“The Bible says it; that settles it.”
How many times have I heard that statement, or variations on it? It’s used as justification for almost any unpopular or unpleasant stance in Christianity.
“The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination. I don’t hate them. I just can’t accept their sin.”
“The Bible says women are to submit to their husbands and be silent in the church. I’m not a misogynist. It’s just the way God set things up.”
“The Bible says that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. If you don’t accept him, you’re going to hell.”
“The Bible says that a parent who loves a child will beat that child to save his soul. I don’t want to whip my children, but the Bible commands it. I would be a horrible parent if I didn’t obey.”
It’s almost as if Christians think that by pulling out this excuse, they can distance themselves from their own actions and words.
Sometimes I counter with other words that have been attributed to Jesus or God.
“Be submissive to the wife; her love ennobles man, softens his hardened heart, tames the wild beast in him and changes it to a lamb.” (The Life of St. Issa)
“The kingdom of heaven is within you and all around you. Cut a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me.” (The Gospel of Thomas)
“There is no such thing as sin.” (The Gospel of Mary)
“I tell you that the son of man is within you all! Seek him inside; those who search diligently and earnestly shall surely find him.” (The Gospel of Mary)
Those who are familiar with the Bible quickly recognize that my quotes aren’t in the “Bible” as we know it. And, of course, people react negatively to them when I refer to them, complaining that those aren’t known words of Jesus. And we get down to the real heart of the issue.
Why do we accept the Bible as it is presented to us today?
The 66 books contained in today’s popular Scripture are far from the only books that claim to be gospels or holy texts of Christianity. In fact, there are enough texts that aren’t included to create a whole new Bible! I’ve got the collection sitting on my coffee table.
Historically, the Canon has varied considerably since the first century. The Catholic Canon cannot be traced any earlier than 393 (almost four centuries after Jesus). The Protestant Canon, which further rejects the Apocrypha, is even more recent. And no matter which version of the Canon we’re talking about (for there are many), the inescable fact is that it was chosen by a committee of men who had never even met Jesus.
People try to argue that the non-Canonical books were rejected as frauds which were most likely written by unqualified people. But the true authorship of the Canonical books is equally questionable. We don’t even have a reasonable guess as to who wrote Hebrews, and the four gospels are neither the oldest nor the most credible in authorship. The Gospel of Matthew wasn’t even attributed to Matthew until well into the first century.
Sometimes Canon apologists abandon the fruitless age/authorship line and try to argue that the non-Canonical books were rejected because they contain unorthodox teachings—that for whatever truth they may possess, it’s tainted with errors and lies and is filled with misogyny or questionable morals.
But the Canon that the church accepts contains passages that command the stoning of rape victims and people who break the Sabbath. The Canon that the church accepts contains passages where God commanded the slaughter of infants. The Canon that the church accepts contains passages that blame women for the entire fall and demands that they redeem themselves through the pain of childbirth.
Authorship and credibility has always been a crapshoot. At least before the Canon was set, Christians were forced to use their brains in determining what to accept and reject.
“But once you start questioning the inerrancy of the Bible, then how do you know which parts to accept?”
I don’t—if by “accept” you mean “don’t question.”
So where am I going with this? Before I finish out my rampage against the Bible, let’s take a tiny little tangent—a story.
Once upon a time there was a man who wanted to see what humans were capable of doing. He came up with a way to test their abilities by setting up a teacher/student scenario, assigning one volunteer as the teacher and one as the student. Teachers were responsible for giving their students a simple test. If the students failed the test, the teachers were told to hurt the students to help them learn from their mistakes faster. It started out with mild pain, but with each mistake, the pain was supposed to get worse.
As the teaching commenced and the punishments rose in intensity, the people who had agreed to help the man with his teaching started to think that maybe the whole thing wasn’t working out so well. They felt like they were hurting the students too much and they asked if they should stop. But the man told them to continue. This work was important.
So they continued.
They continued even after the student had stopped trying to respond to the questions.
They continued even when they thought they had killed the student.
This man wasn’t really interested in how pain affected learning. He was interested in obedience. In fact, the “students” were really actors and the pain wasn’t real—but it was to the teachers who thought they had killed their students.
His experiments became famous. You can watch a sample of them below.
Milgrim Shock Experiment
His results became famous—when ordered by an authority figure to do something, even something atrocious, the majority of people will obey without question.
“Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe. Doing exactly what the Lord commands. Doing it happily. Action is the key. Do it immediately. And joy you will receive. Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.”
The Bible says it; that settles it.
People do some pretty atrocious things within fundamentalism. I have a four-page document of links to stories of abuse, violence, and hatred in the name of God from IFB churches alone. That’s not even counting the number of scandals in other denominations or the things that get covered up.
When confronted with these acts, many try to excuse their behavior saying, “I just did what I thought was right.”
But the problem is that they didn’t think.
They obeyed the faulty interpretation of a two-thousand year old book that is controversial in its authenticity at best. Very often, they overrode their own conscience in order to obey a command from someone they had never met.
The Bible should be questioned. Every fucking word should be questionable, especially if you are trying to distance yourself with a phrase like “God said it; that settles it.”
What are you willing to obey? Are you going to gouge out your eyes or cut off your hand if you’re tempted to sin? Are you going to stone a girl who gets married without being a virgin? Are you going to demand we execute every man, woman, and child in the countries we’re at war with? Are you going to force women to wear veils and cover their heads? Are you going to burn alive your pastor’s daughter if she becomes a prostitute?
Just because the Bible said it doesn’t make it okay. We are each responsible for our own choices. While claiming the Bible as authority might save someone the grueling labor of figuring out what they actually believe is moral, it doesn’t divert culpability. God is not the invisible white lab coat who is going to accept responsibility for the things someone does in obedience to him.
Obedience is not an excuse.