Criticism Of The Bible

Criticism of the Bible is an interdisciplinary field of study concerning the factual accuracy of the claims and the moral tenability of the commandments made in the Bible, the holy book of Christianity. Long considered to be the perfect word of God by devout Christians (and the Jewish parts by devout Jews), scholars and scientists have endeavored for centuries to scrutinise the texts to establish their origins (a related field of study known as biblical criticism) and validity. In addition to concerns about ethics in the Bible, biblical inerrancy, or the historicity of the Bible there remain some questions of authorship and what material should be included in the biblical canon.


Main articles: Authorship of the BibleAuthorship of the Pauline epistles, Authorship of Luke–Acts,  Documentary hypothesis, and Mosaic authorship

At the end of the 17th century only a few Bible scholars doubted that Moses wrote the Torah (more specially the Pentateuch, therefore traditionally called the “Fives Books of Moses”), such as Thomas Hobbes, Isaac La Peyrère and Baruch Spinoza, but in the late 18th century some scholars such as Jean Astruc (1753) began to systematically question his authorship. By the end of the 19th century some such as Julius Wellhausen and Abraham Kuenen went as far as to claim that as a whole the work was of many more authors over many centuries from 1000 BC (the time of David) to 500 BC (the time of Ezra), and that the history it contained was often more polemical rather than strictly factual. By the first half of the 20th century Hermann Gunkel had drawn attention to mythic aspects, and Albrecht Alt, Martin Noth and the tradition history school argued that although its core traditions had genuinely ancient roots, the narratives were fictional framing devices and were not intended as history in the modern sense.

The modern historical consensus is that it is unknown who wrote most of the 60 books of the Bible. Most of them are written anonymously, and only some of the 27 books of the New Testament mention an author, some of which are probably or known to be pseudepigrapha, meaning they were written by someone other than who the author said he was. The anonymous books have traditionally been attributed authors, though none of these, such as the alleged “Five Books of Moses”, or the four canonical gospels “according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” have appeared to stand up under scrutiny. Only the 7 undisputed Pauline epistles appear to have most likely been written by Paul the Apostle, the Book of Revelation by John of Patmos (not by John the Apostle, nor by the author(s) of the other ‘Johannine literature’). Scholars disagree whether Paul wrote the “Deutero-Pauline epistles” and whether Simon Peter wrote First Epistle of Peter; all other New Testament books that mention an author are most likely forgeries.

In the 2nd century, the gnostics often claimed that their form of Christianity was the first, and they regarded Jesus as a teacher, or allegory. Elaine Pagels has proposed that there are several examples of gnostic attitudes in the Pauline epistles. Bart D. Ehrman and Raymond E. Brown note that some of the Pauline epistles are widely regarded by scholars as pseudonymous, and it is the view of Timothy Freke, and others, that this involved a forgery in an attempt by the Church to bring in Paul’s gnostic supporters and turn the arguments in the other epistles on their head.

Christian Bible, 1407 handwritten copy

Christian Bible, 1407 handwritten copy


Main articles: Development of the Hebrew Bible canonDevelopment of the Old Testament canon, and Development of the New Testament canon

Specific collections of biblical writings. such as the Hebrew Bible and Christian Bibles, are considered sacred and authoritative by their respective faith groups. The limits of the canon were effectively set by the proto-orthodox churches from the 1st throughout the 4th century, however the status of the scriptures has been a topic of scholarly discussion in the later churches. Increasingly, the biblical works have been subjected to literary and historical criticism in an effort to interpret the biblical texts, independent of churches and dogmatic influences.

In the middle of the second century, Marcion of Sinope proposed rejecting the entire Jewish Bible. He considered the God portrayed therein to be a lesser deity, a demiurge and that the law of Moses was contrived.

Jews discount the New Testament and Old Testament deuterocanonicals, Jews and most Christians discredit the legitimacy of New Testament apocrypha, and a view sometimes referred to as Jesusism does not affirm the scriptural authority of any biblical text other than the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.


Main article: Ethics in the Bible

Elizabeth Anderson, a professor of philosophy and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, states that “the Bible contains both good and evil teachings”, and it is “morally inconsistent”.

Anderson criticizes commands God gave to men in the Old Testament, such as: kill adulterers, homosexuals, and “people who work on the Sabbath” (Leviticus 20:10; Leviticus 20:13; Exodus 35:2, respectively); to commit ethnic cleansing (Exodus 34:11-14, Leviticus 26:7-9); commit genocide (Numbers 21: 2-3, Numbers 21:33–35, Deuteronomy 2:26–35, and Joshua 1–12); and other mass killings. Anderson considers the Bible to permit slavery, the beating of slaves, the rape of female captives in wartime, polygamy (for men), the killing of prisoners, and child sacrifice. She also provides a number of examples to illustrate what she considers “God’s moral character”: “Routinely punishes people for the sins of others … punishes all mothers by condemning them to painful childbirth”, punishes four generations of descendants of those who worship other gods, kills 24,000 Israelites because some of them sinned (Numbers 25:1–9), kills 70,000 Israelites for the sin of David in 2 Samuel 24:10–15, and “sends two bears out of the woods to tear forty-two children to pieces” because they called someone names in 2 Kings 2:23–24.

Anderson criticizes what she terms morally repugnant lessons of the New Testament. She claims that “Jesus tells us his mission is to make family members hate one another, so that they shall love him more than their kin” (Matt 10:35-37), that “Disciples must hate their parents, siblings, wives, and children (Luke 14:26)”, and that Peter and Paul elevate men over their wives “who must obey their husbands as gods” (1 Corinthians 11:3, 14:34-5, Eph. 5:22-24, Col. 3:18, 1 Tim. 2: 11-2, 1 Pet. 3:1). Anderson states that the Gospel of John implies that “infants and anyone who never had the opportunity to hear about Christ are damned [to hell], through no fault of their own”.

Simon Blackburn states that the “Bible can be read as giving us a carte blanche for harsh attitudes to children, the mentally handicapped, animals, the environment, the divorced, unbelievers, people with various sexual habits, and elderly women”.

Blackburn criticizes what he terms morally suspect themes of the New Testament. He notes some “moral quirks” of Jesus: that he could be “sectarian” (Matt 10:5–6), racist (Matt 15:26 and Mark 7:27), and placed no value on animal life (Luke 8: 27–33).

Blackburn provides examples of Old Testament moral criticisms, such as the phrase in Exodus 22:18, (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”) which he says has “helped to burn alive tens or hundreds of thousands of women in Europe and America”. He states that the Old Testament God apparently has “no problems with a slave-owning society”, considers birth control a crime punishable by death, and “is keen on child abuse”. Additional examples that are questioned today are: the prohibition on touching women during their “period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19–24)”, the apparent approval of selling daughters into slavery (Exodus 21:7), and the obligation to put to death someone working on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2).


Main article: Historicity of the Bible

The historicity of the Bible is the question of the Bible’s “acceptability as a history”. This can be extended to the question of the Christian New Testament as an accurate record of the historical Jesus and the Apostolic Age.

Many fields of study span the Bible and history; such fields range from archeology and astronomy to linguistics and comparative literature. Scholars also examine the historical context of Bible passages, the importance ascribed to events by the authors, and the contrast between the descriptions of these events and other historical evidence.

Archaeological discoveries since the 19th century are open to interpretation, but broadly speaking they lend support to few of the Old Testament’s narratives as history and offer evidence to challenge others.

Biblical minimalism is a label applied to a loosely knit group of scholars who hold that the Bible’s version of history is not supported by any archaeological evidence so far unearthed, thus the Bible cannot be trusted as a history source. Critics of the authenticity of the New Testament such as Richard Carrier and Paul N. Tobin argue that pseudepigrapha within the New Testament invalidates it as a reliable source of information. Author Richard I. Pervo details the non-historical sources of the Book of Acts.

Internal consistency

Main article: Internal consistency of the Bible

There are many places in the Bible in which inconsistencies—such as different numbers and names for the same feature, and different sequences for the same events—have been alleged and presented by critics as difficulties. Responses to these criticisms include the modern documentary hypothesis, the two-source hypothesis and theories that the pastoral epistles are pseudonymous.:p.47

However, authors such as Raymond Brown have presented arguments that the Gospels actually contradict each other in various important respects and on various important details. W. D. Davies and E. P. Sanders state that: “on many points, especially about Jesus’ early life, the evangelists were ignorant … they simply did not know, and, guided by rumour, hope or supposition, did the best they could”. More critical scholars see the nativity stories either as completely fictional accounts, or at least constructed from traditions that predate the Gospels.

For example, many versions of the Bible specifically point out that the most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses did not include Mark 16:9-20, i.e., the Gospel of Mark originally ended at Mark 16:8, and additional verses were added a few hundred years later. This is known as the “Markan Appendix”.


Main articles: Christian mythologyJewish mythology, and Jesus in comparative mythology

The validity of the Gospels is challenged by writers such as Kersey Graves who claimed that mythic stories, that have parallels in the life of Jesus, support the conclusion that the gospel writers incorporated them into the story of Jesus and Gerald Massey, who specifically claimed that the life story of the Egyptian god Horus was copied by Christian Gnostics. Parallels have also been drawn between Greek myths and the life of Jesus. The comparative mythology of Jesus Christ examines the parallels that have been proposed for the Biblical portrayal of Jesus in comparison to other religious or mythical domains. Some critics have alleged that Christianity is not founded on a historical figure, but rather on a mythical creation. One of these views proposes that Jesus was the Jewish manifestation of a pan-Hellenic cult, known as Osiris-Dionysus.

Christ myth theory proponents claim that the age, authorship, and authenticity of the Gospels can not be verified, thus the Gospels can not bear witness to the historicity of Jesus. This is in contrast with writers such as David Strauss, who regarded only the supernatural elements of the gospels as myth, but whereas these supernatural myths were a point of contention, there was no refutation of the gospels authenticity as witness to the historicity of Jesus.

Critics of the Gospels such as Richard Dawkins and Thomas Henry Huxley note that they were written long after the death of Jesus and that we have no real knowledge of the date of composition of the Gospels. Annie Besant and Thomas Paine note that the authors of the Gospels are not known.

Translation issues

Main articles: Biblical manuscript, Textual criticism, and Biblical inerrancy

Translation of scripture into the vernacular (such as English and hundreds of other languages), though a common phenomenon, is also a subject of debate and criticism. For readability, clarity, or other reasons, translators may choose different wording or sentence structure, and some translations may choose to paraphrase passages. Because many of the words in the original language have ambiguous or difficult to translate meanings, debates over correct interpretation occur. For instance, at creation (Gen 1:2), is רוח אלהים (ruach ‘elohiym) the “wind of god”, “spirit of god”(i.e., the Holy Spirit in Christianity), or a “mighty wind” over the primordial deep? In Hebrew, רוח (ruach) can mean “wind”,”breath” or “spirit”. Both ancient and modern translators are divided over this and many other such ambiguities. Another example is the word used in the Masoretic Text [Isa 7:14] to indicate the woman who would bear Immanuel is alleged to mean a young, unmarried woman in Hebrew, while Matthew 1:23 follows the Septuagint version of the passage that uses the Greek word parthenos, translated virgin, and is used to support the Christian idea of virgin birth. Those who view the Masoretic Text, which forms the basis of most English translations of the Old Testament, as being more accurate than the Septuagint, and trust its usual translation, may see this as an inconsistency, whereas those who take the Septuagint to be accurate may not.

More recently, several discoveries of ancient manuscripts such as the Dead Sea scrolls, and Codex Sinaiticus, have led to modern translations like the New International Version differing somewhat from the older ones such as the 17th century King James Version, removing verses not present in the earliest manuscripts (see List of omitted Bible verses), some of which are acknowledged as interpolations, such as the Comma Johanneum, others having several highly variant versions in very important places, such as the resurrection scene in Mark 16. The King-James-Only Movement rejects these changes and uphold the King James Version as the most accurate.

The Bible and science

Further information: Relationship between religion and science and The Relationship Between Science and Religion


A common point of criticism against the Bible is the Genesis creation narrative. According to young Earth creationism, which takes a literal view of the book of Genesis, the universe and all forms of life on Earth were created directly by God sometime between 5,700 and 10,000 years ago. This assertion is contradicted by radiocarbon dating of fossils, as well as modern understanding of genetics, evolution, and cosmology. For instance, astrophysical evidence suggests that the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old. Moreover, 10,000 years is not enough time to account for the current amount of genetic variation in humans. If all humans were descended from two individuals that lived less than 10,000 years ago, it would require an impossibly high rate of mutation to reach humanity’s current level of genetic diversity.

The argument that the literal story of Genesis can qualify as science collapses on three major grounds: the creationists’ need to invoke miracles in order to compress the events of the earth’s history into the biblical span of a few thousand years; their unwillingness to abandon claims clearly disproved, including the assertion that all fossils are products of Noah’s flood; and their reliance upon distortion, misquote, half-quote, and citation out of context to characterize the ideas of their opponents.

— Bully for Brontosaurus by Stephen Jay Gould

Groups such as the BioLogos Foundation and Reasons to Believe have sought to reconcile these scientific challenges with the Christian faith.


Main article: Biblical archaeology

According to one of the world’s leading biblical archaeologists, William G. Dever,

Archaeology certainly doesn’t prove literal readings of the Bible…It calls them into question, and that’s what bothers some people. Most people really think that archaeology is out there to prove the Bible. No archaeologist thinks so. […] From the beginnings of what we call biblical archeology, perhaps 150 years ago, scholars, mostly western scholars, have attempted to use archeological data to prove the Bible. And for a long time it was thought to work. William Albright, the great father of our discipline, often spoke of the “archeological revolution.” Well, the revolution has come but not in the way that Albright thought. The truth of the matter today is that archeology raises more questions about the historicity of the Hebrew Bible and even the New Testament than it provides answers, and that’s very disturbing to some people.

Dever also wrote:

Archaeology as it is practiced today must be able to challenge, as well as confirm, the Bible stories. Some things described there really did happen, but others did not. The biblical narratives about Abraham, Moses, Joshua and Solomon probably reflect some historical memories of people and places, but the ‘larger than life’ portraits of the Bible are unrealistic and contradicted by the archaeological evidence….

I am not reading the Bible as Scripture… I am in fact not even a theist. My view all along—and especially in the recent books—is first that the biblical narratives are indeed ‘stories,’ often fictional and almost always propagandistic, but that here and there they contain some valid historical information…

According to Dever, the scholarly consensus is that the figure of Moses is legendary, and not historical. However, he states that a “Moses-like figure” may have existed somewhere in the southern Transjordan in the mid-13th century BC.

Tel Aviv University archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog wrote in the Haaretz newspaper:

This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. And it will come as an unpleasant shock to many that the God of Israel, YHWH, had a female consort and that the early Israelite religion adopted monotheism only in the waning period of the monarchy and not at Mount Sinai.

Israel Finkelstein told the Jerusalem Post that Jewish archaeologists have found no historical or archaeological evidence to back the biblical narrative of the Exodus, the Jews’ wandering in Sinai or Joshua’s conquest of Canaan. On the alleged Temple of Solomon, Finkelstein said that there is no archaeological evidence to prove it really existed. Professor Yoni Mizrahi, an independent archaeologist who has worked with the International Atomic Energy Agency, agreed with Israel Finkelstein.

Regarding the Exodus of Israelites from Egypt, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass said:

Really, it’s a myth […] This is my career as an archaeologist. I should tell them the truth. If the people are upset, that is not my problem.

Notable critics

  • Richard Dawkins
  • Matt Dillahunty
  • Albert Einstein
  • Sam Harris
  • Christopher Hitchens
  • Robert G. Ingersoll
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Thomas Paine
  • Bertrand Russell
  • Mark Twain
  • Voltaire

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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