouldn’t make much sense for the Bible’s authors to have phrased the reward of believers that way every time. And note that in Luke 20:36, Jesus explicitly says that in the future the believers “can no longer die; for they are like the angels.” This implies that those who are punished will die.
And lastly, Bibletools.org makes the point that “Matthew 25:41 says that sinners will be cast into “the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” This shows that the Lake of Fire’s primary purpose is for the eternal torment of demons, but it will also be used as the means of execution for the wicked among humans.”
*eg. Luke 8:52, 1 Cor 15:6, Psalm 146:4
**The actual word used in the Bible is Gehenna which was a pagan place where children were burned alive in sacrifices. In the New Testament that term is used to reference the lake of fire where unbelievers will be destroyed. The word “hell” is a much later English translation based on the name of the Norse underworld.
Jesus should have already returned
Christians believe that Jesus will return in the future to bring about the judging of the righteous and the sinners. However, based on the Bible, Jesus should have come already – in fact, almost two thousand years ago.
When the Gospel accounts were written a few decades after Jesus’ alleged death, the authors and worshipers thought Jesus was going to return very soon. So in the Gospels we find Jesus clearly expressing that Judgment Day will be coming very soon. As he says in Mark 1:15, “The time has come,” he [Jesus] said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” And in Matthew 4:17, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Now to most people that certainly would imply a period well under the nearly twenty centuries it has been since those words were allegedly spoken. But one could argue that “near” is subjective, regardless of how urgently it is portrayed. So does Jesus say anything more specific? In Matthew 10:23 he says, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
That certainly makes it more difficult to argue that he was going to take hundreds upon hundreds of years. But Jesus makes an even bolder, more specific claim. In Matthew 16:28, before his disciples and tells them “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (This claim is also seen in Luke 9:27)
Now that’s pretty clear cut. So the response from Christians has been to argue that when Jesus spoke about the “coming of the Son of Man” he was only referring to his resurrection, not his return to judge mankind. And they claim that since his resurrected body was a spiritual body, it could be considered the “kingdom of God”. It is a rather convoluted and weak argument however. There isn’t a significant basis to make that interpretation, and regardless, that interpretation is easily refuted by simply reviewing what is said in the gospels.
We know that Jesus was referring to his second coming, not his resurrection, for these clear reasons:
- In Matthew 24, Jesus tells his disciples that the Temple of Jerusalem will be destroyed, and they ask him a question: “‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” He responds by telling them a grand prophecy. In it, he says, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other….” And then he tells them, “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” So from this we can see that Jesus’s “coming” refers to those incredible events which never occurred, and that he promised they would happen within the current generation. Also, the Temple of Jerusalem was indeed destroyed (in 70 C.E.) but these events did not occur along with it. (What probably happened was that the gospel of Matthew was created shortly after the Temple was destroyed, and the author inserted the event as a “prophecy” and sign of Jesus’s imminent return)
- In verse 37 of the same chapter (Matthew 24) Jesus compares “the coming of the Son of Man” to the Great Flood, in that it will come at a time when no one suspects (See vv.39, 42, 44, 50) and that there will be great destruction and some people will be chosen and others will not be chosen (See vv.40-41). And he compares his coming to the way a master returns to judge his servants and kills the bad ones (See vv.50-51). This comparison only fits with his return to judge mankind, not with his resurrection.
- In Mark 10:33-34, Matthew 20:18-19, and Luke 18:31-33, Jesus knows that he will be executed and that on “the third day he shall rise again.” But as I mentioned above, Jesus said that he will return when no one suspects: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away…. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come… the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” If people knew that the “coming of the Son of Man” was three days after his death, then his coming would not be a surprise at all. Therefore the “coming of the Son of Man” cannot refer to his resurrection.
- In Luke 9:24-26, Jesus refers to the impending judgment: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” This must refer to Jesus judging mankind, not his resurrection, since Jesus speaks of people saving or losing their lives spiritually, and that he will be coming in the glory of God and the angels. And his very next statement is “I can guarantee this truth: Some people who are standing here will not die until they see the kingdom of God.” Thus we know that the promise to return within the current generation referred to his epic return for judgment, in the glory of God with angels at his side, which never happened.