It’s January and that means many Christians have started the year with a fresh goal to read through the Bible. In the past, this has generally been celebrated and seen as a positive thing when someone decides to read through the “Good Book.” However, there is a significant change happening out there regarding the Bible. Many are starting to claim as they read the whole Bible, that it is not the Good Book but it is the “Evil Book.”
Is the “Good Book” actually an “Evil Book”?
If you go on Tik Tok and YouTube, you quickly see the increasing amount of videos made by former Christians who tell their stories of how reading the Bible turned them into agnostics or atheists. The story generally goes that they grew up in churches and heard the usual nice stories in the Bible about Jesus healing the blind and teaching people to care about the poor. They heard the stories of amazing Bible heroes like young David defeating the giant Goliath and saw the children’s artwork depicting the story of a Santa Claus-like looking Noah with smiling happy animals in an ark floating on the water. But as they got older and started reading the whole Bible with a new lens, the Bible doesn’t seem so wonderful and good anymore.
They realize that David was a polygamist with at least eight wives and also had concubines (1 Chronicles 3). They read how he even killed 200 men and removed their foreskins as a bridal gift to one of his wives’ fathers (1 Samuel 18:27). They begin processing that the nice children’s story artwork they grew up on with Noah on a boat with happy smiling animals floating on water, was really a story of God causing massive death with the drowning of women, children, and infants. Also, their childhood children’s storybook and artwork didn’t show that Noah got drunk and passed out naked in his tent after God he got off the ark (Genesis 9:20-21).
Does God ban eating shrimp but endorses slavery?
I talked with one college student who was a Christian but lost his faith when he got into a campus Bible study. He said he never knew that slavery was talked about positively in the Bible with people being sold as property and even instructions for a father selling his daughter into slavery (Exodus 21). This student was then led to explore more things about the Bible online and found plenty of graphical memes with Bible verses from the Levitical laws with commands that God said not to eat shrimp or eat bacon or get tattoos. There are repeated accusations that Christians cherry-pick the verses they like and ignore the ones they don’t like. There is the understandable question of why would God create rules that ban the eating of shrimp but He didn’t ban slavery? This student saw Bible verses that seemed so misogynist like when it says “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission…it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church (1 Corinthians 14:33-35).
So, the more the Bible is read, the more it certainly seems to be anti-women, anti-science, pro-slavery, and pro-violence. It makes sense then, as comedian and magician Penn Jillette says: “Reading the Bible is the fast track to atheism.” But is this true that the Bible is not the “good book” and if you really read it, you will find things you never knew before and end up rejecting your faith?
There are answers when we understand how to and how (not) to read the Bible
I understand why this is happening as for so many growing up in churches today, many of the very tough and disturbing things in the Bible weren’t addressed. So, seeing verses put to memes, or mentioned on Tik Tok of course is going to feel shocking and cause doubt and even disbelief. However, there are responses. While the Bible is 100% fully inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), there are some basic Bible study methods we have to put into place to understand it and the difficult things in it. Such as:
1) The Bible is a library, not a book: When opening a Bible or reading it digitally, we don’t read it like a normal book. It is a library of books written over 1,500 years, in different genres. When opening the Bible, it is like going into a library and pulling a book off a shelf, and depending on what section of the library you are in, you read it differently. If you are reading a book of poetry, it will be read differently than when reading a book of history. Or when you read a law book that has laws pertaining to certain people at certain times and places, the laws may or may not apply for us today in our world.
2) Never read a Bible verse: Pulling out single Bible verses on their own, one can make the Bible say almost anything. You always need to read the full context of what is happening, not just look at single verses. You don’t pull a single sentence from The Lord of The Rings and then make a conclusion, without placing it in the whole story. The Bible is not fiction, but the same principles apply. Every verse is part of a specific section of the whole Bible story we need to examine to make sense of the verse.
3) The Bible was not written to us, but for us: Some parts of the Bible are written to everyone and some parts were written to specific people at a specific time for a specific purpose. It is all 100% inspired by God and for us to learn from. But we must look at each part of the Bible from the eyes and culture of the original reader and why and what God was communicating to them.
4) All the Bible points to Jesus: From the very opening chapters of the Bible to the very end, it all leads to and points to Jesus. When we see this, it all lines up to an amazing beautiful life-changing library of books.
It is so sad seeing so many who are losing faith in the inspired Word of God. I wasn’t a Christian growing up and the Bible changed my entire life and I believe it can change so many others. There are answers when we search more deeply and understand it is an ancient text that we can’t just read with modern eyes. My prayer is that parents and churches will teach early on about the difficult parts so it doesn’t catch people off-guard when they haven’t seen them before.
Dan Kimball is the author of several books on leadership, church, and culture. His latest publication is a video series entitled How (Not) to Read the Bible. He was one of the founders of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, where he still serves on staff. He is also a faculty member at Western Seminary and leads the ReGeneration Project, which exists to equip and encourage new generations to think theologically and participate in the mission of the church. He is married to Becky and has two daughters, Katie and Claire.