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Is the Bible a “Simple” Book?

bible made me an atheist

Evangelicals love the Protestant Christian Bible. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Every word in the Good Book is straight from the mouth of God. Thus, when seeking “truth,” where do Evangelicals turn? The Bible. 2 Peter 1:3 states:

According as his [God’s] divine power hath given unto us [Christians] all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.

Through the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and conscience, God gives to Christians everything that pertains to life and godliness. Unbelievers, of course, lack this knowledge and understanding. Their minds have been darkened by the God of this world, Satan. While unbelievers have the intellectual ability to read, their depravity keeps them from truly “knowing” what the Bible says.

I was in the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. I read the Bible from cover to cover numerous times, spending tens of thousands of hours studying its pages. I had a deep, passionate love for the Bible. As a pastor, I preached over 4,000 sermons — all from the Word of God. I am not bragging, then, when I say that I know and understand the Bible.

According to many Evangelical apologists, I don’t really “know” the Bible. The moment I said I was no longer a Christian, all my Bible knowledge magically disappeared — àla a Men in Black mind wipe. This argument is absurd, ranking right up there with the belief that I am still a Christian. Why do Evangelicals refuse to accept that I “know” the Bible? Simple. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:14:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Let me translate this verse for you:

Unsaved people do not understand the things of the Spirit of God [the Bible] To unbelievers, the Bible is a foolish book. Its teachings cannot be understood by non-Christians because the Holy Spirit does not live inside of them as their teacher and guide.

If, as Evangelicals allege, the Holy Spirit lives inside [where?] of every Christian, why are so many [most?] believers ignorant of the Bible’s teachings? Why are there so many Christian sects, each with its own interpretations of the Bible? Why can’t Christian churches and pastors even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, and communion?

Ephesians 4:4-6 says:

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

This text tells us that there is:

  • One body [church]
  • One Holy Spirit
  • One hope
  • One Lord
  • One faith
  • One baptism
  • One God and Father

Pray tell where can we find what these verses speak of? Sectarianism, division, and internecine warfare abound. It seems, then, that having the Holy Spirit living inside of you doesn’t do much, if anything, knowledge-wise. Ask one hundred Christians a theological question, and you will be given one hundred answers. I have written numerous posts over the past thirteen years detailing the various Christian systems of beliefs and hermeneutics. All roads better lead to Heaven. If not, a lot of Christians are going to land in Hell when they die. Why? Wrong beliefs. Evangelicals love to preach up salvation by grace, but what really matters is right beliefs. It is right beliefs that determine one’s eternal destiny, not faith or grace. Believe the wrong things, and you are going to fry.

atheists read the bible

Now to the subject of the post: is the Bible a “simple” book? Based on what I wrote above, you would think that that answer to this question is no! Understanding the Bible requires God living inside of you. This same God darkens the minds [hearts] of unbelievers so they cannot understand the Bible’s teachings. Unless God, through regeneration, gives unbelievers faith, it is impossible for them to savingly believe and understand the Bible. Or so Evangelicals — especially Calvinists — say, anyway.

Yet, many Evangelicals encourage unbelievers to read the Bible. “The Bible is so simple, even a child can understand it,” evangelizers say. Often, unbelievers are told to start reading the gospel of John (never mind the fact that this gospel contradicts Matthew, Mark, and Luke in numerous places). “Just read John, and God will reveal himself to you!” If the Bible is such a “simple” book, why do preachers and theologians own countless books that tell them what the Bible says? If the Bible is such a “simple” book,, why do pastors attend BIBLE colleges and seminaries? It seems to me that the Bible is anything but “simple.”

Most Evangelical laypeople (and many pastors) believe the Bible is a “simple” book. Pastors reinforce this false notion in their sermons. Many churches encourage congregants to follow daily Bible reading schedules such as Our Daily Bread (most Christians never read through the Bible one time). These reading schedules present Christians with a truncated, sanitized reading of the Bible. I quite certain that none of these pastor-approved Bible reading schedules covered Ezekiel 23:18-21 (The Message):

I turned my back on her just as I had on her sister. But that didn’t slow her down. She went at her whoring harder than ever. She remembered when she was young, just starting out as a whore in Egypt. That whetted her appetite for more virile, vulgar, and violent lovers—stallions obsessive in their lust. She longed for the sexual prowess of her youth back in Egypt, where her firm young breasts were caressed and fondled.

The New Living Translation (NLT) renders Ezekiel 23:18-21 this way:

In the same way, I became disgusted with Oholibah and rejected her, just as I had rejected her sister, because she flaunted herself before them and gave herself to satisfy their lusts. Yet she turned to even greater prostitution, remembering her youth when she was a prostitute in Egypt. She lusted after lovers with genitals as large as a donkey’s and emissions like those of a horse. And so, Oholibah, you relived your former days as a young girl in Egypt, when you first allowed your breasts to be fondled.

Imagine the discussion during family devotions (another practice Evangelicals love to talk about but rarely do) over this passage of Scripture. “Mommy, what does it mean to have genitals as large as a donkey’s and emissions like those of a horse?”

The Bible is many things, but “simple” it is not. That’s why Evangelicals should invest time in actually reading and studying the Bible. Doing so is a good way to turn people into atheists.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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19 Comments

  1. Avatar
    thatotherjean

    For starters, the Bible isn’t exactly “a book.” It’s not a coherent narrative. It’s a collection of manuscripts by mostly unknown authors, written over quite a long time–often long after the events they depict–for a variety of purposes, by a number of different people. The authors employ different kinds of language–poetry, history, letters, lamentation, narratives, and prophesies, among others–to get their points across.

    Evangelicals seem to have trouble with the various voices in the Bible; they seem to want an easy-to-understand, absolutely true, instruction book on how to lives their lives. The Bible isn’t that. It contradicts itself, its history isn’t always based on fact, and many of its stories lend themselves to different interpretations. It’s anything but simple.

  2. Avatar
    Sage

    The mental gymnastics you have to perform to make the Bible make sense are insane. I remember, as a kid, thinking none of this makes sense. But, indoctrination helped me to understand more. I also have read the Bible through many times, choosing to ignore or rationalize, or just assume I really didn’t comprehend some of what i read. During all of this I did have a sense it didn’t make sense, but tried assuming I needed to be “closer” to god. Apparently god wasn’t interested in being close.

    I eventually was attending church because it was expected by family to attend. I started living a life outside of ‘godly” circles (and that always leads on astray, right?). One divorce later, I left church behind. Many years later, while exploring some way to return to religion, I started reading the Bible again, and I was constantly finding contradiction after contradiction. I then realized why it never made sense.

    Much happier now with all of that in my past.

  3. Avatar
    Matilda

    We were fervent supporters of bible translation missions, you know, the ones that sent a couple to live in a jungle clearing for 20 years to translate The Word of God for heathen, near-naked savages. Translators sent prayer requests for wisdom to know how to translate important words like ‘snow’ or ‘sheep’ or ‘mountain’ for people who’d never experience any of these. It began to occur to me that if god wanted ‘every tongue, every nation’ to understand with complete clarity, what his commands and wishes are for them…..couldn’t he have given the world a much simpler, less-confusing and so easily misinterpreted volume? I’m a simple soul, but even I could have written a clearer, less obtuse book of instructions! And apparently jesus isn’t going to return till everyone’s got the message in their own language….so why did god allow so much thwarting of translation projects? Translators’ kids died of malaria, or the family or had to return home for medical treatment or their years of work got burned in a jungle fire….and so on and so on…..didn’t seem to me god was very active in helping these missionaries complete this all-important task of getting his rule book to the heathen who apparently desperately needed to know The Truth Of The Gospel or they’d burn in hell!

  4. Avatar
    clubschadenfreude

    I’ve had fun leading christians around by the nose in their claims of how simple the bible is and then having them trying to invoke “sophisticated theology” when their bible doesn’t say what they want it to.

  5. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    I took enough literature classes to know that texts, especially old ones, never should be taken literally. Actually, it’s impossible to do so unless there is an absolute, correct way of understanding something—which, of course, there isn’t.

    Although we can’t talk with Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, We know far more about the conception of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution than we know about any verse or book in the Bible. Yet the debates over what those documents sanction never end. So how in the world can anyone claim to know what the writers or transcribers of the Bible—or God, if such an entity dictated it to them—intend for us to understand or believe?

    I apologize for the unweildliness of my question.

  6. Avatar
    thatotherjean

    “The Sage of Baltimore” was both those things; He was also outstandingly literate, a superb writer, and frequently absolutely correct.

  7. Avatar
    Obstaclechick

    The Bible is simple if you give it a surface reading without trying to understand it. Digging into history, exploring different translations, researching archaeological finds, studying the influencing mythologies and philosophies of the region, etc, make it difficult indeed. How many explanations of what the eye of the needle in Jesus’ camel and rich man parable have you heard? Or what about the translation of Gehenna, and what was Gehenna? Or what about the different words that were translated as “love”?

  8. Avatar
    Charles S. Oaxpatu

    I bet the fundies think they are talking about a sewing needle. That is the “simple and literal” translation most people would come up with today. In ancient times in the Middle East, walls around cities and within cities had entrance and exit ports. Camels loaded down with goods would often get caught tight as a wedge in these wall openings (needles), and it would take great human effort to eventually get the camel and its cargo through the needle to the other side of the wall. You have to know a lot of extra esoteric information to understand the Bible when you read it. Most fundies either do not have that information or “pooh-pooh” those who do because they claim (falsely) that the Holy Spirit dwelling within them provides them with the only right and true understanding of the Bible as they read it. Trouble is, the Holy Spirit often gives five different fundies five different understandings of a Bible verse or passage. However, if God is not the author of confusion, how could he be doing that? I suspect the truth is that fundie brains—-completely apart from any aspect of God—–put their own personal interpretation on the Bible, and that still small voice in their heads is actually their own minds talking to them as in: “H-m-m-m-m? Should I buy apples or oranges today?”

  9. Avatar
    William

    To answer your question from my evangelical days (which appear to be behind me), I would have answered your question via Galatians 5:19-21 which say that heresies are the work of the flesh.

    An example of this I think could be how some preachers focus on their definition of modest dress. The biblical definition of the word modest is restrained, not forward, presumptuous or arrogant. So, pretty much non desript. Jeans and a T shirt fit the definition of modest: they are pretty average and plain, unassuming clothing. So really there’s no need for a preacher in this respect to preach against women wearing pants, except that he’s preaching from his own fleshly desires and viewpoints.

    I’m not saying that’s the reason though, I just figured for what it’s worth I’d put forward how I would have explained this while I still had the desire and belief that I had.

  10. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    It helps to know the historical context of something in the Bible. From what I understand, at the time Galatians was written men did not where pants. Therefore I do not think that quotations from this area of the Bible say anything about women wearing pants.

    Thank you

  11. Avatar
    Troy

    I’ve never read the entire Bible. In confirmation, rather than even giving an abstract of every book of the Bible they seemed to be obsessed with memorizing just the names of the various books. The book collection called the Bible isn’t exactly a page turner. The mythology of Genesis has a certain quaint charm to it, but once you get to the begat tree you’re in for a snoozefest. I suspect most who have read it, or read it more than once, did it as a sense of duty rather than a cascade of “a ha!” moments which would be typical of exploring and conquering a satisfying topic.
    Occasionally you’ll see monotheism used as a cultural touchstone by some anthropologists as evidence that a certain culture has reached a certain level of maturity. I don’t get it. Not only this, polytheism is a much better source of stories. Much of Bollywood is religious stories of Hinduism, Norse mythology makes it into the comics, Greek/Roman mythology still offers a large base of allusions. Religion should be fun, if it isn’t maybe you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Spot on, Troy. I found many of the “other” myths to be far more entertaining and fun to read.

      The overwhelming majority of Christians never read through the Bible one time. Shit, most preachers ignore most of the Bible in their preaching. Hard to work up a good sermon from the book of Numbers. 😂 John? Now there’s a book that will preach.

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